American Folk Festival (Bangor, ME)

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      Dancer in a street parade with yellow and red dress and blue and red cape

A dancer with Nadia Dieudonne & Feet of Rhythm performs at the American Folk Festival in Bangor, Maine. Photo by Kevin Bennett.

Held each summer in Bangor, Maine, the three-day, free American Folk Festival celebrates the cultural heritage of Maine, Atlantic Canada, and the nation by showcasing folk and traditional arts and artists. Having successfully hosted the National Folk Festival—which rotates to different cities around the country for three-year residencies—city leaders realized that creating Bangor’s own festival could spur the downtown revitalization efforts that had already begun with the addition of two new museums, and a library expansion. As John Rohman, a community leader involved in the festival from its beginning, explained, “We wanted to raise the bar, raise the awareness in our community for events that could happen in our downtown and on our waterfront. There is absolutely no question that [the National Folk Festival] single-handedly allowed the city to open up its vision to what could be done.” By all accounts, since branching off on its own in 2005, the American Folk Festival has more than met its goal. Audiences have grown from 80,000 in 2002 (the first year Bangor hosted the National Folk Festival) to 168,000 in 2008. According to an in-depth analysis conducted by the University of Maine’s Center for Tourism Research and Outreach in 2008, the three-day event creates a $9.8 million impact on the local community each year.

The 2010 American Folk Festival will take place August 27-29 along the banks of the Penobscot River, which runs through the city’s downtown. For FY 2010, the festival has received an NEA Access to Artistic Excellence grant of $30,000, which will help to support artists’ fees, travel costs, and production expenses for the artists who will participate in next year’s festival. Festival events highlight a diverse range of cultures, from Native American to African American to Mexican to Quebecois, and provide exposure and employment for 150 artists working in a diverse range of folk and traditional disciplines. Visitors can expect to find everything from blues to klezmer to cowboy poetry to Inuit throat singing on the festival’s six stages; last year, the line-up featured the CASYM Steel Orchestra, a Caribbean American steel pan ensemble, the Junk Yard Band, a Go-go ensemble, and a dance performance by tap dance artist Jason Samuels Smith and Indian kathak dancer Pandit Chitresh Das, a 2009 NEA National Heritage Fellow. The festival, however, shows off more than performing artists. There are also interactive workshops and artist talks with festival artists and folklorists, lectures and displays on traditional foodways and handcrafts, an artist marketplace, and—in partnership with the Maine Discovery Museum—a Children and Family area that features performances, crafts, and games specifically designed for younger audiences and their families. In other words, the American Folk Festival lives up to its promise—as noted on its website—to “bring the world to Bangor.”

This project was one of more than 1,200  funded in the first round of NEA grants for FY 2010. To read more please visit the newsroom .