‘Perfect’ Machias Wild Blueberry Festival draws thousands

Posted Aug. 21, 2010, at 4:49 p.m.

MACHIAS, Maine — The sky, the pies, the berries and the banners all shared the same hue. Even some of the faces were looking blue, but only on those who wanted to smear them with a sticky goo as they competed to be the first ones through.

The pie-eating contest, the music and food put thousands of people in a good mood on Saturday as they celebrated a small edible berry at the annual Machias Wild Blueberry Festival.

And the combination of sunny weather and pleasant temperatures helped draw people in, according to Ellen Farnsworth, co-chairwoman of the event. She said last year’s festival was hot and that in 2008 it was rainy. On Saturday, there were almost no clouds in the sky, and outdoor thermometers read approximately 70 degrees.

“This is perfect,” Farnsworth said.

As usual, the Centre Street Congregational Church was the center of action Saturday, as it is for the festival every year. The church sponsors and organizes the festival, which has been held every August since 1975. The church is where the festival play is staged, where the blueberry pie-eating contest is held and where many of the musical acts perform.

On Saturday morning, the events of the day got off to a running start with one-mile and five-mile road races that were staged on Court Street.

Later in the morning, hundreds crowded outside the church’s front steps to see the pie-eating contest. Competitors were divided into four age groups and had to devour a pie on a table in front of them without using their hands. Some of them appeared to have more pie on their faces than in their stomachs when the time was up.

The Ukulele Club Band, the Rude Mechanical Orchestra brass band from Brooklyn, N.Y., and the more traditional Old Timers’ Band each provided musical entertainment on the church steps in the afternoon. Other musical acts also performed at other locations in downtown Machias during the festival.

Besides the activities, there were hundreds of food and crafts vendors. People could choose to eat anything from salmon-on-a-stick to fried dough to lobster to — not surprisingly — blueberries in many forms. People who weren’t hungry had clothing, pottery, jewelry and furniture booths to browse.

Lucia Plourde of Gorham had a prime location on the corner of Center and Court streets for her snow cone stand called Aloha Ice. She said this year’s blueberry festival is the third in a row at which she has been a vendor.

“Today has been a good day,” she said between waiting on customers. It wasn’t as busy as 2009, however, when the hot temperatures helped her sell out on Saturday, a day before the festival ended, she said.

Plourde said she enjoys coming to Machias for the event.

“People are real nice here,” Plourde said. “We have a good time.”

According to Farnsworth, the festival usually draws about 15,000 people to Machias, which has a population of only 2,500. She said the festival, which was started to celebrate Washington County’s annual blueberry harvest, is the biggest annual event in the area.

“Economically, it’s hard to speculate [what the numerical impact of the festival is],” she said. “It is the biggest weekend [each year] for Hannaford, the hotels, motels and restaurants.”

Other events that are part of or coordinated with the three-day festival include pancake breakfasts, cooking contests, blueberry farm tours, a Friday night fish fry, a quilt exhibit and a musical. This year’s production, which began Tuesday evening and was scheduled to finish Saturday night, is a spoof of “Camelot” called “Rakealot” after the back-breaking method by which blueberries are harvested.

The Blackfly Ball, a live music performance and dance organized by the Beehive Design Collective, is held on Saturday night of the festival every year at the Machias Valley Grange Hall. Scheduled to play at the ball this year were Orange River Jazz Band, the Ukulele Club, the Rude Mechanical Orchestra and others.

More information is available at www.machiasblueberry.com.

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