By Heidi Ulrichsen
Paul Loewenberg is stepping down as artistic director of Northern Lights Festival Boréal after 17 years — and retiring his battered festival hat as well. Photo by Heidi Ulrichsen.
When Paul Loewenberg was in his first year as artistic director of Northern Lights Festival Boréal, he was so focused on setting up for the festival, he got a terrible sunburn.
So the next day, he bought a straw hat from a festival vendor to protect his head. Now battered and holey and featuring several buttons, it’s become Loewenberg’s “festival hat.”
After 17 years, though, Loewenberg announced at this past weekend’s edition of the festival that he’s stepping down as artistic director.
He’ll also be hanging up his festival hat, and has considered putting it in a glass shadow box, adorned with the sign “break in case of emergency.”
“It is an exhausting job,” said Loewenberg, a musician and the manager of the Laughing Buddha and the Townehouse Tavern, who has also unsuccessfully run twice for the NDP locally.
“It takes a ton of energy. But I actually would do it for another 25 years. I feel greedy. I feel it’s such a good job that somebody else has to know what a pleasure it is to do the job.
“The only way that somebody else will know the pleasure is if I give it up and stand on the side and watch and just be a fan.”
Given that Northern Lights Festival is now 45 years old, it’s important to pass the curation of the festival along to the next generation.
Loewenberg said he wants to give someone else the chance to shape it, just as founding artistic director Scott Merrifield did when he entrusted him with the job back in the 1990s.
An announcement revealing the festival’s next artistic director will be forthcoming.
That being said, Loewenberg said he’ll be available to help with the transition, and will also be involved in the festival in other ways.
“I’m not going away, I’m just going to wear a different hat,” Loewenberg said. He means that literally, as he’ll sport another hat in his collection at next year’s festival.
Loewenberg said wants to work with other festival veterans on a special project for Northern Lights’ 50th anniversary that might take the shape of a book or documentary.
He’ll also work with Laurentian University to create an archive documenting the festival’s history.
A keen carpenter, Loewenberg built a small stage for the festival two summers ago called The General Store. The structure conveniently fits in the back of his minivan.
“I said to people this weekend after I made the announcement, I’m just going to apply to be the manager of The General Store,” he said. “I’m going to do some carving next summer and watch the festival pass me by.”