Opening acts: American Folk Festival names initial performers

Posted March 12, 2009, at 9:54 p.m.

Click the name of the artists in bold for an audio preview

BANGOR, Maine — Organizers of the American Folk Festival on the Bangor Waterfront announced Thursday morning the first slate of performers for this year’s fest, as well as a new event, set for May, aimed at fundraising and keeping the AFF in the public spotlight.

AFF executive director Heather McCarthy and board of directors member John Diamond were in the Bangor City Council chambers to reveal the names of eight bands and artists on the lineup that will appear for the 2009 festival Aug. 28, 29 and 30. They include festival favorite genres such as Cajun, blues and Celtic, as well as new-to-the-fest styles such as Brazilian forro music.

Diamond announced the debut of a new event — the “Festival Countdown” concert, set for May 16 at the Collins Center for the Arts on the University of Maine campus in Orono. Tickets are $45, and go on sale Monday, March 16. Tickets for a pre-concert performers reception are an additional $50 each, and 100 percent of the proceeds will go toward the 2009 American Folk Festival.

The concert will feature Acadian ensemble Vishten, who appeared at the 2004 National Folk Festival, and the crowd-pleasing blues vocalist Diunna Greenleaf, who rocked the stage at last year’s AFF. Greenleaf will appear with her band Blue Mercy, as well as guest guitarist I.J. Gosey.

“In order to ensure that we are able to put on a world-class festival each year, we are having our first-ever concert,” said Diamond, a spokesman for the University of Maine System. “It’s very important to us to continue to not charge any admission, and keep it about culture, music and community. It’ll be a nice complement to what we do each August, and we consider it a kind of early kickoff to the summer.”

McCarthy pointed out that while this year’s financial concerns are largely the same as last year’s, the AFF still costs more than $1 million to stage. With the economic crisis, money is on everyone’s mind — especially at the festival. May’s fundraising concert will help defray some of those costs.

“We’re hanging some high hopes on what kind of help this event will bring,” said McCarthy, who said that she anticipates it will bring in around $40,000. “Hopefully, it can be something we’ll be able to continue to do each year.”

As for the performers set for August, McCarthy announced first that Danny Paisley and his group the Southern Grass will bring traditional Appalachian bluegrass to the festival. Blues will be represented by the Chicago-based Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials, and the beloved Louisiana music will be provided by Cajun group the Lost Bayou Ramblers.

“Every year we feel honor-bound to present Cajun or zydeco,” said McCarthy. “It’s always been a huge hit with festival-goers.”

New this year to the festival is the accordion-driven dance music called “forro,” a genre that originates in northeastern Brazil and melds Portuguese tunes with African rhythms. Rob Curto’s Forro For All will perform this highly social, highly danceable style this year. Also new is the all-male Quebecois a cappella group Les Charbonniers de L’enfer, the “Coalminers From Hell.”

Those who saw Indian dancer Pandit Chitresh Das at last year’s festival will be pleased to hear that Indian dance will be featured again this year, with Mythili Prakash, who carries on the 3,000-year-old tradition. Rounding out the lineup is roots reggae legend Clinton Fearon, and Irish singing group Cherish the Ladies, who last appeared in Bangor in 2001, at a preview concert for the first National Folk Festival.

“They performed at Norumbega Hall, before we ever even had the Folk Festival,” said McCarthy. “They’ve been anxious to come back ever since, and we’re very glad to have them.”

Despite the economic downtown, McCarthy said that no aspect of the AFF this year will be cut — still three days, still a diverse array of performers and still free.

“We look every year into ways we can cut aspects of it and save money, but we’re really down where we can’t cut anymore,” she said. “We need to keep it at this size.”

The look and feel of the festival will remain the same as well, with the dance stage and marketplace staying at the far end of the festival, closer to Hollywood Slots. The next round of performers will be announced sometime in the spring.

McCarthy, now in her eighth year heading up the festival, is an old hand at keeping the ship sailing. According to her, preparations are right on target. And just in case anything messes up, she has some good motivation staring her right in the face each morning.

“Most people don’t have to see their deadline counted down every day in the newspaper,” said McCarthy. “I look at the paper each morning and know exactly how much time I have left until the festival. How many people have that, with their jobs?”

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