BANGOR, Maine — As Hurricane Irene churned away in the mid-Atlantic, Bangor danced up its own storm on the opening night of the annual American Folk Festival. The rain and wind seemed a distant dream as a balmy evening gave way to a cool, comfortable night. But the storm and the fact that Sunday’s festival events were canceled ahead of Irene’s arrival was an ever-present topic of conversation even as festival-goers enjoyed an array of music from traditional Southern bluegrass to Congolese dance music.
“That just means we’re going to have to see that much more and have that much more fun today and Saturday,” said Kim Coors of Ellsworth, who said she had only missed two of the 10 folk festivals held on the Bangor Waterfront.
The yearly parade from West Market Square to the Railroad Stage was led by the Stooges Brass Band, a New Orleans six-piece that played infectiously funky, hip-hop-infused music straight from the Big Easy. A small crowd of people built into a big party as the band reached the waterfront.
The night continued on the Railroad Stage with Rich in Tradition, a bluegrass group from North Carolina; blues band Super Chikan; and Congolese bandleader Samba Ngo. Meanwhile, the Dance Pavilion hosted the laid-back Western swing of Hot Club of Cowtown and the hot zydeco of Leroy Thomas and the Zydeco Roadrunners.
Though the festival always attracts newcomers, the return visitors are its hallmark. Lisa and John Gabarra of Orrington have attended every festival, and though they come for the food, they stay for the music.
“We come for the whole weekend and we just love it. It’s a fantastic event,” said Lisa Gabarra. “It’s such a bummer that they had to cancel Sunday, but I think that was a good call. You can’t be too safe. It’s just unfortunate.”
Jesse Guerin of Glenburn also has been to every festival — but since he’s just 15 years old, he can barely remember a time when there wasn’t a folk festival.
“I remember the first year there were these really cool Native American performers. It’s kind of fuzzy. I was really little, but I remember it,” said Guerin, who was standing near the Penobscot Stage playing ukulele for passers-by. “There’s a lot more people now. It’s just so much fun.”
Festival organizers said that Saturday’s schedule would be remade to accommodate more performers since Sunday’s performances are canceled. The new schedule is expected to be released by Saturday morning on both the American Folk Festival website and at bangordailynews.com, as well as through the folk festival’s smartphone app.
Regardless of schedule changes, Saturday’s events include all four stages, the new expanded children’s village and afternoon programming on the Maine Folklife Center’s Narrative Stage.