April 24, 2018
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American Folk Festival organizers squeeze two days’ worth of fun into one

By Aislinn Sarnacki and Emily Burnham, Special to the BDN

By Sunday afternoon, the ground was soggy and muddy, and large puddles dotted the waterfront landscape where just a few hours earlier, thousands of spectators had danced, clapped, eaten and drank up the 2011 American Folk Festival.

On Friday afternoon, festival organizers made the decision to cancel festival events for Sunday due to Hurricane Irene.

“The call to close the Festival down Sunday really helped us out a lot,” said Bangor Waterfront Concerts promoter Alex Gray. “We finished packing up and securing things around 2:30 [a.m. Saturday].”

The 10th annual festival ended around 10:45 p.m. Saturday.

“We loaded all the festival stuff off all the stages that we could last night, all the soft goods and everything like the scrims that go from the roof to the stage,” Gray explained. “There are also two white, canvas midroofs that look like sails and are set at a 45-degree angle. We normally don’t remove them, but we did bunch them into the center of the stage.”

Waterfront Pavilion workers also removed all the blue screening that is normally attached to the fencing enclosing the pavilion concert grounds off Railroad Street.

“We did that to save stress on the fences if there are high winds, especially with the rain softening the ground and everything,” Gray said.

Much of the work done Saturday night wasn’t mandated or required, as Gray said the stage is rated to withstand 75 mph sustained winds and gusts exceeding that speed, but workers were choosing to err on the side of caution after talking to City and emergency officials.

Every effort was made to ensure that as many acts as possible could perform during the abbreviated festival, and Saturday’s schedule was altered to provide maximum entertainment and opportunity for festival-goers to hear and see as much as they could.

Volunteer Phyllis Crouse sat on Saturday at the American Folk Festival information booth, shielded by the sun directly overhead as she scribbled on schedules, cramming additional performances into Saturday’s lineup to make up for the fact that the festival had been canceled Sunday. Instead of focusing on the impending Hurricane Irene, festival-goers were stopping by for her handwritten modifications, determined to dance their feet sore and soak up all the cultural treasures to be had.

Festival organizers and the crowd managed to squeeze two days’ worth of fun into one.

“This is a major job, just directing crowds, figuring traffic flow … there are many things that happen behind the scenes that people don’t even think about,” said Edward Welch, 69, of Waterville, who has attended the festival with his wife, Marilyn, 67, every year.

The Welches travel around the world searching for vintage eyeglasses for their company, Eyeglasses Warehouse, yet they come to the festival for the diversity of music and food. This year, they especially enjoyed the Chinese Guzheng duo Bing Xia.

“They played one instrument, two girls, and made it sound like they had a whole orchestra,” said Marilyn Welch.

Throughout the day, festival-goers were treated to performances from the likes of Pedrito Martinez Group, an Afro-Cuban four-piece comprised of two percussionists — including Martinez — and keyboards and bass. The group’s set in the Dance Pavilion brought out Latin dancers of all stripes, flying around the wooden floors with an extra wiggle in their hips.

Meanwhile, the silky smooth gospel harmonies of the Brotherhood Singers offered a little spiritual salvation to the festival on both the Railroad and Penobscot stages, and later on in the day the blues band Super Chikan brought the boogie to the Dance Pavilion. Hot Club of Cowtown was a big festival hit, as their masterfully played Western swing brought two-steppers to stages throughout the festival grounds, and closed out the night on the Railroad Stage.

This year, the cultural diversity continued in the Children’s Village, where tents were devoted to Native American, Franco-American, Acadian, Latino and Chinese cultures.

“I love this new setup,” said Paula Matlins of Bangor, who had just finished a Latino dance lesson with her daughter Hannah, 2. “I love how the cultural piece aligns so nicely with the adult piece of the festival.”

The mother and daughter stood in front of a fan blowing mist, trying to cool down before walking to the Two Rivers Stage to listen to Egyptian music by Zikrayat.

At 3 p.m., the blazing sun was heating up the open areas of the festival, but a cool wind ruffling the white marketplace tents kept people wondering when the weather would turn for the worse.

“This is my first time here, and I’ve seen a lot of other newbies,” said ceramics artisan Cathie Cantara, owner of Homeport Pottery Studio in Kennebunk.

A customer ran her hands along a bowl’s bronze interior and bent down to inspect the squiggly black lines on the ceramic exterior. It’s horsehair raku, Cantara explained, a Japanese firing method that includes applying horsehair, which vaporizes off the piping hot pottery to form black lines of carbon.

Not far down the row of the marketplace booths, Janis Piper, farmhand at Northern Solstice Alpaca Farm of Unity (also a “newbie” to the festival), showed people how to approach the skittish alpacas, hands clasped behind her back. The multicolored herd ran around the pasture on a big-screen television at the back of the tent.

While scarves, mittens and hats of alpaca fiber were for sale, the folk festival also is time for the farm and other vendors to reach out to a broad audience and educate them about their trade.

Hand Knotted Jewelry and Watchbands of Brooks, which has held a booth for the past eight festivals, is successful in sales each year, but the proprietors say that’s not the reason they come.

“Everyone is just in a good mood and this world needs a lot of that,” said Chris Banikiotes, co-owner of the jewelry business. “I think canceling Sunday was a good idea because it sounds like it will be scary. If it was just rain, that would be one thing. I think most of the vendors agree. Who’s going to say, ‘I’m going to the American Folk Festival Sunday. There’s going to be a hurricane, but I’m going to go anyway?’”

Festival executive director Heather McCarthy was pleased with the overall turnout, as she sat backstage, watching an ebullient set by the Stooges Brass Band, which started with the nightly parade through the festival grounds and ended with an impromptu dance party on the Railroad Stage. Hurricane or not, the American Folk Festival was bound and determined to offer the crowd a great time.

“This is certainly a festival to be remembered,” said McCarthy.

BDN reporter Andrew Neff contributed to this story.

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