On the American Folk Festival and Timing
I got sunburned at the American Folk Festival, but that’s all we’ll say about that. I also had the best–and possibly most expensive–glass of lemonade I’ve ever drunk, and I admit that I enjoyed the wildly efficient way the young woman in the lemonade stand made it: half a squeezed lemon over ice, a scoop of sugar, cold water, and a vigorous shake with a cocktail shaker, and voila! There it was. Rosalie had one as well, and she and I wandered the Bangor waterfront,
drinking one of the hottest days of summer through straws, and checking out both the main stage musicians and the buskers.
The folk festival has been part of late summer Bangor since 2002. Then, and for the following two years, Bangor was the site of the National Folk Festival, but when that moved on to other venues, the city was not prepared to let go of the fun, and the American Folk Festival was born of the ashes. It’s a fair-sized showing, with the closing of Railroad and Front Streets to all but pedestrians; with three main performance areas–the Railroad, Penobscot and Three Rivers Stages; and with food courts and a beer garden. Admission is free; it’s the parking for which you pay, unless you know someone who lives close by and whose driveway space you can borrow. Volunteers wander the grounds with buckets for donations, however, and for the most part, the three-day show is well worth anything you can contribute.
Ben, Rosalie and I went to have a look on the Saturday afternoon. I had hoped to get there early enough to see the first act scheduled to appear on the Penobscot Stage, Paddy Keenan and John Walsh, who played Irish traditional music, complete with uilleann pipes…but it took so long to get to the parking, and then to park, and then to get to the waterfront, that we missed that show completely. We did manage to get along Main Street to the sound of Noreum Machi
growing ever louder as we got closer to the Railroad Street entrance; this was a group, I later learned, that specialized in a Korean drum style called samulnori. From the street it was pulsing and hypnotic, though we were unable to see anything over the fencing cutting the festival grounds off from the road.
I’m afraid Ben shed us as quickly as possible, being of an age when being seen with a mother and sister would be disastrous for his image. Rosalie and I continued exploring, provisioning ourselves against the heat.
Down at the Two Rivers Stage was an act billed as “Country Song Styles.” In the space of 45 minutes, the stage was shared by The Holmes Brothers, performing blues and gospel music; Dale Watson doing honky tonk; and Linda Lay and Courtney Granger. Because that stage was the farthest along the waterfront, by the time we made it through the enormous crowds, we’d missed the blues and landed square in the twangiest of country music. Not my thing. Once again we’d missed, through our terrible timing, the part of the program I really would have liked to have seen.
We passed the Penobscot Stage in the middle of a performance of house music and break dancing. House music, I’m afraid, is not my thing, either. The break dancing would have been good to see, but from the back of the crowd, it was almost impossible. The amplification was great, but there’s something missing when you try to listen to dancing: doesn’t quite work. So that show was a bust for us.
But I was determined to see the act called “A Taste of Celtic Colours” on the Railroad Stage, so I hustled Rosalie all the way back to the first stage to see this group of musicians hailing from Cape Breton Island. This was not really a group, per se, as they explained, but rather a collection of mostly solo musicians (Colin Grant, Chrissy Crowley, Jason Roch, Darrin McMullin, and Rachel Davis) who would be featured in various venues all over the island during the Celtic Colours Festival from October 9th through 16th. They opened, however, with a piece that showcased them all, a rousing reel that would have got the throngs dancing had there been room; as it was, the islanders had brought some clog dancers with them, so at least someone got to dance. Thousands of people had settled early before this stage, in lawn chairs, on blankets, wherever; wanderers such as we had to find a spot as best we could up at the back, where the beer garden was. The music was gorgeous, mostly fiddles, accompanied by a keyboard, mandolin, sometimes guitar, sometimes bass. Unfortunately, the crowd was so huge that it was nearly impossible to hear the man introducing pieces and players, so we had no idea who was who, and what the names of songs were.
All right, this was where I got the sunburn. I admit it.
Rosalie was antsy, and kept jockeying around the back of the crowd, trying to find us a better view. Impossible, in the crowd. Too bad. But the more I listened, the more desperate I became to head up to Cape Breton in October. Just the idea of seeing some of these players up close, to be able to hear them speak about their music: bliss. As this show ended and the hordes moved down the hill toward the concessions, we ran into a friend, whose husband (on guitar) and son (on fiddle) were busking at the corner (and cleaning up–they’d chosen the best time and place for their efforts!). Gayle too is a teacher–Rosalie’s 3rd grade teacher several years ago, as a matter of fact–and she and I commiserated about wanting to head up to the Celtic Colours festival, and being unable to figure out how to get out of school obligations for two weeks in October. But with this wish, as with the rest of the festival, timing was everything. Still, I got to hear this much of Celtic Colours…I got that much of the afternoon’s timing right, anyway.