The band played on at the American Folk Festival on the Bangor Waterfront — the University of Maine Pride of Maine Black Bear Marching Band, to be exact. A row of shiny silver sousaphones rocked and rolled Friday night, while blue-spandex-clad dancers shook and shimmied, as close to 100 band members led festival-goers from the Heritage Stage to the Railroad Stage to kick off the three-day event.
Coincidentally, the festival this year was the same weekend as move-in day for incoming freshmen at the University of Maine in Orono. Rick and Barbara Ray of Belgrade moved their son Cameron into a dorm on campus earlier in the day, then came to Bangor to take in the festival.
It was their first time attending.
“Cameron’s up at school, getting to know the campus. We’re here, enjoying all this great music,” said Barbara Ray. “This is an incredible event.”
“As soon as we got here, we said, ‘I can’t believe we’ve never been,” said Rick Ray, who, like Barbara, was sporting a UM sweatshirt. “We’re already planning to come next year.”
The American Folk Festival continues to draw both newcomers and longtime festivalgoers from all over Maine and New England. The Friday night crowd appeared to be as big, if not bigger, than in other years — perhaps because some festival-goers had gotten wind of the rainy weather forecast for Saturday and wanted to get their fun in before the clouds came.
Bangor Mayor Gerry Palmer kicked off the festival at about 5:45 p.m. at the Heritage Stage with a plea for generosity from the crowd.
“There’s been a four-letter word going around today, that starts with ‘r’ and ends with ‘n’,” Palmer said. “This year, I invite you to write the festival a rain check. Write a check, and put it in the bucket. Give until it feels good.”
After Palmer’s speech, the festival officially got under way with a 6 p.m. performance on the same stage from the Lost Bayou Ramblers, a group of Cajun musicians from Lafayette, La. The festival has always had a strong connection to Acadian traditions — from the Maritimes and Maine, and from Louisiana.
“I like anything with fiddles,” said Wanda Gaul of Waterville, who was in the crowd dancing. “And I like anything that makes you boogie. I’m really excited to see the reggae and the blues band, too,” referring to Clinton Fearon and L’il Ed and the Blues Imperials, respectively, who appeared on the Railroad Stage later in the evening.
While the music is priority one, the food runs a very close second. All the festival favorites are back this year, from blueberry smoothies and alligator nuggets to the fabulous Greek food prepared by St. George Greek Orthodox Church of Bangor.
“This is my second year serving food with the church,” said Tony Margaronis, a Bangor resident and parishioner at St. George. “It’s such a great community of people here, and this is the biggest fundraiser for our church all year. We make almost all our money right here. People love the gyros and the lemonade.”
Besides the food and the music, the sheer size of the party itself is a draw — thousands of people, all gathered together on the Bangor Waterfront, all for the sole purpose of having a good time.
“I love all the people,” said Jennifer Gasaway of Old Town, who was munching on kettle corn and enjoying the music. “Every year you see people you haven’t seen before, and people you haven’t seen all year. Some people don’t like the crowd, but I do.”
Even in the early hours of the festival, people were dancing — some in front of the Heritage Stage, others out on the street.
“I came once before, in 2005, and I was itching to come back,” said Darrell Shields, a resident of Denmark in western Maine. He was dancing next to the Estevan Gomez Memorial by the Heritage Stage.
“I don’t really know any of the music this year, but I saw so much last time that I loved that I’m up for anything.”
“We love to dance,” said Suzanne Silver Moon, also of Denmark, who attended the festival with Shields. “We always dance. That’s the whole point.”