The winter has been cold, no doubt about it.

But the local music scene has been doing its best to thaw it out.

In case you hadn't noticed, downtown Lowell's music scene has experienced a resurgence of late, helped in no small part by the opening in recent years of the Back Page and the Blue Taleh, both in the old Sun building in Kearney Square, along the scenic Eastern Canal. (Would you believe stagnant Eastern Canal?)

You can start at the Blue Taleh, which features jazz and blues musicians on Wednesday and weekend nights, often the piano stylings of local favorite Ralph Funaro.

Then walk a few steps farther along the canal (you may have to hold your nose in the summer) to the Back Page, a blues-oriented gem of a spot where you may discover such incredible Boston-area talents as Gracie Curran & The High-Falutin' Band, A Ton of Blues, Lydia Warren, the Evan Goodrow Band and Ten Foot Polecats. And that's to name just a few of the stellar bands you might see there.

Downtown Lowell's growing reputation as a destination for great music culminates this coming weekend, when, for the second straight year, Lowell Memorial Auditorium hosts the New England Music Awards, held concurrently with Lowell's WinterFest celebration.

NEMA (www.nemusicawards.

com) honors great music in all its forms, with awards given in 23 categories, including Band, Song, Album, Producer, Songwriter and Blues Act of the Year, in which the aforementioned Gracie Curran & The High-Falutin' Band is nominated (and yes, they are as fun as that name suggests), as well as Best in State from each of the six New England states.

Which brings me to Sarah Borrello. The Massachusetts native has played in the Lowell area, either solo or with her band, a few times, including at the Back Page, the Skybox in Tewksbury and at the Bull Run in Shirley, where she opened for nationally renowned singer-songwriter Shawn Mullins a few months back.

Borrello (do not confuse her with Sara Bareilles -- just do not) will perform a set (one that hopefully includes either "Gimme Gimme" or "Not Now" from her CD, Exit) at the awards show Saturday night and is up for Rock Act of the Year. Last year, she won Best New Act.

I'm going to make this easy for you. If you haven't seen Borrello, see her. If you have seen her, see her again. In fact, see any of the bands mentioned above.

Other acts you can see perform at the awards show Saturday night include the Mallett Brothers Band, Will Dailey, Nemes, Dressed for the Occasion and Hayley Sabella, all nominees in various categories. (Tickets are still available. Go here:

And if you don't go to the awards show, some of last year's NEMA winners, including the Adam Ezra Group (Band of the Year), Sarah Blacker (Female Performer of the Year) and the Chad Hollister Band (Best in State: Vermont), will perform at WinterFest. (For more on that, go to

So in summary, this weekend, for great music, go to NEMA and/or WinterFest.

And every other weekend, somewhere in downtown Lowell will feature great music that you'll never know if you don't open your ears -- and your mind.

Dan Phelps' email address is Follow him on Facebook and Twitter @PhelpsSun. Also, follow his blog, Phelps RePhlections, at