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Article and photos by Ramona du Houx

December 22nd, 2013

Bomba Puerto Rican rhythms filled the streets of downtown Bangor on a late afternoon in August with energy and excitement at the kickoff of the American Folk Festival. People danced in the street accompanying the band of Jorge Arce and Raiz de Plena in a parade that traveled down Broad Street to the main stage on the waterfront.

Bomba is about the encounter and creative relationship between dancers, percussionists and singers, and Bangor’s community became thoroughly involved with the musical happening. As Arce sang and brass instruments and drums resounded throughout the area, people near to the stage allowed the music to fill their souls as they let lose dancing with great abandon.

Bomba originated in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, amongst the slaves who worked the sugar-cane fields. These slaves came from different regions of Africa, so they could not easily communicate with each other, but they found common ground in music.

“The tradition of my island was great to have here; it’s root music of Puerto Rico, and the performers with their white hats reminded me of my father and uncles. It was very special for me,” said Maria Baeza, a Folk Festival organizer and board member. “It was a magnificent way to start the festival.”

People from all over the state and beyond attend the festival every year, hailing from every background imaginable. Some come to listen to all the bands others focus on music that specifically moves them. The dance stage on Friday night and Saturday afternoon had a popular rockabilly band, Sonny Burgess and the Legendary Pacers, with pianist Lance Lipinsky.

“We come to Maine a lot, and we try to time it with the Folk Festival,” said Charlotte Patterson from Albany, New York. “The rockabilly was out of this world.”

This year’s lineup included 16 groups performing the traditional arts of their region, culture, and heritage. Blues, Chinese Opera, Latin American, Bluegrass, Zydeco, Gospel, Quebecois, Irish, and Greek were also heard on the banks of the Penobscot. Here common ground moves with different rhythms, which is the magic of this festival that has been bringing cultures from around the world Maine’s Queen City for twelve years.

“When I come to the festival inevitably I’ll walk by a tent and hear music play that I never heard before. I never would have gone to it on my own. So I find myself sitting down, sometimes tearful, mesmerized,” said Baeza, originally from Brooklyn, New York. “It expands my horizons and enriches me. That’s something I love about the festival.”

The festival of music, food, quality Maine products, dancing, and unity counts on volunteers who range from young to old, and all share the enthusiasm for the community event that brings the state together.

Dale Wilkes has been volunteering since day one, standing outside during rain, wind, cold temperatures. She was one of an army of 750 volunteers who wore yellow t-shirts with the image of dancers from the Qi Shu Fang Peking Opera Company, one of the featured performers.

“I love all sorts of music, and this is the best place to come for music. It’s really brightened up Bangor and brought in a lot of other arts and culture to the town. It’s a wonderful event for people of all ages,” said Wilkes.