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American Folk Festival hopes to evolve along with blossoming Bangor waterfront — Arts & Culture — Bangor Daily News — BDN Maine

American Folk Festival hopes to evolve along with blossoming Bangor waterfront — Arts & Culture — Bangor Daily News — BDN Maine

By Emily Burnham, BDN Employees •
August 23, 2018 1:00 am

Twenty years in the past, the Bangor waterfront was not far more than a dumping floor — an unkempt swath of land containing little however the remnants of long-gone industries.

As we speak’s waterfront is a far cry from that bleak industrial panorama. It’s now the location of a riverside park, a 16,000-seat live performance venue, an array of meals vans, an more and more busy marina and the company headquarters for considered one of Maine’s largest employers.

It’s additionally residence to the American Folk Festival, the 14th version of which kicks off this Friday. It was the pageant, which initially started in 2002 because the Nationwide Folk Festival, that first made individuals within the Bangor space consider that the waterfront was not solely value reviving, however might additionally develop into a vacationer vacation spot.

[Tips for enjoying this year’s American Folk Festival]

However because the waterfront has modified, so has the folks pageant — a bit of. Is it protecting tempo with the expansion round it?

“We’re coming up on 20 years now that this festival has been around. That’s a generation of people that don’t remember a time before it. New people have moved to Bangor and know it as a very different place from what it was before,” stated Felicia Knight, a public relations skilled and former Bangor resident, who from 2003 to 2008 was communications director for the Nationwide Endowment for the Arts. “If there’s a hint of it starting to blend into the landscape here, well, that’s a testament to its success — but it’s also a challenge for the future.”

Preston Gannaway | BDN

Preston Gannaway | BDN

Laura Cowan (proper) enjoys John Types’ Punch and Judy puppet present with her sons Alec, 6, and Cole, three, on this BDN file photograph.

‘Is Bangor large enough?’

Again when it first began, the folks pageant was one of many solely gigs on the town. Barry Bergey, who for 30 years was the director of the Nationwide Endowment for the Arts’ Folk & Conventional Arts program earlier than retiring in 2013, recalled the delicate trepidation with which the Nationwide Council for the Conventional Arts ultimately selected Bangor for the Nationwide Folk Festival’s three-year run in 2002, 2003 and 2004.

“There was a sense of, ‘Is Bangor large enough to maintain an event like this?’” stated Bergey, who has for many years has attended numerous people festivals throughout the nation. “It was the first time the National was in a town of this size, far from a major urban area. … But it was a great success story. In a way, a town this size is actually the ideal setting for the festival. There’s a lot of volunteerism. There’s real civic pride.”

For a lot of residents of the Bangor space, these early years have been eye-opening experiences.

“It was so celebratory. It was magical. The energy back then was fabulous. It was the only time of the year where you’d see your neighbors, people you’d never expect, get up and dance,” stated Annaliese Jakimedes, a Bangor resident who has attended or volunteered on the pageant yearly since 2002. “It made you think it could blossom into something even bigger and better.”

The seeds planted again then have certainly blossomed. The waterfront is now a serious vacationer attraction, and the close by downtown district has grown, alongside the opening of Hollywood On line casino and the Cross Insurance coverage Middle. Amid main artists enjoying on the Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion, native music collection such because the New Nashville North Live performance Collection and Bangor Celtic Crossroads, and greater than 20 new eateries opening prior to now 5 years, Bangorians usually are not need for choices for issues to do, hear, see, eat and purchase.

Longtime AFF government director Heather McCarthy is aware of that the panorama in Bangor has modified. She’s undaunted, nevertheless, in her perception that the pageant provides one thing that nothing else within the space can — and that it’s truly gotten higher for them.

“We don’t really feel any pressure to compete, because we’re just a totally different beast,” stated McCarthy, who has headed the pageant for all of its 14 years. “If anything, we benefit from each other, because the waterfront is really now known as a place to go. A rising tide lifts all boats.”

Linda Coan O’Kresik | BDN

Linda Coan O’Kresik | BDN

Volunteer Mark Eggleton collects donations on the 2009 American Folk Festival.

Settling right into a rhythm

It’s been various years because the pageant has attracted the staggering numbers as soon as cited between 2002 and 2008 — greater than 150,000 individuals over the course of three days, with highs of 165,000 in 2006 and 2007.

After a dismal 2009, when torrential rain on the Saturday of the pageant severely dampened attendance, numbers have progressively decreased. The final time official attendance numbers for the AFF have been launched was 2012, when round 90,000 individuals attended.

In accordance to Dan Cashman, chair of the pageant’s communications committee, the AFF has since 2013 relied as an alternative on basic estimates for annually’s attendance, which he stated has remained comparatively regular at round 90,000 yearly since. Donations pulled in by the bucket brigade have additionally remained regular, hovering round $100,000 annually.

The AFF not has a contract to work with the Nationwide Council on the Conventional Arts to guide artists for the the pageant — since 2017, it has booked its personal expertise. Now that they will guide as they please, McCarthy stated she’d love to see a “bigger name” artist as a de facto headliner, however that as all the time, funding might be exhausting to come by.

The perennial problem of fundraising hasn’t gotten any simpler through the years, however neither has it turn into tougher. McCarthy stated the pageant has a really dependable base of boosters that embrace particular person donors, Maine companies and nationwide company sponsors, which, when mixed with the bucket brigade, pulls in almost $1 million annually.

However, dollars for programming, advertising and different new initiatives are valuable. There’s all the time the choice to introduce a compulsory payment or ticketed aspect for half or all the pageant — however McCarthy says whereas it’s repeatedly mentioned by the pageant’s board of administrators, it hasn’t been critically thought-about.

“We talk about making it a ticketed event every year,” stated McCarthy. “But for us, the most important thing is that the Folk Fest is available to everyone, regardless of their means. We hope you can donate, but if you are on a fixed income, we of course want you to come anyway.”

Ashley L. Conti | BDN

Ashley L. Conti | BDN

Sophi St. Louis (left), three, and Date Van Dine dance whereas watching the Delight of Maine Marching Band in the course of the opening parade of the 2017 American Folk Festival on the Bangor Waterfront in 2017.

‘Art has to evolve’

Different festivals throughout the nation have advanced through the years. Johnstown, Pennsylvania, which hosted the Nationwide Folk Festival from 1990 to 1992, launched their very own occasion, the Johnstown FolkFest, which ran from 1993 by way of 2008. In 2008, the town renamed the occasion the Flood Metropolis Music Festival, began charging admission, and expanded its lineup to function greater identify artists, similar to Grace Potter and Blues Traveler — whereas nonetheless that includes conventional people festival-style artists.

“Look at the Newport Folk Festival,” stated Knight, referring to the favored Rhode Island summertime music pageant, which in 2008 started reserving full-on rock bands. “It used to be pretty strictly folk, and now look at it. Anything creative needs to evolve. Art has to evolve. No one should fear evolution. Always doing something the same way is not always the right move.”

Others people festivals haven’t fared as properly. The Nice Lakes Folk Festival in East Lansing, Michigan, which developed from that metropolis’s internet hosting of the Nationwide Folk Festival from 1999-2001, was canceled this yr, and its future stays unsure.

Nonetheless others have, just like the AFF, largely hewed to the format created by the Nationwide Folk Festival. The Lowell Folk Festival in Massachusetts, the Richmond Folk Festival in Virginia, and the Montana Folk Festival in Butte, Montana, all function most of the similar artists on their 2018 lineups, reminiscent of Colombian ensemble Tribu Baharu, rockabilly artist Linda Gail Lewis, and Annika Chambers, a blues singer who will even carry out in Bangor this yr.

One factor that’s probably set to change within the subsequent two years would be the location of at the least one of many pageant levels. The town is at present planning someday in late 2019 to start long-delayed development on a $22 million wastewater storage tank, to be put in within the space behind the Tim Horton’s on Fundamental Road.

Bangor wastewater remedy officers stated that development of the power will doubtless not require shifting the Dance Pavilion from its present location, however that it undoubtedly would require it to transfer for 2020. It’s not the primary time a stage has moved — in 2008, the Dance Pavilion moved from the place the Penobscot County Courthouse is now to its present location behind the Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion, and in 2013, the Railroad Stage moved to accommodate the DWP once more.

“It’s a big jigsaw puzzle,” McCarthy stated. “We have a lot of options, and we have to weigh all the concerns as far as crowd flow, making sure two stages don’t drown each other out, and so on.”

No matter how the pageant seems to be, what the climate is, who’s enjoying, how a lot cash is donated or any of the opposite variables, this weekend, the tents, cubicles and levels are set. At 6 p.m. Friday, New Orleans jazz band Tuba Skinny will lead a parade down Entrance Road towards the Railroad Stage. The odor of kettle corn will waft by means of the air. St. George’s Greek Orthodox Church will prepare dinner up gyros and souvlaki. Musicians from all the world over will play all weekend, whether or not it’s for dancers, quiet listeners, or revelers in beer tents.

Regardless of the future holds, this weekend, it’s American Folk Festival weekend in Bangor.

“There are other things that happen all year, sure, but there’s probably not going to be anything else in Bangor quite like the festival,” stated Knight. “That in itself is pretty special.”

The American Folk Festival runs from Friday, Aug. 24 by way of Sunday, Aug. 26 on the Bangor Waterfront. Advised day by day donation for a household is $20. For a full schedule of artists performing, go to americanfolkfestival.com.


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