FORT KENT, Maine — As far as New Brunswick musician Garold Hansom was concerned, Sunday’s Fiddlers’ Jamboree in Fort Kent is what making music is all about.
More than 40 fiddlers, guitarists, banjo pickers, drummers and accordion players from around Maine and neighboring New Brunswick gathered for the annual event at the University of Maine at Fort Kent to entertain a standing-room-only crowd of nearly 400 in Fox Auditorium for close to three hours.
“I’ve been coming since this event started,” Hansom said during a break in playing. “It’s a fun afternoon and I love to come and see all the other musicians.”
The jamboree is designed to imitate the old-fashioned kitchen parties, once a staple of St. John Valley family entertainment in which traditional music was the central theme.
The jamboree has grown so popular over the years, it has outgrown the more informal venue of the campus student lounge and this year was moved into Fox Auditorium.
The setting did not, however, stop audience members from kicking up their heels and dancing in the aisles or in front of the stage.
On Sunday, Hansom, a 2004 inductee into the New Brunswick Fiddlers’ Hall of Fame, brought with him several of his music students to join in the jamfest.
“I have some young people here with me,” he said. “It’s a chance for them to hear the music and play along.”
Among them was 16-year-old Brooke Kapala, who said she fell in love with traditional fiddling four years ago when a neighbor invited her to listen to some local musicians.
“I was hooked,” Kapala said. “I love it [and] maybe it’s just that fiddle tunes are so upbeat.”
Traditional kitchen parties are still very much alive at the Taylor and Stacy Martin house in Fort Kent, where the couple and their six children make time for music every day, and Saturday evenings are for making music as a family.
“When Taylor comes home from work and before supper every night he pulls out the fiddle,” Stacy Martin said. “He’ll play for 10 minutes or so and the girls all dance.”
One of those girls, 5-year-old Gabrielle Martin, joined her father and some friends onstage for some step dancing to two tunes on fiddles and guitars.
“This is the first time I danced onstage,” Gabrielle Martin said after her performance. “I wasn’t scared.”
Music is important to the Martins, Stacy Martin said.
“It’s something we can do together as a family,” she said. “And it’s part of Taylor’s Acadian culture.”
For his part, Taylor Martin enjoys coming to the jamboree and the opportunity to perform with other musicians.
“I like to meet these people,” he said. “It’s so nice for the older folks and they can share their stories and music.”
One who came to share was Leonide Ducas of Clair, New Brunswick, who, even during intermission, did not stop playing his accordion.
“I love coming here,” Ducas said. “It doesn’t matter how good or bad you play the music — everyone here just works hard at playing and we are all comfortable with each other.”
Ducas also was encouraged by the numbers of young people participating.
“I’m crazy about seeing that,” he said with a grin. “We need these young people or a whole generation of music will just go away.”
Far from the stage, leaning against the back wall of the auditorium, Connie McClellan of Cross Lake quietly played along with the musicians on a harmonica.
“I’m sneaking in the harmonica-playing since I really don’t know how to play it,” she said with a laugh. “I just follow along with what they are doing on the stage to see if I can pick the tune up note by note.”
Fresh off a ski race in Caribou, McClellan said nothing could keep her away from the annual event.
“I just rave about it every year and tell people to come,” she said.
Such enthusiasm is music to the ears of event organizer Sue Tardie, UMFK administrative assistant.
“It’s nice to see so many musicians here,” she said. “But it’s just as nice to see such a large audience because the musicians really appreciate that.”
Beyond entertainment, the event serves to remind area residents of their past and culture.
“It’s really important to have this here,” said Lise Pelletier, director of the Acadian Archives at UMFK. “We need to make sure these kinds of traditional arts are not forgotten or disappear.”