BANGOR, Maine — With just three weeks before major performers including DMX and St. Vincent are scheduled to take the main stage at the annual KahBang Festival, organizers confirmed Thursday that a last-minute venue change will take the festival more than two hours south.
KahBang Festival organizers told the Bangor Daily News on Thursday morning that the festival will be held in downtown Portland. The festival launched in 2009 on the Bangor Waterfront and has been held there annually since.
However, the 2014 edition of the music, art and film festival will be held mostly indoors at venues including the State Theatre and Port City Music Hall.
KahBang creative director Joshua Gass said that he and fellow staffers made the final decision last week and have been finalizing details. The festival still will be held Aug. 7-10, and will follow largely the same schedule as it was to follow on the Bangor Waterfront — just in the new location.
“This was not an easy decision for us to make, but at the end of the day, this was a business decision,” said Gass. “We had to make a change in order to preserve the festival.”
All previously purchased tickets to the festival will be honored at Portland KahBang events. Ticketholders who are unable to attend KahBang in Portland can get a refund for their ticket at the point of purchase.
Ticketholders will be informed of the change in city and venues by email. Ticket sales and refunds will be available at 10 a.m. Friday.
The KahBang Brew Fest, however, has been canceled. Those who bought passes to the annual craft beer celebration can have their passes upgraded to the full KahBang Festival pass for free.
Organizers said that a suitable Portland venue for the event was not found, so canceling was the only option.
Headliners including indie rock artist St. Vincent and rapper DMX will perform at the State Theatre, while many smaller bands coming in from across the country will be split between the State, Port City Music Hall and the Big Easy Nightclub.
The KahBang Film Festival will be held at One Longfellow Square, and a pop-up art gallery will be held at CTN Studios on Congress Street. Organizers are working to offer a vendor fair in Monument Square.
A full schedule of what’s happening where, and ticket and refund information, will be posted on both the KahBang website and the State Theatre website on Friday.
The last-minute decision was greatly influenced by the festival’s failure to find a campsite to house festival-goers, artists and bands in the Bangor area, said Gass. In previous years, the KahBang campsite was located in a field off outer Hammond Street in Hermon. That campsite has grown increasingly waterlogged over the years, and this year the owners of the field declined to host campers.
Organizers had tried to find a suitable campsite replacement, including asking the city of Bangor to allow limited camping on the waterfront, but came up short with each request.
Because KahBang’s demographic is composed in large part of people in their late teens and early 20s coming from southern New England and New York, the lack of cheap lodging became a major concern as preparations for the festival continued.
By moving the festival to Portland this year, festival-goers will have access to camping at Wild Duck Campground and RV Park in Scarborough. Shuttles will run campers back and forth between Portland and the campsite all weekend.
“We rely on people to travel in from out of state… so when we were hearing from people who wanted to buy tickets, the biggest comment was, ‘We want to go, but we don’t know where to stay,’” said Gass. “By moving it to Portland, we can provide our festival-goers with an affordable place to stay, and we’re closer to where these people are coming from anyway.”
Gass and fellow organizer Meg Shorette began having discussions about the future of the 2014 festival in early July. Sluggish ticket sales had concerned them, and after seeing what happened during the rainout on the Friday of the 2013 festival, the pair were worried about whether they could offer a worthwhile festival experience at all.
Gass reached out to Lauren Wayne, general manager of the State Theater and Port City Music Hall, for advice. Wayne offered use of the venues she books if the festival moved to Portland, and KahBang organizers accepted.
“It was a choice between canceling the whole festival altogether, or salvaging it by moving it to Portland,” said Gass. “We were worried that if we canceled it this year, that would be the end of it. KahBang would be dead. But we wanted to save it, so we made the call to move it.”
Portland city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin confirmed that the city was in talks with KahBang organizers to hold an event on the city-owned Maine State Pier but that festival officials only told the city this week they wanted to secure the pier for Aug. 9 specifically.
She said the city told festival organizers they could not use the Maine State Pier on Aug. 9 because it’s too close to the already-approved Aug. 10 Reggae Fest at that same site.
“We just don’t have the staff to cover both back-to-back like that,” she said, noting that city public facilities staff work events there helping to set up and take down equipment, as well as work security details. “It is our understanding that they are working with The State Theatre, but beyond that, we don’t know what the details are with them.”
Grondin also said that at this point there would not be enough time for the city council to approve a new event at the pier — it’s too late to add an item to the council’s Monday meeting agenda, she said, and its next meeting on Aug. 4 would not leave room for any delays or follow-up questions by councilors. She acknowledged that if private concert venues hosted KahBang-related events, they would not need to seek city approval to do so.
For Gass and the other organizers, moving the event from Bangor to Portland has been a bit of a bitter pill to swallow. KahBang was one of the first events on the Bangor Waterfront that brought contemporary rock, hip-hop and pop acts to the city, preceding even the Waterfront Concerts, and has become a signature event of sorts for the Queen City.
Gass assures longtime Bangor KahBang-goers that the festival office is still in Bangor, and that KahBang Arts, the festival’s nonprofit wing, will continue to offer programming year round. The KahBang Arts Central Gallery on Central Street in downtown Bangor has a full slate of events planned for the coming months.
“This is not a statement about Bangor or about this community,” said Gass. “I moved back here to my hometown to be a part of KahBang, and we’re committed to keeping it here. It’s very, very important to me and to all of us that that continues. We have made it happen here for the past five years and we want to keep that going.”
What the future holds for KahBang remains to be seen — Gass said he and his team will re-evaluate the situation after the Portland festival for a potential return to Bangor in 2015.
BDN writer Seth Koenig contributed to this report.