July 24, 2019

Organizers give festival an ‘A’ Despite minor glitches, 80,000 visitors hailed Bangor debut

BANGOR – As crews worked along the waterfront Monday morning, breaking down tents after the 64th National Folk Festival, organizers gathered to break down what worked – and what didn’t – at the city’s inaugural staging of the event.

“Oh yes, we are all thinking about things we would do differently within our own areas,” said Donna Fichtner, executive director of the Bangor Convention and Visitors Bureau, a co-producer of the festival.

The influx of people, which far exceeded all expectations, brought traffic on Interstate 395 to a standstill and left a 2-mile-long line of Bangor-bound cars stopped behind the traffic light in Holden on Saturday afternoon. The lines seemed nearly as long at the festival’s food booths Saturday, with at least six of the booths closing early that evening because they ran out of food.

“We’ll take a look at the food vendors issue,” said Dennis Blackledge, logistics coordinator for the National Council for the Traditional Arts. “Not that there was anything wrong with the vendors, but did we have enough vendors, and do vendors need to be better-staffed and that sort of thing. … It’s all about making it better, but it doesn’t mean we got off to a bad start.”

The NCTA, which produces the festival, already has plans to remedy the food situation for next summer’s event.

Despite a request that dogs be left at home, they were there in droves, and several attendees complained about distracting dogfights, barking and the potential for bites, particularly at an event that does welcome children.

In the end, The National Folk Festival’s success far outshone the dogs, the traffic and the dining delays. It attracted the attention of CNN and the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., both of which aired segments on Bangor during the weekend.

“The NCTA told us that this was the best-organized first-year festival they’ve ever seen,” Fichtner said. “We feel very proud that Bangor, Maine, holds that distinction. We wanted to prove that we could do it, and I guess we have.”

Though initial estimates said the festival drew 70,000 people to the city over the weekend, NCTA technical director Dwain Winters revised the figure Monday, saying the total is closer to 80,000 – 50 percent more than attendance during the festival’s first year at its previous host city, East Lansing, Mich.

“We knew that the artists and performance side would be fantastic, because we’d seen it before in East Lansing,” said festival chairman John Rohman. “We never knew we’d get that kind of crowd and that kind of reception, though. It was just unbelievable.”

With nearly 80,000 people concentrated in a small area, there were only two festival-related arrests over the weekend – both for disorderly conduct – a few complaints about jaywalking on Main Street, and the traffic backup along I-395, according to Bangor Police Chief Don Winslow. The Police Department plans to address the jaywalking issue next summer, he said, perhaps with an additional crossing area near Shaw’s Supermarket.

“I think [festival-goers] just wanted to get to the riverbank side of Main Street so they could see what was going on,” Winslow said. “Overall, the Police Department was very impressed with the way things went.”

Several officers told Winslow how much they enjoyed working over the weekend and commented on the courtesy of festival-goers.

“It was a high-class crowd,” said Fichtner. “People truly enjoyed the diverse experience.”

Gov. Angus King stayed at the festival all three days. Sen. Susan Collins came to present Clara Neptune Keezer with the National Heritage Award and ended up staying to take in the music Friday. So did Rep. John Baldacci. And actor Willem Dafoe was spotted Sunday on his way to the Kenduskeag Dance Stage.

It was a generous crowd, as well. Lynda Rohman, the festival’s volunteer coordinator, predicted that the Bucket Brigade, which combed the crowd accepting donations, would collect $12,000 to go toward future promotion of the National Folk Festival. The “bucketheads” – as the collectors are called – ended up with $28,000.

“It’s just fantastic,” Lynda Rohman said. “It wasn’t a hard-push thing at all. Many people weren’t even approached.”

Festival-goers seemed eager to give something back as a token of their appreciation for the quality and variety of performances and demonstrations.

“The performers all had an unbelievable time,” John Rohman said. “They said the people here were the best, the nicest people they ever met.”

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