May 26, 2018
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Folk Festival Future

The American Folk Festival completed another successful three-day run in Bangor on Sunday. When things are going well — not when they are already in decline — is the right time to think about sustaining that success.

Next year will mark the festival’s 10th year on the Bangor Waterfront. This is an apt time for organizers to consider ways to shake things up to keep the festival vital, especially financially. Otherwise, the public may begin to take the event for granted, which spells the beginning of the end.

First the positives: Thousands of people enjoyed listening — and dancing — to music from around the world.

Praise flowed freely for the variety and quality of music and food.

Those who came to the festival were generous as cash donations topped $170,000, a new record.

“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,” festival director Heather McCarthy told the Bangor Daily News.

Of course, the community is strongly in favor of keeping the festival. The question, however, has long been how to pay for it.

In December, the BDN reported that the festival operated at a loss in all but one of the eight years that the event has been held. After last summer’s American Folk Festival, the event had accumulated debt of nearly $280,000.

The debt piled up in increments of between $11,000 and $161,000 a year beginning in 2002, when Bangor began a three-year run hosting the National Folk Festival. The only year that the event was not in the red was 2005, the first year of the American Folk Festival.

This year, festival organizers suggested a daily $10 per person, or $20 per family, “donation” to the festival. While this approach led to higher contributions to the bucket brigade, it may become tiresome in future years.

Instead, organizers need to find ways to make the folk festival part of the region regardless of season. The board of directors should look for ways to build and sustain excitement and support throughout the year. Several low-cost fundraising events could do this. So would smaller concerts on the waterfront that featured past festival performers. Even a road race dedicated to the festival could help.

The festival must be credited with spawning other cultural activities in Bangor, such as the ongoing waterfront concert series and the KahBang festival, which have helped make the city a more vibrant place.

The most popular events at the folk festival tend to involve dancing or other audience participation. Ensuring people feel connected to the festival is the key to its continued success.

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