Bill Thibodeau loves all kinds of music — but he lives for bluegrass. His father, the legendary Maine musician and entertainer Sam Tidwell, played it. It’s in his genes. And it’s definitely in his fingers, which pick lightning fast lines on his mandolin.
So when the fifth annual Paul Bunyan Bluegrass Music Festival kicks off next Friday, Sept. 11, at the Paul Bunyan Campground on Route 222, you know that you’ll be hearing some fantastic Maine bluegrass — from the astoundingly talented family band the Muellers, to Thibodeau’s own group, Anna Mae Mitchell and Rising Tide. What’s better than three days of music, outside on a gorgeous late summer weekend? Not much.
Thibodeau started the festival five years ago, because while there were plenty of bluegrass musicians in Maine, there were virtually no venues in Greater Bangor for those musicians to play. He sought to change that and worked with campground owners Dennis and Shirley Hachey to make it happen. His approach to the festival is simple: Bring great Maine bluegrass to the stage.
“Mainers traditionally prefer traditional bluegrass. They like Earl Scruggs and Bill Monroe and the Stanley Brothers. And we appreciate that,” said Thibodeau. “But we also try to bring in people that try new things. We try to bridge that gap between the old and the new.”
Anna Mae Mitchell and Rising Tide, for example, are anything but traditional. While all members of the band are accomplished bluegrass musicians, they perform newer songs and incorporate nontraditional arrangements into their music. The festival’s headliner, Tony Trischka, is a banjo virtuoso who most recently worked with comedian and banjo player Steve Martin on his new album.
On the flip side, you have a group like the Hemingway Brothers — also known as brothers Kip and Dale Hemingway, Hunter Webber, Bruce Hobart and John Sparrow — a very traditional group that hails from Harrison. The group’s MySpace page says they play “nothing fancy, just good solid grass.”
“We try to appeal to everyone,” said Thibodeau. “We’ve got a duo called Playing With Fire, who are a 10- and 12-year-old pair of brothers named Noah and Tristan Gardner. They’re from Hampden, and they play traditional bluegrass, as well as some gospel and country. It spans the gamut of ages and approaches.”
In addition to the music, there will be workshops throughout the weekend, as well as vendors and kids activities.
There are three big reasons Thibodeau has organized a bluegrass festival in the Bangor area for the past five years:
“My three main goals for this festival is to support local bands, to spread the word about bluegrass music so that it lives on in younger generations, and to raise money for a good cause,” he said.
That good cause is the Weliwoni Ranch, an organization founded by Mark Favor and Jessica Treworgy-Favor of Glenburn to help those affected by cancer. The organization provides two important services: the ranch itself, which offers summer camp activities to children of all ages and economic situations, and My Son’s Place, which raises funds and offers support resources for families managing life with a diagnosis of cancer.
“Jessica and Mark really put their whole lives into this organization, and they do such important work. They want to make lives better for people with cancer and for the community at large,” said Thibodeau. “It’s really been a pleasure to help deserving organizations in the area with this festival.”
Add that to the fact that this weekend is set to have picture-perfect late summer weather, and you’ve got a fantastic time on your hands.
The Paul Bunyan Bluegrass Music Festival runs 6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 11 through 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 13 and features 13 bands, workshops, vendors and much more. Tickets are $35 for the whole weekend, $10 for just Friday, $25 for just Saturday and $12 for just Sunday, and are available by calling the campground at 941-1177 or 947-3734. For information, visit www.paulbunyanbluegrass.com.