In Lowell, October means more than foliage and farmers’ markets. It is the month that the city celebrates the life of arguably its most famous native. And this year’s Jack Kerouac festival, Lowell Celebrates Kerouac, will be especially meaningful as it marks the 50th anniversary of the Beat Generation icon’s death.
On Oct. 21, 1969, the 47-year-old Kerouac died of liver failure, but his works — many of them about the Spindle City — live on.
Running in earnest from Oct. 10-14, this year’s celebration will feature an extra day of remembrance at Archambault Funeral Home on Pawtucket Street, where Kerouac was solemnized a half century ago.
Most of the events over the four days — which usually bring hundreds of fans into the city — are free, open to the public and spread out among several venues across the city. Donations are always appreciated, however, to help finance the “Lowell Celebrates Kerouac Inc.” nonprofit organization that sponsors the annual event.
Thursday, October 10
1 p.m.: Middlesex Community College/LCK Poetry Contest, at Richard and Nancy Donahue Family Academic Arts Building, 240 Central St.; organized by Dan Bacon.
6 p.m.: Traditional Kerouac Pub Tour; from Old Worthen, 141 Worthen St., to Cappy’s Copper Kettle, 245 Central St.; led by Bill Walsh and Mike Wurm; donation requested.
8 p.m.: LCK Kickoff at Cappy’s Copper Kettle, 245 Central St.; music and readings with Alan Crane, George Koumantzelis, Colleen Nichols and Meg Smith, joined by special guests David Amram and Erik Deckers from the Kerouac Orlando Project; hosted by John McDermott.
‘Everybody goes home in October’
Jack Kerouac — born Jean-Louis Lebris de Kerouac on March 12, 1922 — was more than a novelist and poet. He was a standout athlete at Lowell High School, excelling at track and football before graduating in 1939. He earned a scholarship to Columbia University. He lived at several neighborhoods around the city but was born at 9 Lupine Road.
According to Steve Edington, LCK’s treasurer, “His family often moved to different parts of the city based on the prosperity of his father’s employment.” Edington explained that the reason Kerouac is celebrated in October, instead of his birth month March, is because of one of his most famous quotes from his most acclaimed work “On The Road”: “The bus roared on. I was going home in October. Everybody goes home in October.”
Friday, October 11
10 a.m.: Galloway to Walden Pond Bus Tour, departs from the Lowell National Historical Park Visitor Center, 246 Market St.; led by Richard Scott; $10 donation requested; reservations suggested, call 978-970-5000.
11:30 a.m.: Reality Alley Poetry Workshop II; Old Worthen, 141 Worthen St.; facilitated by Dan Bacon and Jim Dunn.
1 p.m.: Talking Jack, ALL Gallery, 167 Market St., hosted by Kurt Phaneuf.
2:30 p.m.: Opening Reception for Jonathan Collins Art Exhibit “Images of Kerouac,” Pollard Memorial Library. 401 Merrimack St.
3:30 p.m.: Orlando and Lowell—The Jack Kerouac Orlando Project, Pollard Memorial Library Community Room, 401 Merrimack St., a presentation by Erik Deckers from the Orlando Writers in Residence.
7:15 p.m.: Remembrances of Billy Koumantzelis and Al Hinkle, hosted by Steve Edington; Cathy Cassady will offer some of her remembrances of Al Hinkle; site TBA.
8:30 p.m.: A Night of Jazz with the legendary David Amram and his band, Kevin Twigg on drums, Rene Hart on bass and Adam Amram on percussion; Zorba Music Hall, 437 Market St.; cover charge of $20 to support Lowell Celebrates Kerouac.
10 p.m.: The Music of Mt. Pleasant; Zorba Music Hall, 437 Market St.
‘An understanding of Lowell’
“When you read his writings,” Edington says, “you feel like you’re having a personal conversation with him.”
Jack hit the road, stopping in New York, where he met Allen Ginsburg, William S. Burroughs and other young writers that become the core of a literary and cultural movement that Kerouac named “The Beat Generation,” according to LCK.
Michael Millner, professor of American studies at UMass Lowell and director of the university’s Jack and Stella Kerouac Center for Public Humanities, says the importance and enduring legacy of the author’s works, which often featured Lowell as the backdrop, “helps us to understand the United States in the 1950s and ’60s, the generation that arose after the second World War, and gives an understanding of Lowell during that time.”
Saturday, October 12
9 a.m.: Commemorative at the Commemorative, French and Bridge streets, featuring a traditional jazz funeral led by Ken Field and The Revolutionary Snake Ensemble; commemorating the 50th anniversary of the death of Jack Kerouac.
10:15 a.m.: Bus tour of the Kerouac sites of Lowell, led by Bill Walsh and Steve Edington; $10 donation requested; depart from the Commemorative, French and Bridge streets; reservations suggested, call 978-970-5000.
10:15 a.m.: Walking tours of the downtown Kerouac sites, led by Kurt Phaneuf; donations gratefully accepted; depart from the Commemorative, French and Bridge streets.
11 a.m.: Mercy meal at Gallery Z, 167 Market St.
12:30 p.m.: Cathy Cassady presents a program about her parents, Neal and Carolyn, and share some stories about what it was like growing up surrounded by prominent figures of the Beat Generation; Pollard Memorial Library Community Room, 401 Merrimack St.
2 p.m.: Annual Parker/LCK Lecture, Nancy Fox presents “Jack Kerouac: Fifty Years Later,” with respondent Erik Deckers; Lowell National Historical Park Visitor Center, 246 Market St.
3:30 p.m.: Library Haunts and Hooky Tour, led by Bill Walsh; starts at Pollard Memorial Library, 401 Merrimack St.; donations appreciated.
4 p.m.: Annual Jack Kerouac Open Mike, led by Cliff Whalen and Dan Bacon; upstairs at the Old Worthen, 141 Worthen St.
6 p.m: The Brian Hassett Road Show; upstairs at the Old Worthen, 141 Worthen St.
7:30 p.m.: Mike Dion, Vance Gilbert and Daemon Chili perform; Zorba Music Hall, 437 Market St.; $20 cover to support LCK.
‘Maybe that’s what life is …’
Before the Beat Generation and long before his literary success, Jack served in the Merchant Marines, making two Atlantic crossings during WWII. Although raised Catholic, he “dabbled in Buddhism,” Edington says.
“And the death of his older brother when he was a boy helped shaped Kerouac’s perspective,” he adds.
One early novel, “Visions of Gerard,” is an homage to Jack’s older brother, who died at 9 years of age.
“Maybe that’s what life is … a wink of the eye and winking stars,” he wrote.
Sunday October 13
10 a.m.: Mystic Jack Tour, led by Roger Brunelle and Bill Walsh; St. Louis de France Church. 241 West Sixth St.; donations appreciated.
1:30-4 p.m.: Annual Amram Jam; downstairs at the Old Worthen. 141 Worthen St.
5:30 p.m.: Music and Readings at Warp and Weft, 197 Market St.; readings from original works by Maine poet John Cyr, Lowell’s own “Punk Poet” Chris Ware, and award-winning novelist Jen Beagen, who lived in the Mill City for years; music provided by Dyer Holiday; hosted by Dave Iverson; $10.00 donation requested.
6 p.m.: Ghosts of the Pawtucketville Night Tour, led by Bill Walsh and Kurt Phaneuf; Cumnock Hall, UMass Lowell North Campus, 1 University Ave.
8 p.m.: Paint Night, upstairs at the Old Worthen. 141 Worthen St.; $20.
In downtown Lowell, a monument
“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.”
On Bridge Street, a permanent set of monuments, etched in stone obelisks with Jack’s more notable quotes, represents the city’s appreciation of its favorite son.
“Great things are not accomplished by those who yield to trends and fads and popular opinion.”
Known as the Commemorative, the half-acre park, between Merrimack Street and the Cox Bridge, is a look into the mind of the boy from Lowell who became a man for the world.
”Night is longer than day for those who dream & day is longer than night for those who make their dreams comes true.”
Monday, October 14
10 a.m.: Kerouac’s Nashua Connection Van Tour, led by Steve Edington; departs from Lowell National Historical Park Visitor Center, 246 Market St.; donations appreciated; reservations suggested, 978-970-5000.10 a.m.: LCK Loop Tour, led by Bill Walsh; departs from the Commemorative. French and Bridge streets; donations appreciated.
2 p.m.: Last Call at the Old Worthen following the Loop Tour; 141 Worthen St.
Several local bistros and other venues will feature Kerouac-centric themes throughout the weekend.But the highlight of this year’s festivities, according to Edington, is when keynote speaker Nancy Fox will speak Saturday, at 2 p.m., to her claim that “Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’ will surpass Mark Twain’s ‘Huckleberry Finn’ as America’s greatest 21st century novel.”