Folk Festival keeps beer for itself

Posted July 23, 2009, at 10:43 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — In an attempt to tap into new revenues to support the American Folk Festival, its leaders decided to take over operating the beer tents, Heather McCarthy, festival executive director, said Thursday.

“We’re hoping by being the direct beer vendor, more money will go into the coffers instead of having a middleman in place,” she said.

Convenience store owner Jeff Leadbetter, family entertainment center owner Len Cole and local businessman Perry Boudreau have partnered for seven years to operate the beer tents for the National Folk Festivals and the subsequent American Folk Festivals.

“We’ve never had an issue, and they’ve always said we’ve done a good job,” said Boudreau of Hampden.

Probably the one thing that upset the three-man partnership the most was the lack of communication, said Cole, who operates the Sports Arena in Hermon.

“They never came to us,” Cole said.

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Boudreau said the festival organizers put the beer contract out to bid “and then decided to keep it themselves and didn’t notify us. Jeff Leadbetter called [the festival’s office] because it was time to start getting ready to do things, to line things up and someone in the office told us … they were going to do it on their own.”

In the past, the men paid the festival a $6,000 annual fee to run the two beer tents and also handed over 25 percent of their gross sales.

McCarthy said it’s a simple matter of economics.

“We are following a model that has been very successful and has provided a significant amount of revenue at other national folk festivals in Richmond, Virginia, and Butte, Montana,” she said of the decision to take over the beer tents.

In the last two years, the folk festival took in around $28,650 from beer tent revenue, between the fee and sales percentage.

“We had gross sales in 2007 of $33,600,” McCarthy said. “That is what they reported was sold at the festival.”

The beer and wine gross sales for 2008 totaled around $33,000, she said.

A liquor license application, listing “Bangor Folk Festival” as an incorporated civic organization, has been sent to the state for approval, McCarthy said, adding that volunteers will be used to keep costs as low as possible.

“We’re working with local area nonprofits to provide groups of people to staff the beer tents,” she said.

Operating a business that sells alcohol is a great responsibility, said Cole, who runs two bars inside the Sports Arena.

“I don’t think they realize all that goes into it. There is a lot of liabilities,” he said. “It’s not like serving strawberry shortcake. Liquor liability is real responsibility.

“I personally don’t understand why they would want to take that on,” Cole added later.

With donations down from some big sponsors this year, the folk festival needs all the revenues it can raise, McCarthy said, without saying specifically how short the fundraising is. The annual three-day festival, which is Aug. 28, 29 and 30 this year, is expected to cost $1,082,412 to put on, the festival executive director said.

“We have had some challenges [raising funds], just like every nonprofit in the area,” she said. “We have had some sponsors, some significant sponsors, that haven’t been able to contribute as they have in the past.

“We’re counting on a lot of revenue at the festival from the bucket brigade, T-shirts sales and parking, and the beer tents,” she said later.

The bucket brigade, the volunteers who carry buckets to collect donations throughout the festival, raised $98,400 during the 2008 festival, McCarthy said, describing the amount as “incredible.”

“We’re going to see if we can double up the bucket,” she said. “We do think there is room for growth there. We’re really counting on developing that growth this year.”

Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials, a Chicago blues music ensemble, will kick off this year’s festival at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 28.

The waterfront festival is free for everyone, as it has been since the National Folk Festival first landed in Bangor in 2002. Taking over the beer tent is just a way to raise revenues to keep the gates wide open to the popular summer gathering, McCarthy said.

“We’re always looking for ways to become more self-sufficient,” she said. “This is one of those ways.”

nricker@bangordailynews.net

990-8190

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