Despite big donations, folk festival still $226,000 short of goal

A crew from Commercial Tent of New Brunswick Canada raises a pole on what will become the Penobscot Stage tent of the American Folk Festival along the Bangor waterfront on Monday, August 23, 2010. The American Folk Festival kicks off on Friday, August 27 at 6:30 p.m. with the Pride of Maine Black Bear Marching Band. (Bangor Daily News/Kevin Bennett)
A crew from Commercial Tent of New Brunswick Canada raises a pole on what will become the Penobscot Stage tent of the American Folk Festival along the Bangor waterfront on Monday, August 23, 2010. The American Folk Festival kicks off on Friday, August 27 at 6:30 p.m. with the Pride of Maine Black Bear Marching Band. (Bangor Daily News/Kevin Bennett)
Posted Aug. 23, 2010, at 9:16 p.m.
Paul Ussher (cq) a worker with Commercial Tent of New Brunswick Canada drives a tent stake on what will become the Penobscot Stage tent of the American Folk Festival along the Bangor waterfront on Monday, August 23, 2010. The American Folk Festival kicks off on Friday, August 27 at 6:30 p.m. with the Pride of Maine Black Bear Marching Band. (Bangor Daily News/Kevin Bennett)
Paul Ussher (cq) a worker with Commercial Tent of New Brunswick Canada drives a tent stake on what will become the Penobscot Stage tent of the American Folk Festival along the Bangor waterfront on Monday, August 23, 2010. The American Folk Festival kicks off on Friday, August 27 at 6:30 p.m. with the Pride of Maine Black Bear Marching Band. (Bangor Daily News/Kevin Bennett)

BANGOR, Maine — The American Folk Festival committee is $50,000 closer to — but still almost $226,000 short of — its 2010 fundraising goal of $960,000 three days before it starts.

“We’ve received a number of donations at various monetary levels, but we received one $40,000 contribution and another $10,000 gift within the last week from two donors who wish to remain anonymous,” said Heather McCarthy, the American Folk Festival’s executive director. “To date, the festival has raised $734,291.”

Still, McCarthy and other festival officials are aggressively seeking to close the funding gap as quickly as possible for the three-day extravaganza, which begins Friday centered on the Bangor Waterfront.

“We’re a little more comfortable with the money we’ve raised, but it doesn’t change the tone of our message to festival-goers because we still feel the sustainability of the event, long-term, depends on educating them on what they’re getting for little to relatively no cost.

“We have to educate people [about] the value the festival provides not just for attendees, but also the surrounding community.”

Marilynne Mann, interim director of the University of Maine’s CenTRO — the Center for Tourism, Research and Outreach — can attest to that value with a dollar sign.

CenTRO surveys show that the three-day festival generated approximately $10 million for the Greater Bangor economy in 2008 and $8.7 million in 2009 despite an economic recession and a final day of drenching downpours in 2009.

CenTRO surveyors were surprised by the 2009 number.

“We were [surprised], actually, because of the economic climate at the time,” said Mann. “We thought we’d see a sizable decline, much more substantial than it was.

“That tells us there’s a strong, loyal base of followers for that festival, and they see it well worth the time and money to go to.”

McCarthy was heartened by the survey results.

“I think that’s very exciting and speaks well of what we’re doing,” she said. “That corresponds with the message we’re trying to get out to festival attendees. It’s not just the music. It’s the food, the people, the dancing, the shopping, the business activity and the cultural experience.”

The 2009 survey, which was completed by almost 300 festival attendees, also showed that more than 75 percent of them were repeat visitors and 87 percent were Maine residents.

“It also showed a very high satisfaction rate among attendees,” said Mann.

That’s music to McCarthy’s ears, but she’s hoping those pleasing notes translate into dollars.

“We’re really hoping our marketing message has an impact, and [festival] goers step up” and make the recommended donation of $10 per day per person, she said. “We’re hanging a lot on that because if we can’t reach out to our audience to support it, that could mean there is a missing connection we have to figure out how to make.”

McCarthy likened it to a telethon, where the phones are ringing off the hook as people tell organizers how much they love the event, but aren’t consistently offering monetary support along with the praise.

The survey, the first of its kind by CenTRO, also determined the most popular types of music offered by the festival.

“According to last year’s survey, the most popular music was Irish among both first-time and repeat attendees at 57 percent,” said Mann.

Just slightly behind were Acadian, then bluegrass and then blues-acoustic music.

This is intended by CenTRO to be the first of many such surveys.

“Originally we had plans to do a festival kit and develop a research package that could be made available to festivals around the state,” Mann said. “This is kind of the pilot to see if we can design this kind of research, but we have not been able to secure funding to go any further than we already have.”

CenTRO, which was created five years ago, also has conducted surveys on overnight visitors (tourism) in the state in 2005-06 and ski area attendees in 2008. These survey results are available online at www.UMaine.edu/centro.

Donations to the Folk Festival can be made by calling Mary Brann at 974-3217 or by mailing them to American Folk Festival, 40 Harlow St., Bangor 04401.

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