May 24, 2018
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Folk Festival brings life to Bangor Waterfront

By Maria Baeza, Special to the BDN

It has been 10 years since visionary representatives from Eastern Maine Development Corp., the Greater Bangor Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Bangor City Council, University of Maine and the Bangor business community partnered to apply to the National Council for Traditional Arts to host the 64th, 65th and 66th National Folk Festivals. Based on its size and location, the chance of the city being selected seemed like a long shot. But in 2001, Bangor was chosen as the smallest city to ever host the prestigious National Folk Festival.

Today, Bangor’s Waterfront has been transformed from a dusty, unattractive site to a beautiful, inviting place to gather. Gone are the abandoned buildings and unpaved roads. In their place are thriving businesses, an active riverfront with boats, a pedestrian walkway and beautifully landscaped public space. Cruise ships also visit the waterfront throughout the summer season.

And this weekend, for the ninth consecutive year, the Bangor Waterfront hosts an international celebration of world music, dance, cultures and food. Now called the American Folk Festival, this family-friendly gala is the Bangor Waterfront’s signature event and embodies the original vision for the redevelopment of the waterfront. Today, the waterfront hosts many other gatherings, including the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, the Penobscot River Keepers Celebration, the KahBang Festival, the new Hollywood Slots Waterfront Concert Series, and countless picnics, Frisbee games and strolls.

While these events have helped physically transform the Bangor Waterfront, their importance can also be measured by the economic impact they have had on the region. For example, economic studies calculate that the American Folk Festival generated nearly $10 million in economic impact during its 2008 three-day run. Add in the economic activity from the other waterfront events and the regional impact is even more significant.

But for most people, the festival is first and foremost a celebration of our community. More than 800 volunteers and hundreds of individuals, businesses and organizations contribute time and resources to make the festival fun, safe and possible. This year, festival organizers have made slight modifications that will ensure the same high-quality experience while adopting recommendations that will strengthen and sustain the festival.

This weekend the Railroad, Penobscot and Two Rivers stages, along with the Dance Pavilion, will again feature the high-quality music, song and dance that festival-goers have come to expect. However, we have moved the Children’s Area venue from Pickering Square to Explorer Park, where the Heritage Stage has been in past years. This new, grassy site will be more kid-friendly and provide a breezy, riverfront environment for families to experience the festival.

One other noteworthy change: Those attendees taking the Shuttle from the Bass Park parking area will be taken directly to the Railroad Stage’s main entrance.

Though the festival remains open to the public at no admission fee, this year we have created a Suggested Donation promotion, asking attendees to consider a $10-per-day donation, or $20 per family, to help ensure the festival’s continuation and quality. “Donation Stations” will be set up near entrance points, while members of the Bucket Brigade will continue to circulate as in past years. As always, these donations are an integral part of the festival’s funding.

On behalf of the American Folk Festival board of directors, volunteers and staff, I offer our sincere thanks to all festival attendees, sponsors and donors, and to the performers, crafters, artists and vendors, all of whom are central to this spectacular community event. And special thanks goes out to the National Council for the Traditional Arts for selecting Bangor 10 years ago and for believing in the vision of what the Bangor Waterfront and region could be.

See you at the festival!

Maria Baeza is chairwoman of the American Folk Festival board of directors.

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