ROCKLAND, Maine — Some wore tartans and some sang the blues this weekend, with two very different summer festivals drawing enthusiastic crowds at both the Maine Celtic Celebration in Belfast and the North Atlantic Blues Festival in Rockland.
A flotilla of boats bobbed at anchor behind the stage at Harbor Park in Rockland on Saturday, where thousands of people eagerly listened to a lineup of Chicago blues musicians that included Nellie “Tiger” Travis.
Her soulful style was a hit with the crowd — and Travis, who said it was her first trip to Maine, returned the compliment.
“I’m so appreciative,” the red-haired, aqua-clad dynamo said after her performance. “It couldn’t have been a better day.”
That thought was echoed by many, including event co-producer Paul Benjamin. He estimated Sunday that about 16,000 people came to the 28th annual two-day festival.
“It’s a great success,” he said. “A great crowd and a great audience.”
Roger Pelletier of Edmunston, N.B., said he has been a member of the audience for “many years,” driving down to spend the weekend soaking up the sounds.
“It’s one of the premiere blues shows,” he said.
Michael Murphy of Bangor is another longtime listener. He has hosted a blues radio show for 20 years on WMEB and has been coming to Rockland for the festival for more than a decade.
“It’s always a great lineup, with top-level talent from Chicago,” he said, taking a quick break from snapping photographs of the musicians. “Rockland’s a pretty place — and they’ve got the blues.”
According to Benjamin, the Saturday lineup provided him with one of his favorite moments from 18 years of putting on the festival.
At the close of the show, bluesman Lonnie Brooks of the Brooks Family Dynasty led his two sons in a rendition of “Sweet Home Chicago.” The other artists who had played throughout the day came back on stage and joined them.
“It brought everybody out on their feet,” Benjamin said. “The whole audience stood up and sang for 15 minutes. That’s my new highlight … the best Chicago blues was in Rockland, Maine.”
Over in Belfast, one of the best moments of the fifth annual Maine Celtic Celebration came Sunday afternoon, along with the battle to win the U.S. National Cheese Roll Championship. Men, women and children sprinted, tripped and even got into more than one scrum as they fought to catch a wheel of cheese that rolled tantalizingly down the hill ahead of them.
Ethan Seidl, 13, of Cochecton, N.Y., won his age group despite having some doubts about his abilities.
“At first I thought I was going to come in last place, because I haven’t trained for this,” he said, as he walked away surrounded by girls — and holding the cheese. “I feel great. I felt like an underdog, and then I did it.”
“That was amazing,” one of the girls said to him.
Dan Greeley of Belfast battled, and won, against many men aged 18 and up. It’s not the first time that the 41-year-old has taken home the cheese, and, he said, success has led to expectations.
“I’ve been nervous about this,” he said jokingly. “I’m a hometown boy. I’ve got a lot of fans.”
The cheese will help to feed his family, with one daughter saying that she had just purchased a lot of crackers in expectation of another victory.
“See the pressure?” Greeley asked.
Organizers said there was no way to tell how many people came to the free, three-day festival, which relies on donations and fundraisers instead of an entry fee. But even though the Sunday afternoon heat appeared to cause more than one small child to wilt and want to go home, Bob MacGregor, the president of the board of directors for the celebration, said the weekend has been a success.
Events included an impressive firework display Saturday night, music all weekend, Highland Heavy Games, dancing and more.
“It’s going very smoothly, and the weather’s fantastic,” MacGregor said.
Nate Chamberlain, who was working in the booth for the Stone Fox Farm Creamery, said the hot weather hasn’t slowed down the clientele. A line of people stretched in front of the booth, waiting to order their ice cream.
“Business is good,” he said. “On a hot day like this — definitely good.”