For its fifth birthday, the KahBang Festival, set for downtown Bangor and the Waterfront Aug. 8-11, is celebrating things a little differently than in years prior. With age comes wisdom, you could say.
Then again, the typical 5-year-old probably gets just as excited about a Ferris wheel and a Gravitron as KahBang organizers are about the one they’ve set up on the Waterfront this year.
“It’s a big party,” said Meg Shorette, executive director of KahBang Arts, the festival’s nonprofit wing. “It’s really diversified this year. Turning five for us gave us an excuse to do all the things we’ve always wanted to do. So that means a Ferris wheel, and all kinds of art, and the Brew Fest, and a film festival that we’re incredibly proud of. I’m more excited this year than I’ve ever been.”
The biggest difference between this year’s KahBang and prior festivals is that the emphasis isn’t on the headliners anymore. It’s on the more than 40 other bands from all over the U.S. and Canada. Creative director Joshua Gass calls it a return to KahBang’s original intent of being a discovery festival — meaning that the focus is on emerging talent.
“We bring all these lesser known but really amazing bands here for a reason,” said Gass. “Putting on a festival where half your audience shows up for the last three hours of the night isn’t the point. We don’t like it when no one is there to see most of the bands. We worked this year to change that, so the first thing we did was restructure it so that the majority of the festival is free.”
That’s right: more than half of the music and activities at KahBang this year are 100 percent free. That includes the Thursday evening kickoff party in West Market and Pickering squares, the Second Stage and the Discovery Stage on the Waterfront, access to all the art, food, shopping and street performances on the Waterfront, the entirety of the KahBang Film Festival, and all the late night music showcases at the Big Easy, the Phoenix Pub and the Sea Dog in downtown and at the campsite next to the Sports Arena in Hermon. And the Ferris wheel. That’s free too.
Festival passes, which were $40 up until this week and are now $50, include access to the Dance Stage and to the Main Stage (which features bigger acts like Dr. Dog and Earl Sweatshirt), access to the KahBoat rides down the river and use of the festival shuttle.
KahBang isn’t using the Waterfront Pavilion area this year — all stages and activities will be located along Front and Railroad Streets and the Waterfront Park trail, in much the same way the American Folk Festival stretches from the corner of Front and Washington Streets to behind Hollywood Slots.
Gass believes this approach will give KahBang the festival atmosphere they’ve always strived for, and not so much an evening concert that happens to have music earlier in the day.
“We’ve been very lucky to get bigger acts. B.o.B. back in 2010 started it … We booked him before he blew up and had a No. 1 hit. He was still relatively unknown when he originally came aboard,” said Gass. “I think having a performer that’s that huge really set the bar incredibly high for the following years and created some big expectations, and made KahBang into more of a concert, less of a festival. And that’s not what we want to be.”
Along with the array of genres and regions represented in the music lineup, there are several other creative elements this year. The KahBang Film Festival has three days of film programming in its Waterfront film tent, kicking off with Maine native Kate Aselton’s feature thriller “Black Rock,” set for 10:30 p.m. Thursday, and continuing with an array of short films, music videos and several features screened throughout the festival. It will close with an 11 p.m. Saturday screening of “The Dirties,” a chilling indie drama, and a wrap party.
A unique, clear-span, temporary structure will house two brand-new events over the weekend. On Friday, BDN Maine’s What’s Next Conference will be held from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and will feature 23 different speakers and panelists talking about the intersection of social media, technology, creativity and business; the cost to register is $55.
On Saturday, the Brew Fest at KahBang will offer ticket holders the chance to sample beers from more than 20 different breweries from all over North America; sessions are noon-3 p.m. and 5-8 p.m. and tickets are $39.
Executive director Timothy Lo, one of the festival’s original founders, has learned a lot since that first festival back in 2009. In his mind, the 2013 KahBang is a hybrid of the laid-back, intimate, eager young festival of the first year, and the progressive, regionally respected event that it has grown into over the years.
“I think this is the perfect culmination of all the stuff we’ve learned,” said Lo. “We’re the only festival of its kind in the Northeast. We like being a little different. We like showcasing Bangor. We like that we’re a totally unique brand and a totally unique experience. That’s what KahBang is all about.”
10 can’t-miss things at KahBang 2013
1. Super Lucha Explosiva, at the Festival Kickoff Party at 7 p.m. Thursday. Lucha Libre wrestlers — you know, the masked Mexican wrestling sensation? — will rumble in Pickering Square. This is a first for Bangor.
2. The Electric Dash, 10 p.m. Thursday, running from West Market Square to the Dance Stage, near Hollywood Slots. It’s $5 to register for this (supposedly) 0.965605 kilometer run, which culminates in a neon-colored dance party. Proceeds benefit the Children’s Tumor Foundation.
3. The Ferris wheel, the Gravitron and the 300-foot zipline. All free. Get adventurous.
4. The KahBang Film Festival VHS night. This “homage to analog” starts at 11 p.m. Friday, with a comedy performance followed by a screening of the VHS version of “Billy Madison.”
5. Hip-hop at KahBang, which includes Odd Future alum Earl Sweatshirt, the Knocks, Hopsin, Toussaint Morrison, Tha Jist, Caso Khan and, of course, Maine’s own Spose. A big treat for Maine hip-hop heads.
6. Electronic music at KahBang — as big a gathering of DJs and electronic artists as you’ll likely see in eastern Maine this year — including a wide array of sounds, from dubstep to trance. Paper Diamond, Break Science, 12th Planet, Lazerdisk Party Sex, Codes, Of The Trees and Black Light Dinner Party.
7. It’s a discovery festival, right? Try discovering bands such as the fabulously literate rock of Oberhofer, the crazy funky party band Biscuits & Gravy, energetic Baltimore indie poppers Sun Club, or the Presque Isle-based genre-smashing duo Crunk Witch.
8. After the music gets done on the Waterfront (around 11 p.m.-ish) there’s lots of late night stuff, including shows at the Big Easy, the Phoenix and the Sea Dog in downtown Bangor, and 1 a.m. performances at the campsite from Of The Trees on Friday and Spose and Lazerdisk Party Sex on Saturday.
9. Food and vendors. Expect gourmet tacos, fancy pizza, lots of vegetarian stuff and unique buys in the arts village. A concert with more options than chicken fingers and dough boys? Oh boy.
10. Art, too — KahBang Arts has invited 19 different artists to set up in booths, stretching between the Main Stage and the Dance Stage along the Waterfront Trail. Sculptors, painters, photographers, a mobile screen printing setup, clothing, chain saw art, tattoo artists and many, many more.
A previous version of this story requires correction. The zipline is 300 feet, not 100 feet.