BANGOR, Maine — Saturday brought the full array of American Folk Festival performers to the four stages on the waterfront, such as the mesmerizing sounds of Iraqi musician Rahim Alhaj, who plays the oud, an Arabic lute. Urban Artistry wowed the crowd with their breakdancing moves, and Noreum Machi, a Korean drumming group, displayed incredible rhythmic dynamics during their afternoon performance.
The steamy, upper-80s weather at the sixth annual American Folk Festival on the Bangor Waterfront was a welcome change from the cold rain of last year’s event, but a few attendees were treated for dehydration, and at least one diabetic man was transported to the hospital after he collapsed near the railroad tracks.
Saturday’s crowd exceeded the approximately 30,000-35,000 people who gathered beginning around 4 p.m. Friday to welcome the festival.The yearly call for crowd donations gained even more urgency this year, as the $226,000 budget deficit became a worrisome issue. According to J. Martin, coordinator for the Bucket Brigade, the festival was on track Saturday to break the previous fundraising record of $107,000.
“I had a volunteer ask if I could count his bucket, which we never normally do during the actual festival because it would be a huge headache,” he said. “But, I was glad I did, because he had $5,000 just in his own bucket. There were more twenty dollar bills than any other bills. If that says anything, then we are doing great.”
In addition to all the music and dancing, festival-goers come for the food. Chicken on a stick, crabmeat rolls, blueberry smoothies, gyros, ice cream, wraps and plenty of other goodies were served up to the tens of thousands of hungry attendees. Carol Braley of Winthrop clutched a long plastic bag filled with fresh-popped kettle corn, which she slowly munched on as the afternoon progressed.
“This stuff is addictive,” she said. “I only eat it once a year at the festival, and you just can’t stop.”
With sunny skies and mid-80s temperatures forecast for the remainder of the weekend, the biggest party in Bangor was off to a rousing start Friday night that continued when the festival resumed on Saturday.
The Pride of Maine Black Bear Marching Band took formation around 6 p.m. Friday in West Market Square to kick off the three-day event, and performed for a crowd of several hundred, some of whom arrived early to snag a seat at one of the downtown eateries.
“I think it’s fantastic,” Andrew Day, service manager at Paddy Murphy’s Pub, located just off West Market Square, said Friday. “We had people get here early to watch the parade from inside. It’s definitely been a boon. West Market is the heart of downtown, and there’s nowhere else the festival should start.”
This is the first year that the folk festival parade kicked off in West Market Square. The Heritage Stage, located at the corner of Washington and Broad streets, was the start point for parades in years past but that stage was removed from the lineup this year after financial troubles necessitated cuts.
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This year, the Children’s Area has taken the space where the Heritage Stage used to be, and the food court in between the Penobscot Stage and the Sea Dog Brewing Company has been rearranged to make for more walking space in between food stands. The Railroad Stage area is now occupied by the huge Hollywood Slots Waterfront Concert Series stage, which the AFF has rented out for the duration of the weekend to use as its main stage.
“I like the new layout, even though I think the Railroad Stage area is a little more crowded than it used to be,” said Jake Jackson of Bangor, who attended the festival on Saturday. “It’s nice to see people on a nice big stage.”
Linda Lay and Springfield Exit were the first group to perform at the festival, after the Marching Band. The southern bluegrass band, which first performed in Bangor during the 2003 National Folk Festival, was followed by a performance from the Other Europeans, a melding of klezmer and gypsy music, and Le Vent du Nord, a group of musicians from the province of Quebec.
Saturday evening was set to close out with performances in the Dance Pavilion from Urban Artistry and from Viento de Agua, a bomba y plena Latin group. Dr. Michael White, a New Orleans jazz legend, and the gospel blues group the Holmes Brothers, brought the day to a close on the Railroad Stage. The festival will start right back up again at noon on Sunday, running through 6:30 p.m.
For more information and a full schedule of performances, visit www.americanfolkfestival.com.