The 13th annual American Folk Festival on the Bangor Waterfront started off with flowers, dragons, drums and a giant boot. The L.L. Bean Bootmobile, to be exact, and the Chinese Folk Art Workshop, which led the annual kickoff parade from the Sea Dog Brewing Co. toward the Railroad Stage on Friday night with Chinese dragons and ballet dancers.
Rockabilly guitar master Bill Kirchen was the first artist to perform at this year’s festival, starting off Bangor’s annual celebration of food, music and community with some hot licks. Though it was gray and cloudy for most of the day, by evening it was a comfortable mid-60s, without a drop of rain.
“I am excited to see Bill Kirchen. My dad would be excited to see him, too. He’s a big rockabilly fan and so am I,” said Dylan Trainor of Bangor, who was in attendance with his friend Hannah Hudson, also of Bangor.
Longtime folk fest fans likely noticed many of their favorite things, from the two wood-fired pizza trucks (Pizza Pie on the Fly of Portland and Pompeii Pizza of Bangor) to the annual Greek Taverna sponsored by St. George’s Greek Orthodox Church in Bangor.
New this year was a specialty Maine craft beer selection in the Dance Pavilion featuring lots of Maine brews, including specialties from Banded Horn Brewing, Geaghan Brothers Brewing and Sea Dog’s special folk festival-exclusive Festive Ale. Also new is a slightly smaller festival footprint — in the past, the streets were blocked off from the intersection of Washington and Broad all the way to Railroad Street, but this year the streets are blocked off only from the Two Rivers Stage.
Dance tent fans got out on the floor to the sounds of both Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys — who just last weekend played during the World Acadian Congress in Madawaska — and the West African Highlife Band.
The diversity of music is a draw for many festival fans.
“My wife and I have been here since just about the beginning, when it was the National Folk Festival,” said Sigmund Matthew-Szczepkowski, a summer resident of Bucksport with his wife, Joan; they live in North Carolina the rest of the year. “I’ve really enjoyed the Japanese drummers in the past, and the Korean drummers. We love that you can see so many things. We also come up to Bangor to just walk along the river. We love it here.”
The diversity of food is also always a big draw.
“We’ve heard the Louisiana food at the Hammerhead booth is great. Someone told us to try the Alligator Bites,” said Catherine Allen, a recent transplant to Bangor from New York City with her husband, Mike. “It’s our first festival so we don’t quite know where to start.”
Festivities continue through Saturday and Sunday, as usual, with musical artists including new genres for the festival such as the Cape Verdean songs of Lutchinha and the Vietnamese group Khac Chi. Hours are noon to 10:30 p.m. Saturday and noon to 6:15 p.m. Sunday.