It's the last weekend of July, which means one thing around these parts: the Lowell Folk Festival.
The annual explosion of traditional music, ethnic food and box hockey returns on Friday. The celebration will kick off with a Domincan Carnival dance performance by Asociacion Carnavalesca de Massachusetts and will continue throughout the weekend until Sunday evening, when downtown Lowell's web of one-way streets will be open again to the traffic everybody loves.
"With all the streets being closed and everyone walking around, the Folk Festival gives people a chance to see Lowell in a way they don't normally see it," said Phil Lupsiewicz, spokesman for the Lowell National Historical Park.
Festival-goers will have all weekend to catch as many of the 21 performers as they can -- just don't expect to see the same thing twice.
On Friday night alone, you can witness Quebecois trio Bon Débarras, Louisiana Cajun dance-hall duo Jesse Lége and Joel Savoy, and Dominican merengue ambassador Joaquin Diaz. Don't know what tamburitza or Garifuna music sounds like? Now is your chance to learn.
"The people that come are open to that," said Peter Aucella, assistant superintendent at the Lowell National Historical Park. "I've found out over the years that I'm a fan of western swing, even though given my other musical interests I might not have expected that."
The musical action is spread out across five stages downtown that are all within walking distance. Most of the performers will have multiple showtimes throughout the weekend, so you can watch them all with a little can-do attitude and a whole lot of water if it's hot outside.
Tasting all the different types of food for sale might be a little harder, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try. You don't get a cheeseburger or a hot dog at the Folk Festival (though last year there was an amusing amount of fried dough available). There's too much delicious ethnic food oozing from the tents at Boarding House Park and JFK Plaza to ignore.
Don't try to pronounce the different dishes -- just know that the more "Z"s and "K"s in the name, the better it probably is.
"There's always a great variety," said Lupsiewicz. "It gives you the opportunity to expand your horizons and be adventurous without spending a lot of money."
But music and food are just the tip of the Folk Festival iceberg, with its artists, crafters, family activities and street performers around every corner. Take advantage while you can, because once you blink, it will be gone.
Well, until next year.
Follow Pete McQuaid on Twitter @sweetestpete.