BANGOR, Maine — The smell of hundreds of kinds of foods, the funky sounds of Mississippi blues guitar and the reverberating echo of bagpipes signaled the beginning of one of the best weekends of the summer: opening night of the eleventh annual American Folk Festival on the Bangor Waterfront. It was a warm, clear evening — the same weather predicted for the remainder of the weekend.
The kickoff parade had just a handful of revelers joining in as it started at the corner of Broad and Washington streets, but by the time it reached the Railroad Stage a crowd of thousands welcomed the Anah Highlanders and their bagpipe brigade. It was followed shortly by the first musical act of the festival — bluesman Marquise Knox, who played for an assembled crowd of folding chair-toting spectators.
“I’ve been to every folk festival since I was really little,” said Cassandra Brink, 10, of Boston, Massachusetts, whose family summers in Maine. “I like seeing all the people. And I like the fries.”
While the music is the star of the show, the food is its costar. Blueberry smoothies, carne asada tacos, grilled chicken on a stick, deep fried peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and lobster rolls were just some of the treats available.
Bucket brigaders were — like every year — out in full force, many of whom were decked out in wild costumes. One donation collector, who wished to only be known as the Octopus Man because of the huge, red foam octopus hat he was wearing, said he had already collected a good amount of money.
“I do this every year,” he said. “And I wear this hat every year. We have a lot of fun.”
Much of the conversation surrounding this year’s festival surrounded the positive effect it has had on the city of Bangor. In many ways, the festival has helped pave the way for events such as the Waterfront Concerts, the KahBang Festival and many other smaller events and festivals.
“I moved to Bangor in 1999, and I remember when the folk festival came here. It was suddenly like something big was happening. It was life. It was like someone turned on a light,” said Marcia Douglas, a theater professor at the University of Maine in Orono. “To me, the best part of the festival is that it’s stayed here and continued to have an impact.”
Saturday’s festivities start at noon, with presentations about American guitar traditions, Maine’s singing guide Randy Spencer, and Lakota hoop dances, as well as performances by Colombian band Grupo Rebolu and Irish dancing with the Old Bay Ceili Band. It will end with salsa dancing with La Excelencia, Cape Breton fiddling with Mary Jane Lamond and Wendy MacIsaac, and Malian band Cheick Hamala Diabate.