We marched backward. That was the only way to see our neighbors, our friends, the kid next door, the guy from work, all in a parade. A parade. In Bangor. And it wasn’t Memorial Day.
It was opening night of the National Folk Festival last year. It was Treme Brass Band, wailing horns, oomphing trombones, banging drums. Rat-a-tat-tat. And that Mardi Gras man from New Orleans, swinging his green umbrella and conducting us through our own streets like they were his. And, for that evening, they were. He was the Pied Piper, this grand marshal, leading us into a celebration of our own back yard.
Here’s the strangest thing of all: We’d never seen anything like it in Bangor, yet it felt entirely natural. No questions asked. We’re in a parade. Let’s march. To the beat of a different drummer.
And it’s the marching we want to recall now, because that’s what the festival instilled in us, that we’re marching toward a new possibility. There always has been a sense of our city not being able to pull off something of this magnitude, always having to bow to the bigger, badder Portland. Oh, we’ve had our share of success – the museums, the performing arts, artist studios, even a coffee shop here and there. And let’s not forget our library, our symphony, our Indian, fusion and Thai restaurants (all three of them).
But there has always been that second-fiddle complex, that “Look south, young man” feeling.
The National didn’t exactly invent culture in Bangor. But it did make us more aware of what is out there. Remember the lumber baron days? Remember why Bangor is called the Queen City? Remember the promise of urban renewal? Well, neither do we. But for the first time in our tenure as residents, the whole state looked our way. And Bangor stood as tall as, well, that statue of Paul Bunyan in town.
Here’s what we remember. On Saturday night, some old guy from Limestone sat with us on the patio of a local bar. He drove down, alone, for the Folk Festival. Sure, it was the music, but really, he just wanted to be there. To talk with strangers over a beer, while blues and zydeco and fiddle tunes floated through the air.
And the kids. Remember the kids? We put them on our shoulders so they could see over the crowd to where the hip-hop dancers were twirling their legs and drumming on buckets.
And the Latinos dancing to salsa? Nobody moves like that at Barnaby’s. Did you talk to people in line at the Port-a-Potties? We did. And we liked them. Where have they been all winter?
Did you wait in line for an hour for a gyro? So did we. OK, it took a long time but wasn’t it fun? And, mmmmmm, delicious.
We had to fight harder for a seat at the Two Rivers stage to listen to Ana Vinagre singing fado than we did for a seat at the beer tent. Go figure.
Here’s an image we all can relate to: The National was like Miller’s salad bar. For the soul. All you can eat, for three days. We felt fat at the end, full up on “culcha.”
For three days, Bangor’s waterfront was the place to be. There we were, 80,000 strong. Crowded streets. Clogged-up traffic.
And get this, no complaints – none worth speaking of, anyway. We were out there with our neighbors, people we didn’t even know existed around these parts. Who were those people? And why were they all so friendly?
We think that’s what music does. That’s what free music can do. And what excellence always does.
So there it is. The promise. Bangor can be the way life should be, too.
These days, when we walk around downtown, we hear people talking about the Folk Festival. If Bangor could pull that off, they wonder, then what else can Bangor do?
For now, the city is host to another National. But let’s not let the blush of possibility end there. Let’s go back to the buffet for another plateful. This time mariachi, klezmer, gospel, bluegrass and Cajun will be on the menu.
Go. Eat. March in the parade.
When we went into this we were walking backward. Now we’re looking forward to the National, to the possibilities.