BANGOR, Maine — They started lining up well before the gates opened at 6 p.m. Wednesday along Railroad Street.
Even while Bangor Fire Department personnel, concert workers, vendors, and Bangor Parks and Recreation officials and workers were still going through pre-event preparation and inspection, fans were outside the gates, patiently waiting to get their tickets or be allowed through the gate to find their seats.
A refreshingly cool breeze tamed the mid-80s heat and bright sunshine beating down on the fans waiting to experience the first event of the Hollywood Slots Waterfront Concert Series: Celtic Woman.
While the crowd skewed mostly toward the gray-haired and retirement set, there were plenty of people representing all age groups, locales, economic classes, and ethnicities ready to experience Irish-Celtic culture, music and dance with more than a dash of glitz and showmanship thrown in.
“This is what Bangor needed. This is the perfect show to do for the first one,” said Mark Braveman, owner of Mark’s Music and Mark’s Music Productions.
Braveman has seen a lot of diversity and a lot of traffic in his Brewer store as the only local distributor for ticket walk-up sales.
”This is going to do a lot for this economy,” he said. “I mean, we’re almost sold out for Skynyrd next week and this is so much better to learn with. Plus it’s a great mix. This one is more older people and the dynamic will be different for the others.”
One thing almost all the fans had in common, no matter how divergent their backgrounds, is the fact that most rarely attended concerts, but came out in droves to see this one.
“Oh, it’s been awhile. We go to plays a lot, but not a lot of concerts,” said Janine Sisko of Sidney. “I can’t even remember the last one we went to.
“We’ve been planning on coming to this since we first heard about it. We’ve never seen them before, but watched them on PBS.”
That was a common refrain, even among the younger crowd.
“It’s something different and I like the music, from what I’ve heard,” said 19-year-old Jen Grinnell of Lincolnville.
“It’s a lot better coming here than having to go to Massachusetts or Portland,” said fellow Lincolnville resident Darren Smart, 20. “We like going to shows, but we don’t go to a lot because they’re so far away. This is the first one we’ve been to in this area.”
That’s music to the ears of concert promoter Alex Gray, an Old Town native who used to own nightclubs in Bangor and Orono and has been convinced for a long time that Bangor is an untapped concert market.
“It’s exciting to see people waiting in line. I can’t tell you the number of man hours we’ve put into this and now people get to see what we’ve spent the last two months doing,” he said. ”I think the pinch-yourself moment for me is when the lights go on and the show starts and the crowd roars.”
Before that moment arrived, there was plenty of work to be done. Bangor Fire Department lieutenant Dennis Nadeau lead a four-person detachment from his department around the venue to check for emergency exits, layout, and any potential safety concerns.
“This is a new thing for us so we’re learning as we go what to watch out for,” Nadeau said. ”This crowd tends to be an older group, so we’re focusing on guarding against issues from heat and heart conditions.
“We try to get together with event staff and get their take on what to watch out for and that’s what they’ve said are the big things.”
With a crowd of 3,000 fans assembled for the show, safety officials were trying to leave no stone unturned in erring on the side of safety.
Tim Dysart of Newburgh was simply trying to err on the side of marking the right numbers on the right seating sections and learning which seats and aisles were which.
Newburgh was part of a group of volunteers from the Hampen-Winterport Youth Hockey Boosters Club working as ushers and workers for the show.
“We’re getting paid as a group to do this, so it’s a great way to raise money for our program and see a great show at the same time,” Dysart said. ”I’m just now learning the seating arrangement myself as I’m doing this, so this will be a learning experience for all of us. Kind of like the blind leading the blind.”
People from as far as as Canada attended the show.
One woman, who only wanted to be identified as Gina from Machias, said she and her boyfriend haven’t been to a concert in at least 10 years.
“We don’t go often, but we have a hotel and we’re going out after and then going shopping tomorrow,” she said.
Jason and Andrea Scholten of St. Albans have been married eight years.
”I think the last show we went to was three years ago. We went to more before we had children,” said Andrea Scholten, 28. ”We have two kids, so we don’t get out too often.”
Braveman, who handled production for a Lord of the Dance show at the Bangor Auditorium a few years ago, said the concert series, which has five planned shows so far, has injected life into greater Bangor.
“This is the best thing Bangor’s had. The response from people coming to the store has been great. We’ve seen a lot of Canadian people,” he explained. “When a show comes on sale, we get 500 people through the store a day. The majority of them are people who have never been in the store before.”
“It really changed on Sunday when people saw the stage and saw that it’s here. I can tell you you’ll have an extra few thousand people here just to see what’s going on.”
Bangor Parks and Recreation Department superintendent Tracy Willette couldn’t help but be excited by the crowd at the waterfront venue.
“I’m really looking forward to this series. A lot of people have been excited about it and it’s nice to have it finally happening,” he said. “I think this is the kind of thing that could be here for a long time to come.”
The food fare along Railroad Street wasn’t just your typical burgers and dogs, either. Doughboys, fried clams, lobster rolls, kettle fries, ice cream and even fish chowder were offered for sale along with beer, wine, soda, water and iced tea.
About 400 people decided to check the show out from outside the fencing and many were treated to a surprisingly unobstructed view of the stage all the way from Main Street.
“We were sitting across the road and moved over here after noticing it wasn’t wall-to-wall people along the fence,” said Dalton Runnells of Veazie.
Dalton and his wife, Barbara, who have tickets to see the Alan Jackson and Tim McGraw concerts later on this summer, watched workers assemble the stage last weekend.
“It’s about time Bangor did something like this,” said Barbara Runnells.
Celtic woman is No. 18 on the Top 20 list of concert tours, which ranks artists by average box office gross per city, according to The Associated Press.