Fewer festival-goers, but more generous

Posted Aug. 31, 2009, at 9:46 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Attendance numbers were down, but the generosity of those who attended the 2009 American Folk Festival was up in record-setting levels.

Folk festival director Heather McCarthy said Monday afternoon that 116,000 visitors attended the free, three-day event on the Bangor Waterfront.

It’s much lower than previous years’ attendance figures, which had been around 160,000, but can be directly attributed to the rain that pounded the area Saturday as Tropical Depression Danny swept by the state.

The folk festival does not measure people but rather visits, which means if one individual attended the festival each of its three days, that one person is counted as three visits.

There were 16,000 visits Saturday, but that number grew to 70,000 Sunday — about 10,000 more than last year’s Sunday, McCarthy said.

Despite the drop in attendance, McCarthy reported a total of about $105,000 donated to the Bucket Brigade. The total broke the record of $98,400 set last year.

McCarthy said she heard from some festival-goers that they had given an extra donation because they assumed the take from Saturday would be low.

“The word is getting out that the Bucket Brigade and personal contributions are essential to keeping the festival free of any admission charge and at the high quality level it has been,” said John Diamond, a member of the festival’s board of directors. “It shows the community really supports the festival, even under adverse weather conditions.”

It won’t be enough to put the festival in the black this year, however.

The bucket donations don’t come close to the goal of $200,000 McCarthy set earlier this summer, and it means the festival will end in a deficit. Organizers knew going into the festival that corporation donations were down this year.

“The hill we had to climb financially this year was pretty big based on corporate sponsorships,” McCarthy said. “Looking at the numbers I don’t think, despite [donations to the Bucket Brigade], that this festival came out in the black.”

Just what the deficit might be is unknown, however. The entire festival budget is around $1.1 million, about half of which comes from sponsorships and corporate donors. Between 2008 and 2009 local business partners contributed about $80,000 less than in previous years, according to an Aug. 26 Bangor Daily News story.

The city of Bangor’s Commission on Cultural Development did increase its contribution this year to $85,000, about $10,000 more than in the past.

The festival also didn’t come close to its goal for sales in the beer tents, an enterprise the festival took over this summer. McCarthy said gross sales were $34,000, down from organizers’ goal of $45,000. Again, the low sales were blamed on the rain Saturday.

Diamond said the board plans to meet in the next week to discuss the 2010 festival.

“We hope as the economy recovers [from this year’s recession] others will follow the lead of those great supporters we had for this year and will continue to contribute,” he added.

The festival board, Diamond added, intends to hold another Festival Countdown concert, a fundraiser that was held for the first time this year.

Saturday’s poor weather was the worst the festival has experienced in its eight years, McCarthy confirmed, and the first time organizers have put a Plan B into effect. That involved closing the open-air stages and shifting musical acts to the closed-in stages at the Penobscot Stage and Dance Pavilion.

Diamond credited festival staffers and volunteers with making the necessary schedule and venue changes to keep the music going Saturday.

“We learned there are people who are willing and able to brave the weather because the festival means so much to them,” Diamond said. “That was clear. And the fact that people made the effort on Sunday to come to the festival in the numbers they [did] and to be as generous as they were says a lot of for how important the festival is to the region.”

jbloch@bangordailynews.net

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