KahBang kicks off expanded music, film and art festival

James Morang, 22, of Bangor rocks out with others as they listen to  Bangor legends The Killing Moon who reunited for an evening gig at Saturday's KahBang Music and Arts Festival on Bangor's waterfront. The band members were classmates of Morang's at Hampden Academy. BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY JOHN CLARKE RUSS
BDN
James Morang, 22, of Bangor rocks out with others as they listen to Bangor legends The Killing Moon who reunited for an evening gig at Saturday's KahBang Music and Arts Festival on Bangor's waterfront. The band members were classmates of Morang's at Hampden Academy. BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY JOHN CLARKE RUSS
Posted Aug. 05, 2010, at 12:26 p.m.
Cellist Alexandra Lawn performs Saturday night with other members of the Syracuse indie rock band Ra Ra Riot at the KahBang Music and Arts Festival on Bangor's waterfront.   BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY JOHN CLARKE RUSS
BDN
Cellist Alexandra Lawn performs Saturday night with other members of the Syracuse indie rock band Ra Ra Riot at the KahBang Music and Arts Festival on Bangor's waterfront. BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY JOHN CLARKE RUSS

What a difference a year makes.

The inaugural KahBang Festival, held on Aug. 15 last year, attracted more than 1,500 paying ticket-holders to see 11 indie rock bands play on the Bangor Waterfront.

The 2010 festival starts tomorrow, Aug. 6, lasts for nine days, includes more than 40 bands, an expanded two-day waterfront music festival, 17 films as part of a new film festival element, visual art exhibits and an array of late-night DJ and comedy events in venues throughout downtown. Ticket sales this year have outpaced last year’s by 2 to 1 and are steadily rising.

“I think last year, we just kind of jumped in, we only had a few months to plan, and we were kind of like ‘1, 2, 3, go festival!’” said Chris Michaud, communications director for KahBang. “It was trial by fire. This year, we had the time to make it everything it could be, and more.”

Click here for the full KahBang festival schedule.

The 12 volunteer staff members, all under the age of 30, have spent the past 10 months planning the 2010 KahBang Festival. They have taken what initially was an exciting idea hatched over a couple of pints and turned it into one of the biggest events of its kind in New England.

“We wanted to create a signature event for the city,” said Timothy Lo, KahBang executive director. “We wanted to have events all week right on the main drag in downtown, so it could actually be an economic windfall for the city. We want that foot traffic. We want people to see Bangor, and see how fun and charming and vibrant it’s become. We love our city. We’re proud of it, and we want to show it off.”

The nine days of the festival include an eclectic array of events and activities in venues all across town — such as tomorrow’s opening-night party at 6:30 p.m., which features a show at the Union Street Brick Church with the bands Hey Marseilles, Ravenna Woods, Bella Ruse and Autopirate, and screenings of the films “Cleanfix” and “New Low” at the Bangor Opera House. Just weeks after the 2009 festival was over, Lo, Michaud, KahBang co-founder Chas Bruns and the other volunteers already knew they were going to aim much, much higher for 2010.

“If we could pull off what we pulled off last year, then I think we all knew we could take to the next level,” said Michaud. “We thought about what we’d want to see if we were the ones going to it. And with the positive press and name recognition we got from last year, we definitely had a leg up in terms of the talent we could attract and the films we could get.”

The film festival has screenings every day at either the Bangor Opera House, the Union Street Brick Church or Bangor Mall Cinemas. Selected films range from “Blood Into Wine,” a documentary about the wine company started by Maynard James Keenan, lead singer of the band Tool, to Maine-made films such as “Canvasman,” about Portland pro wrestler and art dealer Robbie Ellis, and “The Eventful Life of Al Hawkes,” about the titular Maine bluegrass legend.

Each night, except for Sunday, there’s a KahBang at Night event, featuring Maine bands, DJs and comedians at the Thai Lounge, Luna Bar & Grill, Paddy Murphy’s, Ipanema Bar & Grill and the Sea Dog Brewing Company. All week, Broad Street will be turned into a temporary hub for visual art, with an exhibit titled “The Art of the iPhone” on display at 20 Broad St. and the Flannel Gallery, sponsored by Flannel Magazine and featuring local artists, set up at 29 Broad St.

And then there’s the two-day music festival on Aug. 13 and 14, featuring chart-topping hip-hop sensation B.o.B, indie rockers and Internet phenomenon OK Go, and beloved rapper Biz Markie. Not to mention the 20 other groups taking one of the three stages set up along the waterfront. Oh, and the late-night Silent Disco, an all-ages, chem-free dance party made famous by the Bonnaroo Festival in Manchester, Tenn., in which participants wear headphones in order to hear the music. To onlookers it appears people are dancing in silence.

“It was definitely really important to us to keep it really fresh and new and hip and exciting,” said Lo. “We looked at the elements of other festivals like South by Southwest [in Austin, Texas] and Bonnaroo when we put this together. They started small, and look where they are now. There is no reason the same thing can’t happen in Bangor.”

For the two-day music festival, KahBang will use the large stage erected on the Bangor Waterfront by New England Concerts, which will by then have already featured groups such as Celtic Woman and Lynyrd Skynyrd in its Waterfront Concert Series. The American Folk Festival, running Aug. 27-29, also will use the stage. Cooperation between different organizations and businesses is crucial if large-scale events such as KahBang are to continue to be a success. For KahBang, Bangor’s Beal College and Bangor Savings Bank each sponsor a stage, with the third stage sponsored by national brand Vitamin Water.

“We’ve found that the community has all-around been just incredibly supportive,” said Lo. “From the city to businesses to other organizations. We’ve had nothing but help and good ideas. People have really stepped up. They want to see things succeed.”

Putting on an event on the scale of KahBang involves risk, certainly. Enough tickets were sold in 2009 to make the 2010 festival a reality — but certainly not enough to turn a profit. This year’s budget is much larger, but still comes in under $250,000. Lo is cautiously optimistic that KahBang could break even this year.

“If we do, it’s because of three things. First, the generosity of the people who have sponsored us — they get what we’re trying to do,” he said. “Second, it’s the fact that no one takes a salary. There are no administrative costs. And third, I think the community in general has really caught onto it. There’s excitement and support among all kinds of people.”

While KahBang is a large-scale regional festival poised to become a nationally known festival, it’s important to remember where its roots are: a bunch of 20-something aged people from Bangor who want to do something cool for their community and don’t really care all that much about the money.

“I think the fact that we’re a totally grass-roots event is what really sets us apart from most other festivals,” said Michaud. “We use our own cell phones for everything, and we send an insane amount of text messages. We spend our own time, outside of our own actual jobs, to make this happen. We do it because we love it.”

KahBang film festival passes are $20; music festival passes only are $30, and all-access passes are $50. Free for enlisted troops. For information about tickets and all things KahBang: kahbang.com.

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