Chas Bruns believes in Bangor.
Even in the face of naysayers and a less-than-ideal economic climate, Bruns, co-founder of West Market Productions, believes this city can be a destination. He, along with a growing movement of plugged-in downtown patrons and residents, wants to see the Queen City realize all of its potential — and become more than just a place that goes to bed at 9 p.m. and inspires blank stares from out-of-staters who need to ask, “Where?”
This is why he and a group of like-minded friends decided to put their money where their mouths are, and put together a really big party — one on the scale of the American Folk Festival.
The result? The KahBang Music & Arts Festival, set to take over the Bangor Waterfront on Saturday, Aug. 15.
“Why can’t we have it here?” asked Bruns, 28, speaking over coffee last week at the Whig & Courier Pub in downtown Bangor. “Why can’t we have cool music and fun stuff to do? Why can’t we rival Portland? I think it’s time. If we’re right, KahBang is just part of the beginning.”
KahBang, which kicks off at noon Saturday, features 11 bands, more than 20 vendors and an assortment of local artists and artisans. The lineup features bands from all over the United States and Europe that may not be household names, but can rock the house (or the river) just as hard — from the delightfully hyperactive indie pop duo Matt & Kim, to Norwegian punk rock siren Ida Maria.
“No, we don’t have Jay-Z. But this is about the festival experience, more than it is big names. We’re not Coachella or Bonnaroo,” said Bruns, referring to the massive annual music and arts festivals in California and Tennessee. “But we are Bangor, and we are Maine in the summer, and we are throwing an awesome show for not a lot of money. And you get to discover some amazing bands in the process.”
KahBang, which costs $27.50 until the day of the show, when the price goes to $35, has only been in the works since this spring — when Bruns and co-organizer Tim Lo put together funding, a full lineup and all the necessary paperwork from the city of Bangor in a matter of weeks. They enlisted friends such as vendor manager Seth Blais and marketing director Chris Michaud.
And they started the blitz of eastern Maine promotional materials — from ticket giveaways to tie-in deals with regional businesses. Everyone from Apple Computer to Crazy Dave’s Pit BBQ of Sullivan will set up shop at KahBang. There will even be free massages. It’s a pretty all-inclusive experience.
“Everyone has been incredibly supportive,” said Michaud. “The city has really been helpful in getting us what we need to make this happen. Businesses have stepped up to participate. We’ve got all the elements to slam this one out of the park. It’s really, really exciting.”
Michaud has had a lot on his plate the past few weeks. Not only is he marketing director for the festival, but he’s also working full time and going to band practice — a band that will take the stage for the first time in more than a year at KahBang itself. Michaud, sax player for the beloved Bangor band The Killing Moon, is reuniting with his bandmates for one night only at the show.
“It was rough at first, but then muscle memory kicked in and we remembered everything,” said Michaud. “We’re not getting back together. But it’ll be fun to play one crazy show in our hometown.”
After all, Bangor is a city that has long nurtured scores of musicians from all genres, along with artists and filmmakers and actors and all those people who love those things, and the culture that surrounds it. The only problem? Half those people end up moving away, to places with more of what they want and need. And not a lot of them come back. Until now, that is.
“I feel like Bangor has changed a lot in the past four or five years,” said Bruns. “There’s stuff to do. There are more young people. There are people that come here to live. I’m not the only one that feels that way, either. I hear it all the time.”
The rising tide of Bangor residents who go to shows, eat at restaurants, communicate via phone and laptop, gather at coffee shops and bars, and visit galleries and shops are the ones driving that change. They are the ones who will be running for City Council and State Legislature, who will be opening new businesses and supporting them. And they don’t want the status quo anymore — at least, Bruns and company don’t. The KahBang Music & Arts Festival is their way of showing what they want.
“At the very least, we’re going to hear some great music on a summer day in Maine,” said Bruns. “But I think it represents more than that. I think it’s one more step toward a new Bangor.”
For tickets, visit www.kahbang.com, or visit any Bull Moose Music location.
2:30-3:15 p.m. — April Smith (happy indie pop from New York City)
4-4:45 p.m. — Royal Bangs (electro dance party from Knoxville, Tenn.)
5:30-6:30 p.m. — Ida Maria (Scandinavian indie punk)
7:30-8:30 p.m. — Ra Ra Riot (Indie rock from Syracuse, N.Y.)
9 p.m.-close — Matt & Kim (hi-octane pop-rock from New York City)
12-12:30 p.m. — Sam & Yuri (Bangor-based pop songwriting duo)
12:45-1:15 p.m. — The Bay State (punk-pop band from central Maine)
1:45-2:30 p.m. — The Everyday Visuals (Harmony-filled folk-rock from Boston)
3:15-4 p.m. — Sex! (Raw and dirty rock from Boston)
4:45-5:30 p.m. — The Gay Blades (Dance-rock with fuzzy guitars, from New York)
7-7:30 p.m. — The Killing Moon (Bangor legends reunite for punk-pop party)