BANGOR, Maine — A policeman’s head bobbed ever so slightly to the beat vibrating in his chest, and through each person in the audience. Sunlight crept up and away as hip-hop group Atmosphere took the stage on the Bangor Waterfront for the KahBang Festival on Friday evening. MC Slug had the crowd jumping and swaying their arms overhead with his clever rhymes and the melodies of a live band.
Atmosphere was followed by headliners Grace Potter and the Nocturnals and Lupe Fiasco, all three bringing a unique flavor of music to KahBang’s main stage.
But the festivities started much earlier that day with nonstop performances on multiple stages scattered across the KahBang landscape on the Bangor waterfront.
Rewind to 3 p.m., and friends Kate Timko, 17, and Julie Maffucci, 17, both of Bar Harbor, were staking their claim to a patch of lawn in front of the main stage for what would be two days of music. The girls were prepared with chairs, blankets, KahBang T-shirts and VIP passes that gained them entrance into the VIP tent later that evening.
“I really like good music,” said Timko. “And Atmosphere is one of my favorite bands — and Lupe — and also, not a lot of music festivals are close to here. Everyone I know is here. It would be easier to ask me who I know who isn’t here.”
The third annual KahBang Festival, a celebration of music, art and film, features 50 bands, 30 films and 20 artists in nine days.
The crowd grew throughout the day Friday in anticipation of the big acts, busying vendors selling anything from Maine-made earrings sculpted of precious wood to airbrush tattoos to brick-oven pizza, for which Slug tipped his hat.
Atmosphere’s core duo Slug, Sean Daley, and producer Ant, Anthony Davis, brought a whole new sound to the Bangor stage with the group’s newest additions, keyboardist Erick Anderson and guitarist Nate Collis.
“I’ve seen him twice, but I’ve never touched him or shook his hand,” said Justin Fletcher, 31, of Sarasota, Florida, as he stood in line to meet Slug earlier in the evening. “I shook Obama’s hand, but this will mean more for me.”
Fletcher applauds Slug for his storytelling ability and the way he often adds a positive twist to the end of his songs. And many of the fans at the Bangor Waterfront agreed that Atmosphere’s lyrics are appealing because he raps about everyday life.
“A lot of mainstream rappers talk about cars,” said concertgoer Jeremy Legendre, 18, of Gorham, N.H. “I can’t relate to owning a Beemer or Benz or Bentley. But Slug, a lot of the emotion and stories he describes are relatable.”
Grace Potter, in an airy white dress and strumming her white electric guitar, wasted no time in displaying her vocal range when the purple spotlights lit the stage. She jumped straight into her hit song “Paris” (also known as “Ooh La La”).
On stage was the band’s new five-piece configuration: lead singer Potter, lead guitarist Scott Tournet, and drummer Matt Burr joined by bassist Catherine Popper and rhythm guitarist Benny Yurco.
“Grace Potter is just a rocker chick. She sports no makeup, she’s got the rocker hair, rocker T’s. Her music is fun, feminine and high energy,” said Rachel Jenkins, 27, of Bangor, who has been a fan for several years.
The band has transformed from a homegrown Vermont jam band to the next big thing in the national music scene with their third album “Grace Potter and the Nocturnals,” 2010, appropriately self-named due to the fact that the band found themselves and had a “stylistic epiphany,” said Potter, while making the album.
Last to make an appearance on Friday night was hip-hop artist Lupe Fiasco, a high-energy act that many people had waited all night to hear.
“He’s an intellectual in a different way,” said Fiasco fan Adam Littlefield, 22, of Hartland, who was seeing Fiasco in concert for the first time. “He has an ability to play with words so that you hear something new each time you listen to a song.”
Lupe Fiasco’s first two albums, “Food and Liquor” (2006) and “The Cool” (2007) started his reputation as a rap philosopher without the need to resort to vulgarity in his lyrics. And after a four-year hiatus, rapper Fiasco returned to the music scene in March 2011 with his much-awaited album “LASERS” — an acronym for “Love Always Shines Everytime: Remember to Smile” — which has already resulted in the hit single “The Show Goes On.”
“LASERS” is an album with a mission, and features thought-provoking rhymes combined with collaborations with John Legend, Trey Songz and others.
Though the headliners drew a big crowd, sometimes it’s the opening bands that bring the most devoted fans to the concert.
Faith Massa, 25, traveled from New Jersey to see Atomic Tom, which she has seen more than 25 times in concert since she became a fan in early 2008.
“They sound good no matter where you see them,” said Massa while snacking on a root beer float. “They have the most energy for a four-piece rock band.”
It was Atomic Tom’s first time to Maine, and they were a big hit.
American hip-hop artist Evidence, four-piece band DOM and hip-hop artist Blueprint, among many other musicians, drew fans to the waterfront earlier in the evening.
“I’m actually pretty psyched they’re doing it,” Jay Graves, 42, of Veazie, said of KahBang bringing up and coming bands to Bangor. “Culturally, it’s kind of different for Bangor. I’ve been to about 180 concerts in Boston, Florida, Montreal and out west. I think concerts bring a lot of people into Bangor and they’re a great boost for the economy.”
The KahBang Festival will continue all day Saturday, Aug. 13. For information on the KahBang, visit www.KahBang.com.