The attractive brick sidewalks and iron railings, the sculptures, the wide green lawn and seasonal entertainment staging are now part of the everyday landscape of the Bangor Waterfront. It's easy to take the kids and the dog for a stroll along the trail, watch boats ply the river and enjoy lunch at a food truck, a local beer on an outdoor patio, and a world-class concert between May and September.
Now take that all away, and add dilapidated warehouses, swaths of dirt and gravel and an overall unpleasant, abandoned atmosphere. That was the waterfront 20 years ago.
Fortunately, a few key things helped to transform an eyesore into a jewel. Smart planning from the city of Bangor, the opening of the Sea Dog Brewing Co., and the granddaddy of all the good stuff happening on the waterfront: The American Folk Festival, the 12th edition of which kicks off this Friday with the annual parade from West Market Square to the Railroad Stage.
"I certainly don't want to sound like we're tooting our own horns, but I absolutely believe that the festival has had a huge impact on what the Waterfront is now," said Brad Ryder, who has been a member of the festival's board of directors since the beginning. "It was the first thing that made people realize the possibilities and potential for that whole area. I don't think anyone who helped plan the original festival in those early years had any idea how successful it would be. All the concerts and festivals and shows now are just the tip of the iceberg."
As volunteers scurry about to set up staging, chairs, sound equipment, food carts and all the little things needed to make the festival happen, Heather McCarthy, executive director of the festival, says the vibe on the waterfront is exclusively positive.
"It's never old hat for us, because we only get to do it once a year," she said. "There's always something new each year. The energy on the waterfront is fantastic and, of course, we're looking at the weather and feeling good about that."
This year's festival will look a little bit different from years past, though the majority of the stages and attractions will remain in the same locations as last year. Like the KahBang Festival held two weeks ago, the folk festival will not use the Darling's Waterfront Pavilion as the Railroad Stage, opting instead for a smaller stage that will face Main Street.
"The stage really is too large for some of our artists," said McCarthy. "We're bringing in groups that are just two or three people sometimes. They don't travel with all that gear. It's not Kenny Chesney, that's for sure. We didn't want to have it feel disconnected from our audience. We're also making smaller changes, like flipping the dance stage around so people walking in enter through the audience, not the backstage."
As always, the folk festival brings in a diverse array of musicians and artists working in traditions from around the world. The Yves Lambert Trio, a Quebecois-Celtic ensemble that will perform throughout the festival, arrived in town on Wednesday and filmed an episode of "The Nite Show" with host Dan Cashman that evening.
"I had a wish list for a folk fest artist to be on the show, and they were on it," said Cashman, who also is on the folk festival board of directors. "We had the Anah Highlanders bagpipe group last year, but they're local, so this time it's a little bit different. We're pretty excited; we've had a great response."
Other acts expected to be crowd pleasers include blues singer Sista Monica Parker, rockabilly band Sonny Burgess and the Legendary Pacers, and the always popular Latin bands, including Jorge Arce and Raiz de Plena, playing Puerto Rican plena, and Juvenato Vallenato, a Colombian-Caribbean style.
"We've never been able to present Peking Opera, so Qi Shu Fang will be a wonderful opportunity to see something really colorful and acrobatic," said McCarthy. "We also have a great team of Greek musicians coming up to play. It's a very good year."
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