HERMON, Maine — The mood was mellow early Saturday afternoon at the KahBang music festival campsite behind The Sports Arena on outer Hammond Street. Several dozen tents of varying shapes and sizes were set up in small clusters in the center of the field and along its forested edges. Red paper lanterns hung from trees, tent poles and car antennas. Small groups of campers chatted and socialized, preparing to head downtown to the main festival site along the Bangor Waterfront.
This is the first year the 3-year-old KahBang event has offered off-site camping to festival-goers. About 350 campers took advantage of the option, paying extra to pitch their tents in the Hermon field. Portable toilets and showers serviced the makeshift campground, and a shuttle bus provided free rides back and forth to downtown every half hour. In addition, the campground was the site of an after-hours music party every night of the festival, inviting campers and others to extend the festive atmosphere into the wee hours.
Organizer Chas Bruns said the camping option has been a successful addition to the festival. Despite a certain amount of mud in the field that trapped several vehicles as they arrived on Thursday and Friday, campers remained generally cheerful, courteous and well behaved, he said. There were no significant problems, he added, and even if there had been, the KahBang audience is made up of the kind of “chill hipsters” who would be unlikely to make a scene.
Under one of the trees in the sea of sunbaked grass on Saturday, music poured from the sound system inside the Mini Cooper belonging to 26-year-old Laura LiCuanan of Boston. This was LiCuanan’s first KahBang festival and her first visit to Bangor. She heard about the festival on a Boston radio station, looked it up on Facebook and bought tickets for herself and her friend Marcus Bardagallo, 25, and also from Boston.
The couple was attracted to Bangor by the big-name acts playing at this year’s KahBang, including rockers My Morning Jacket and rapper Lupe Fiasco. But they were also “blown away” by the opening performance Friday night by Vermont-based Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Bardagallo said.
Taking a break from the festival crowd at the Bangor Waterfront, the two Bostonians said camping for KahBang had been a pleasant experience. With shuttle buses running every half hour to downtown — including stops at the waterfront, the grocery store and local bars and restaurants — Bardagallo said the scene at the campground had been relaxed and sociable.
“Everyone seems to be having a good time,” he said.
“Bangor is a lot bigger than I thought it was,” said 28-year-old Julie Peterson of Portland, who traveled to KahBang with a group of friends from southern Maine. The group was gathered around a custom-fabricated camping trailer made from a Volkswagen pop-up camper, preparing to catch the next shuttle to the waterfront.
Campers have been sociable and generally well-behaved, the group said. Peterson said she was impressed with the overall friendliness of the KahBang festival and the array of downtown establishments that have opened their doors to the festival-goers.
“The bars are really nice,” she said.
Andrew Bourgoin and Jenny Hutchinson, both 29 and living in Portland, graduated in 2000 from Bangor High School. Close friends of the KahBang organizers, Bourgoin and Huntchinson said KahBang’s regional reputation is growing, attracting music lovers from throughout New England and beyond.
“The caliber of the bands is really high,” Burgoin said. “They’re doing a good job of balancing the national acts with local bands. It’s a really good showcase.”
“A lot of people who live in Maine never go north of Portland,” Hutchinson said. “This is so nice; it really brings people to Bangor.”
Crews from Hermon Ambulance have maintained a 24-hour presence at the campground, part of the town’s agreement to allow the festival to use the site. Paramedic Tom Goehringer said that other than dispensing “a few Band-Aids for some minor cuts and scrapes,” the emergency crews have had little to do.
“Everybody has been extremely friendly,” he said. “They’re just here to listen to some good music.”
Inside the Sports Arena, manager Rick Poole said the music lovers camped out behind the facility had not brought a lot of business into the bowling alley or other attractions.
“There have been a few coming in; I thought there would be more,” he said. “I guess they’re just doing their own thing out there.”