The stages and tents are up. Performers have arrived. Food is cooking. Beginning Friday evening, it’s time for you to head down to the Bangor Waterfront for the American Folk Festival. To continue its success, the festival needs you to go enjoy the music, food and arts — and to contribute financially.
If you’ve been in Bangor any of the past 12 years, you likely know the routine. There will be stages stretching along the Penobscot River, from Main Street to the Kenduskeag Stream. Musicians, ranging from those with West African Highlife Band to R&B and soul singer Otis Clay to Adonis Puentes and the Voice of Cuba Orchestra, will provide nonstop music.
Food vendors, selling everything from blueberry shortcake to crawfish etouffee to fresh cannolis, will be spread throughout the venue, with a large cluster near the Penobscot River. Handmade crafts including jewelry, leatherworks, knit items, guitars and pottery will be displayed and sold.
As always, admission is free, and dogs should stay at home. There is handicap parking at Bass Park, and a free wheelchair-accessible shuttle will bring individuals to the waterfront. Parking at Bass Park will cost $8 for the day or $10 for the entire weekend.
The three-day festival starts 6:15 p.m. Friday with a Chinese folk art workshop and parade, followed by performances by guitarist Bill Kirchen, Bon Debarras (Quebecois folk music) and Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys (a Cajun band).
The fun begins again at noon Saturday and runs through 6:15 p.m. Sunday. The weather forecast calls for warm, sunny days.
While festival attendance is free, it costs close to $1 million to put on the affair. Local businesses contribute about half of the festival’s funding. There also is money from the government, although Bangor’s contribution has been reduced in recent years. The rest must come from individual donors and the sale of festival merchandise.
As in past years, volunteers will walk through the crowds with buckets for donations, not only to meet this year’s obligations, but to jump-start next year’s festival. So, give generously.
Through three years as host of the National Folk Festival and subsequent years as host of its successor, the American Folk Festival, Bangor has answered skeptics who doubted the small city could pull off such an event. The top-notch entertainment, enthusiastic crowds and positive reviews made the city look at itself in a more positive way. That enthusiasm has helped spawn the Waterfront Concert series, which features big-name performers, and other arts events.
It also helps the region economically. According to a 2011 economic impact study by the Maine Arts Commission, the annual festival generates estimated revenue in the region of more than $15.3 million — from an audience that’s 68 percent local and 32 percent from elsewhere in the state, the country and the world.
To get in on the excitement, head downtown and enjoy the festivities.