FORT KENT, Maine — A daylong concert earlier this month aimed at raising funds for a proposed local veterans’ museum and community center ended up losing money when fewer people showed up than anticipated.
More than a year in the making, Freedom Fest 2014 brought 12 bands to the Fort Kent Municipal Airport — a grass landing strip parallel to the Fish River north of the downtown area.
With tickets going for $40 each, Duane Belanger, Freedom Fest committee chairman, had anticipated crowds numbering in the thousands and had organized on and off-site parking, security, sanitation and vendors based on those numbers.
In the end, he estimates around 1,000 people, including volunteers, were in attendance over the course of the day.
“Obviously we all would have wanted to see higher attendance,” said Belanger, who had anticipated that crowds coming into the area for the opening weekend of the World Acadian Congress would translate into a big turnout for the concert.
“We did bank on the huge number of people coming for the [Acadian] Congress but they did not come to the concert,” Belanger said Wednesday.
“Those that did come all said they loved it,” he said. “We were told it was well organized and a really nice venue.”
Local volunteers had worked much of the summer to prepare the area around the airport for the concert, Belanger said, adding that is good news for any future events.
“The organizers have had a preliminary meeting and everyone is interested in a Freedom Fest 2015,” he said. “They are not willing to give up on something that is for a good cause.”
Leading up to the August event, Emera Maine installed utility poles, power lines, electrical feeds and a transformer for sound and lighting at the venue.
Some of that work was donated by a local electrician, but the Emera poles, lines and other materials did come at a cost, Belanger said.
Local businesses also donated dumpsters, trash barrels and multiple loads of gravel to smooth out the area, Belanger said.
The airstrip, owned by the town of Fort Kent, is currently under lease to a local flying club, Town Manager Don Guimond said Wednesday. The town, he said, incurred no cost in connection with Freedom Fest.
“We did not make any money,” Belanger said. “But because of the amount of sponsors and volunteers, we are not as far in the hole as we could be.”
Belanger declined to comment on how much money the event lost, but said he hopes sales of DVDs of the concert would put the project back in the black.
The bands agreed to be recorded for sales to benefit the veterans’ center. Preorders of the DVDs, which will be available locally in September, may be made on the Martin-Klein American Legion Post website at www.americanlegionpost133.org/.
Among the highlights of the day was the arrival of Maine First Lady Ann LePage riding in a motorcycle convoy and later skydiving into the venue with an all veterans parachute team, sponsored by Wreaths Across America.
“Looking at the bigger scope of things, we pulled off a huge event,” Belanger said. “We were prepared and we learned a heck of a lot. Now we have the infrastructure and experience to pull it off again.”
Belanger admits to being a bit surprised that those involved are even willing to give it another shot, adding his group is far from announcing any firm dates or lineups for a Freedom Fest 2015.
At the same time, Belanger added that those organizers — a group of local veterans and members of the Fort Kent Martin-Klein American Legion Post 133, are not quite ready to commit to any firm concert plans for next year.
“Many people in the community keep telling us they would like us to do it again,” he said. “I think members are still a bit burnt from the event and need to recharge a bit more.”
Any future Freedom Fest, he said, would be smaller and less expensive. He also is considering allowing those attending to bring some of their own food and beverages rather than limiting refreshments to what is sold on site.
“The motorcycle run was a good thing but maybe we’d do that later in the day,” he said. “And I think you may see a three- or four-band event next time [and] absolutely charge less for tickets.”
The important thing, Belanger said, is the goal of building a center for local veterans to gather and share common experiences and interact with the public.
The American Legion Hall in Fort Kent is too small and the old Veterans of Foreign War building on Main Street is closed because of neglect and storm damage, he said.
The proposed building would include meeting space, a kitchen, technology for teleconference meetings, office space for Veterans’ Affairs outreach workers, display areas for veterans’ memorabilia, a “wall of honor” listing all local veterans, and an outdoor park and green space.
“We are going to keep moving forward on that,” he said. “People are telling me to not give up and to keep going.”
Donations are being accepted for the proposed center and may be sent to Martin-Klein American Legion Post 133, 411 West Main Street, Fort Kent, 04743. All donations are tax deductible.