Heavy rain in the area Saturday gave way to bright skies Sunday, just as a washout Saturday at the 2009 American Folk Festival in Bangor turned into a strong crowd for the event’s closing day.
The popular end-of-summer festival rebounded well Sunday afternoon and evening after the rain, which came as Tropical Depression Danny churned in the Atlantic Ocean.
“Today was certainly a very good day,” folk festival executive director Heather McCarthy said Sunday night after the festival ended and cleanup was about to begin. “I was certainly relieved to look at the forecast [for Sunday] and I think it turned out to be even better than we thought.”
Attendance numbers were not available Sunday evening, but Bangor Police Chief Ron Gastia estimated there were as many people at the festival Sunday as there were Friday evening.
“We’re very happy to see this type of crowd on a Sunday,” he said. “No question, [Saturday] was the worst day we’ve ever seen [at the festival].”
Attendance in previous years has been estimated at more than 160,000 people per year.
No doubt, crowds were small Saturday as the festival experienced a rare rainy day, but that didn’t stop the die-hard fans from attending.
Bangor resident Carol Clift woke up to rain Saturday morning, but braved the weather anyway. How could she not? She has been to every day of the festival since it first came to Bangor in 2002 as the National Folk Festival. The National moved on three years later to Richmond, Va., but local organizers put together Bangor’s incarnation in 2005.
“We had already watched the weather the night before and decided to come anyway,” said Clift, who along with some friends found a shady spot under the Joshua Chamberlain Bridge to watch bluegrass band Danny Paisley and the Southern Grass perform at the Two Rivers Stage. “I had on a rain jacket with a hood and some very wet jeans.”
Would Clift do it again?
“Well, I don’t know,” she said, pressing her lips together before breaking into a smile. “Probably.”
Vendors gave this year’s festival mixed reviews because of Saturday’s rain. Some closed early in the evening due to low attendance.
The St. George Greek Orthodox Church was one food vendor that remained open, although sales were “not great,” said Cathy Speronis, who along with husband Lee Speronis worked the booth Sunday. The church was unlikely to make up Sunday what business it lost out on Saturday, Cathy Speronis said.
The folk festival is the biggest fundraiser of the year for the church, which is in its seventh year serving traditional Greek food.
“Spirits were good, sales were not so much, but the people who came out were very excited to be here,” Lee Speronis said.
On Sunday crowds again thronged in front of the church’s booth, however, as church members did traditional dances and yelled “Opah!” to attract attention to the church’s Greek treats.
“I think this is going to be a banner Sunday for us,” Cathy Speronis said. “I think it’s going to be one of the best Sundays ever. From the looks of it looked like there were a lot of people here Friday, too.”
Roger Michaud of Orrs Island Chowder House reported brisk business Saturday as festival-goers sought something warming in the raw, mid-50-degree weather.
“Our fans are pretty avid Orrs Island chowder lovers,” Michaud said. “For us, it was great, but I felt bad for the other vendors. If it’s a cold, rainy day, there’s nothing better than a nice bowl of chowder.”
Sweet Tooth Fudge of Winthrop and Fudgin’ It of West Gardiner were popular stops in the rain, but Sweet Tooth was hoping for good receipts Sunday to make up for Saturday.
“It’s probably going to average out,” Sweet Tooth’s Karen Toothaker said Sunday. “Certainly there were less people, and the people that were here were interested in the music and stuck to the music. That’s why you come to the festival.”
Lisa Cooley of Molten Mama lampwork beads and jewelry in Jackson said Saturday had some high points.
“It was a grueling day, but there were people, and they were occasionally buying, and one person came by to do her Christmas shopping at the end of the night,” she said. “If it hadn’t been for that we might have been grumbling. We’re not complaining.”
There were no final numbers available Sunday from the Bucket Brigade, the group of volunteers who carry buckets into which festival-goers are encouraged to put donations. Last year a record $98,400 was collected and this year organizers have a goal of $200,000.
John Diamond, a member of the festival board, urged people huddled under the tent at the Penobscot Stage on Saturday afternoon to give more than once to the Bucket Brigade.
“The rain has hurt what is normally a very profitable day,” he said. “A donation will make you feel drier and warmer.”
Diamond told the crowd that 18 percent of the $1 million cost of putting on the festival comes from Bucket Brigade donations.
At least one festival-going family was extra generous Sunday. Orono resident Chris Frank, attending the festival with wife Isolde and sons Alex and Leo, said the family put in a little extra, and not only because Alex, 6, was collecting the “I Kicked In” stickers that volunteers hand out to donors.
“[The festival] probably missed out on a lot of donations Saturday,” Chris Frank said.
With rain falling Saturday morning, festival organizers made the decision to shut down the nontented areas of the festival, including the large Railroad Stage. Six tented areas, including the Penobscot Stage and Dance Pavilion, remained in use Saturday night. Performers scheduled for the closed stages were shifted to the tents.
The festival grounds were mostly dry Sunday except for some muddy spots en route to the dance tent at the southern end of the waterfront.
Saturday, however, was a different story, as the technical crew at the Penobscot Stage used what it had on hand to keep water from collapsing the northeast corner of the tent.
Every 15 minutes or so, a technician would pick up a microphone stand, turn it upside down and press the round base against the sagging corner of the tent to remove the water. Technicians then returned to monitoring the sound systems and instruments onstage.
It was a quiet weekend for the Bangor Police Department, which as of 4 p.m. Sunday reported no arrests or major problems at the festival.
BDN writer Judy Harrison contributed to this report.