Councilors nix camping at KahBang

Damian Kulash (right) of the band OK Go gets some love from the crowd while performing at the KahBang Music & Art Festival on the Bangor Waterfront in 2010.
Bridget Brown | BDN File Photo
Damian Kulash (right) of the band OK Go gets some love from the crowd while performing at the KahBang Music & Art Festival on the Bangor Waterfront in 2010.
Posted April 05, 2011, at 9 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — City councilors made it clear Tuesday that they support KahBang, a locally grown music and arts festival that debuted in 2009 and grew exponentially in its second season.

The council also made it clear that it could not support a proposal to add overnight camping to the list of KahBang’s offerings for the third annual summer festival.

Councilors debated a detailed proposal made by Tim Lo, the festival’s executive director, and Aaron Sines, the festival’s engineer, but decided that the concerns created by the prospect of hundreds of waterfront campers outweighed any potential benefits.

Lo said he has been pleased with the city’s support of the festival since it started, but said he also believes Bangor could miss out on a unique opportunity by denying an option for campers.

“We need to grow and remain competitive,” Lo told councilors. “We’re simply a business asking the city for help in a competitive environment.”

Sines said the idea was to set aside 40,000 square feet on the waterfront and convert the space into no more than 180 campsites. The proposal for waterfront camping in 2011 was only temporary. Lo said the long-term goal would be to allow camping at nearby Bass Park, but that couldn’t happen this year if plans to build a new arena and convention center move forward. Whether camping at Bass Park could happen in future years or this year was up in the air on Tuesday.

“This is the first time we’ve had a conversation with councilors,” Lo said. “We were hoping for an open dialogue.”

Councilors were effusive in their praise of KahBang and of the group of local young professionals behind its success. They were much less enthusiastic about the idea of allowing camping on a piece of waterfront property that the city has spent millions to overhaul and that also is home to the American Folk Festival and the Waterfront Concert Series.

Councilor Nelson Durgin said the Nateva Festival in Oxford might be an example of what could happen in Bangor. Last year’s Nateva Festival, which combined camping with a variety of music acts, was a success but prompted numerous complaints from townspeople over noise and property damage. This year’s Nateva Festival was canceled.

Lo, however, said the failure of Nateva could boost KahBang in helping to fill that void. KahBang has the opportunity to create an event that is unrivaled in the region, he said.

“We are aware that we are trying to bring a new concept to the city of Bangor,” Lo said. “It takes a leap of faith.”

That’s a leap the council is not ready to take.

“Camping may bring problems beyond what we can handle,” Durgin said.

Aside from safety and logistical concerns, councilors said there is simply no mechanism in the city’s code of ordinances to allow camping. Any ordinance could change but not without the council’s will.

Lo and city parks and recreation director Tracy Willette are expected to continue discussions about the possibility of camping at Bass Park, but councilors did not promise support of that idea for this year’s festival.

Lo said he and the many others responsible for KahBang desperately want to keep the festival in Bangor, but he didn’t rule out the possibility of moving to a more progressive community.

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