BANGOR, Maine — After several years of fiscal challenges, the American Folk Festival is on pace for a successful 2013, organizers said Friday.
With five months to go until tens of thousands of people descend on Bangor for the 2013 American Folk Festival, plans and fundraising efforts are picking up pace.
Festival organizers are seeking to raise about $900,000, mostly through businesses, municipalities and grants, to put on the three-day event. At this point in the year, the Folk Festival is on track to reach that goal, according to festival director Heather McCarthy. Top sponsors this year include the the festival’s home city, Bangor Savings Bank, the Bangor Daily News, Chevrolet, the Sea Dog and Hannaford Bros., she said.
So far, the festival has raised about $349,000, “a good start” at this point in the year, according to McCarthy.
The 2012 Folk Festival was a success after financial rough patches in previous years, according to McCarthy. In 2010, organizers began to pay off a $300,000 debt owed to the city. Debbie Cyr, the city’s finance director, said Friday the festival is up to date on those payments and has paid each installment on time or in advance.
In 2011, severe weather forced the cancellation of the festival’s third day, causing the loss of an estimated $75,000 and cuts to several positions. Last year, the event went off without major weather disturbances and finished in the black, according to the director.
“We’ll be in really good standing once we don’t have that debt to pay off,” Dan Tremble, vice chairman of the festival’s board said Friday. “We’d like to get to a point eventually where … if we had a storm and lost a day of the festival, it wouldn’t hurt too much financially.”
In July of last year, the city approved a 5-year lease with the American Folk Festival in which the city agreed to continue with in-kind support for the festival, with an annual amount not to exceed $50,000, so long as the event remains free and open to the public.
Despite past financial challenges, McCarthy said festival organizers are still “pretty strongly vested” in retaining the festival’s donation-based model.
She said the festival’s board of directors has had discussions about charging admission in the past, but the layout of the waterfront site is “prohibitive” to collecting admission.
“We so appreciate that we have the opportunity to bring this music to all of our community members, regardless of their ability to pay,” McCarthy said. “That’s a really important piece of our model and it’s going to be something that we work hard to maintain.”
Festival organizers on Friday announced the event’s first four artists, covering the genres of blues, gospel, rockabilly and zydeco:
• Sista Monica Parker, dubbed “lioness of the blues,” a 2012 Blues Music Award nominee for Best Soul Blues Female Artist. Sista Monica and her band have performed around the world with blues greats, including BB King.
• American zydeco performer Rosie Ledet, an accordionist and singer who writes her own material in Creole French.
• The Legendary Singing Stars, a gospel group founded more than 50 years ago by the late Tommy Ellison.
• Rockabilly artist Sonny Burgess also will grace a Bangor stage. He began his career in 1954, as part of Sun Records’ lineup. Today he is a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, and tours with his band The Legendary Pacers.
Another 13 or 14 act announcements are still to come, according to the festival’s executive director, Heather McCarthy. This year’s festival will be held Aug. 23, 24 and 25 along the Bangor Waterfront.
“We’re about 154 days to go until the festival and it’s really starting to ramp up as far as getting our acts lined up, our volunteers on board, our vendors, our contractors and all the equipment that we need to make sure the site’s ready for about 120,000 visits,” McCarthy said Friday.
One big change at this year’s festival will be the railroad stage. In recent years, the Folk Festival has used the same large stage as Waterfront Concerts, but new topography on the waterfront stemming from the repositioning of the Waterfront Concert stage means the festival will be renting a new, temporary stage. The Folk Festival’s Railroad Stage will be placed close to the former site of the Waterfront Concerts stage.
The festival had been allowed free use of the former stage by Waterfront Concerts. Because the former stage is shifting farther down the waterfront, McCarthy said the Folk Festival opted to get a stage of its own to keep the festival’s stage venues more centrally located.
McCarthy said organizers haven’t received a price on the new stage yet, but said they “don’t anticipate it’s going to have a huge impact on the budget.”