Two unique Maine festivals build community
Article and Photos by Ramona du Houx
Maine is noted for it’s hospitably and industrious workers who still believe in community. With celebrations marking calendars for all seasons there are some that truly stand out. The Common Ground Fair and the Bangor Folk festival brought people from every area of the state together as one community.
The Bangor Folk Festival—
Wide-eyed children, enthusiastic revelers, music and food lovers all converged in Bangor for the sixth Folk Festival last August during the region’s largest community event with over 170,000 people attending.
The energy and excitement were palpable as people set up their chairs in anticipation of one of the 26 international bands that were scheduled to play. Families gathered and cheers of joy were heard as people met up with friends.
Chief Monk Boudreaux performs at the Bangor Folk Festival
"It brings together the community in a way that generates so much pride. People give their all to the festival. As we say — it brings Bangor to the world and the world to Bangor. People dared to have a dream and then they decided to reach for that dream," said Maria Baeza who was in charge of the event. "It’s just unbelievable what it does for the town and the surrounding area. It pulls the community together in this universal language of song, music and dance. To be able to share in other people’s culture brings that world closer together. It’s just magical."
Bangor won the spot to host the National Folk Festival six years ago. For the last three years the city has continued the Festival.
"It demonstrates, in the governor's hometown, the powerful impact the arts can play in generating both business and entertainment. This Bangor folk festival shows that Maine can win a national competition and, with strong public-private support, maintain that effort in making a lasting and important economic and social impact," said Lee Umphrey, formerly Governor Baldacci’s communications director, who was employed by the City of Bangor as coordinator for community and government affairs when the Folk Festival started.
Over 850 fair volunteers are dedicated to their work and return year after year.
"This is my big volunteer event of the year," said Jack Weinstein, "and I love being backstage with the performers. The ambience, the place, the energy and crowds I love. Bangor is wonderful. Bangor has become more culturally aware since the festival has started here. It’s been great."
Community members, companies, and sponsors all pay for the festival; there has never been an entrance fee, and McCarthy hopes there never will be. Volunteers, known as the bucket brigade, walk around the fair soliciting contributions with buckets.
Governor John Baldacci announced a donation of $20,000 from the contingency fund.(photo)
"Look at all the people," said the governor waving his hand towards a sea of fair goers. "This fair draws people into the region. It brings families who eat in restaurants, stay in hotels and shop downtown. The ripple effect economically is tremendous and everyone is having a great time."
That economic impact is estimated to bring in close to six million dollars over the weekend. Maine revelers come from as far away Aroostook County and Kittery.
"This festival is important for the community, our state and our cultural heritage. There is so much community pride putting on this event for everyone who comes. Culturally there is absolutely no way people in Maine would have the opportunity to see this many different performing groups that come straight from the heart of so many cultural traditions - free of charge. It’s really the only opportunity we have to do this in Maine. The more things like this you have, the more viable Bangor becomes as a venue for artists. The festival hass provided a cultural cornerstone that has spread out into a lot of areas," said Heather McCarthy, the festival’s executive director.
Unity’s Statewide Community Fair is Common Ground for all who attend—
They came from all around, all over the state, and beyond. They came with common interests and hopes for the future. Some attended the Common Ground Fair for the first time; some have been coming for the past 31 years. Some came for the crafts, others for the seminars, workshops, or the entertainment. Those who wanted to learn about alternative lifestyles, organic farming, and energy efficient power found invaluable resources.
"It’s great. The kids loved the animals and we learned a lot about renewable energy, and composting," said Robert Williams who attended the fair with his wife Michelle and two children from Oakland. "With the problem they had nationally with E. coli bacteria on greens and spinach, we think it’s safer to buy local. It’s also helping the community we live in, and that’s important to us." Williams is a computer software programmer. "We moved from Massachusetts because we liked it better. It’s a great feeling knowing that we can access the coast and mountains. People here are great," he said.
John and Michelle Pino of Mooar Hill Farm own 43 acres. Michelle said it was her social responsibility to do something sustainable with the land, so they began organic farming. Their enticing display had pepper plants, watermelons, and the aroma of the wide variety of their potted herbs filled the air.
"We all need to look down the road and see what the future may be. What we do now will determine what the future will be. It’s sustainable to farm organic," said Michelle. "We wouldn’t do it any other way." Michelle also works in administration for social services. "I couldn’t do the one without the other. It’s a balance.
Kyle DePiertro’s Squire Tarbox Farm display had tomatoes so red they didn’t appear real. Eggplants, green peppers, and harvest foods were illuminated in the late summer sun. During the summer DePietro puts in 70 hours weekly, farming and harvesting oysters.
"I’ve been doing this for five years," said DePietro. "My parents bought and Inn on Westport Island and wanted to make sure the food my father prepared was organically grown. One thing led to another, and I now have a small farm of about ten acres."
Curra Family Farmstand have been organic growers since 2000. "People have begun to really open up their eyes to the benefits of organically grown food. The Get Real Get Maine and the Buy Local programs have helped. The lifestyle you lead farming organically makes your really appreciate what you have. I miss it," said Amy Buckley, the Curra’s daughter who lives in Massachusetts. "I work on the Cape, and I come home every time I get. My son spent six weeks with my father on the farm and couldn’t wait to get back here. Maine is the best place to be — with the best people. I really hope more people realize how lucky we have it in Maine."
Organic farmers came from all over the state, and venders come from as far away as Machias.
Tom St. John has been providing food extraordinaire at the fair for 26 years. His barbequed eggplant with hummus had people standing in line. Inspired from the fair’s community spirit 14 years ago St. John opened The Bull Ox Salon in Machias, "Everyone has to eat," he said St. John modestly.
For three days over 70,000 people committed to helping a sustainable future in their own ways came together.