Free Range Music Festival draws crowds to Belfast

Posted April 25, 2010, at 9:36 p.m.

BELFAST, Maine — Organizers of the first-ever Belfast Free Range Music Festival said the Saturday event was such an unexpected hit that they already are talking about making it a multiday affair next year.

Hundreds of music lovers from Maine and beyond converged on Belfast on Saturday to hear more than two dozen bands and solo musicians of all genres — from jazz to folk to rock — perform at downtown venues.

The music, combined with blue skies and seasonable temperatures, drew significantly more foot traffic to downtown Belfast than a typical weekend in late April, several shop owners said.

Organizer Meg Fournier said they sold out of the roughly 700 all-access passes to the events. Locations hosting the performances — including several art galleries, the American Legion, the Colonial Theater and the local library — took to selling tickets to individual shows, when space allowed.

During the most-anticipated show by the national group The Mandolin Jazz Project, people who couldn’t get tickets lined up outside the American Legion in the cool evening air, listening to the music through the hall’s open windows.

“It went really well for our first year. It went incredibly smoothly,” Fournier said Sunday afternoon of the arts venue, Roots & Tendrils, that she runs with her husband, Bub. “We are definitely going to do it again next year. We’re going to make it bigger and better.”

Fournier said she and other organizers are discussing the possibility of a weekend-long festival, possibly beginning Friday night.

Several merchants said the festival generated additional foot traffic through downtown shops during a typically slower season. And while the festival didn’t necessarily result in a significant uptick in sales for some businesses, owners said they would like to see another festival next year.

Asked how the festival affected business at her eatery, manager Stacey Powell of the Belfast Bakeshop and Deli near the downtown waterfront replied: “Couldn’t keep up. I was running out of food.”

Bakeshop owner Tina DelSanto said sales on Saturday were triple that of recent weekend days.

At the Wild Rufus music store near the corner of Main and High streets, manager Joshua James Turner estimated he had to turn away 200 people who came to his shop seeking tickets. But even those who couldn’t get passes to all of the shows appeared to enjoy themselves, he said.

“It was a great way to get people into town and support the local businesses,” Turner said.

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