Bucket brigade helps folk fest bounce back

A tattered 2009 American Folk Festival Bucket Brigade donor sticker remains affixed to the asphalt on Bangor's waterfront nearly a month after the festival. Photographed September 22, 2009. (Bangor Daily News/John Clarke Russ)
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A tattered 2009 American Folk Festival Bucket Brigade donor sticker remains affixed to the asphalt on Bangor's waterfront nearly a month after the festival. Photographed September 22, 2009. (Bangor Daily News/John Clarke Russ)
Posted Aug. 31, 2010, at 9:59 a.m.

Bucket brigade helps folk fest bounce back

Patrons donate over $170,000

BY ERIC RUSSELL

OF THE NEWS STAFF

BANGOR, Maine — The American Folk Festival raised more than $170,000 in its annual bucket brigade during the three-day event this past weekend, the highest total in the nine years roaming volunteers have collected donations from the crowds.

Heather McCarthy, the festival’s executive director, said Tuesday that final fundraising totals are still being tallied, but the event will wind up in the black — a welcome bounce-back from the 2009 festival.

“I think in a lot of ways we feel the community had a referendum on the festival and they voted strongly in favor of keeping it,” McCarthy said.

This year’s festival, which featured a trio of beautiful-though-hot summer days, was slightly scaled down from the previous years. To address historical debt built up over several years, the folk festival trimmed expenses by $140,000 by reducing the number of stages, contracting directly for some services and expanding the selection of crafters and vendors.

In the week leading up to the festival, McCarthy reported revenue of $734,291. The goal was $960,000, which means even with the $170,000 from the bucket brigade, the total was about $50,000 short. However, McCarthy said there are other revenue streams pending, such as beer sales and merchandise proceeds that were not included in the bucket brigade.

She also said it’s important to note that the festival’s revenue goal is above and beyond the expenses for the festival. The festival still owes the city of Bangor approximately $300,000 from past years that is to be paid back over a 10-year period at no interest. McCarthy said any extra money raised in 2010 would be used to pay down its debt to the city.

Last year, the city cut off its funding and a previously undisclosed financial relationship between the city and the festival became public, prompting festival organizers to take a harder look at the budget.

In addition to a promissory note that addresses $300,000 in debt owed to the city, the agreement reached between the festival and the City Council essentially severed ties between the longtime partners. The city turned over bookkeeping duties directly to the festival. It said it would no longer provide any cash contributions to the folk festival and reduced the level of in-kind services — including, but not limited to, police, fire, public works and engineering duties. The agreement also removed two City Council representatives from the festival’s board of directors.

This year, in addition to more aggressive fundraising initiatives, festival officials pushed hard to suggest $10 daily donations from each patron who enjoyed the festival. The strategy worked. The previous bucket brigade high was in 2009 when $107,000 was raised.

“We were very pleased in the growth of the bucket brigade; we saw more ‘kicked in’ stickers,” she said.

Already, festival officials are looking to next year. McCarthy said the board of directors held its first meeting Tuesday to try to build on the success of 2010.

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