September 24, 2019
Essay

Festival Folk-Us NEWS photographer and writer capture spirit of Bangor celebration

The dance. The dragon. The legend. If you had to capture the essence of the National Folk Festival, which exploded 110,000 people strong last weekend on the Bangor waterfront, you could have easily found it at the Kenduskeag Dance Stage or at a parade of Chinese dancers along Broad Street or on Saturday night when old-timer bluesman Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown played guitar and then fiddle to a crowd of thousands.

Now, a week later with the tents folded up and the stages dismantled, you may already be nostalgic for the fun. If you think about it, however, it’s fitting that the festival takes place at the end of August, in the last precious days of summer sun and excitement, because folk music and folk arts are, in a way, about memory. They invoke the songs that grew up from the mountains, the canoes carved by ancestors, the riffs learned on the back porch or the melody drifting over cotton fields.

A beat from all time America was heardby everyone in Bangor this weekend.

And seen, too.

“To me, it was about the energy,” said NEWS photographer Stephen Katz, who set out with his panoramic camera to find the scope of the festival experience.

He looked to the participants, to the fanfares and the subtle moves and venerable presence of a luminescent musician to find inspiration.

The rest of us have our own memories. You may recall the packed crowds of waltzers at the dance pavilion. Hidden in that merry noise were tender exchanges occuring quietly, moments when the very best of human nature showed up. Like when one elderly man decided to dance but was so wobbly he could hardly make the small step up onto the platform. A female companion hoisted him gently, and several patient seconds later, he was dancing to Dale Watson’s country beat. He may have been 80, but for that moment his heart was 20 all over again. And who didn’t feel young at the parades? When the Bronx New Heaven Shout Band halted the marching on Front Street and formed a circle of gospel brass music, it was an apt symbol of the way the festival ringed the city into one community. Or the Chinese lion and dragon dancers snaking their way through crowds of wide-eyed children for whom mystical creatures had only ever appeared in cartoons or on the pages of books.

If you were on the streets of Bangor Sunday night when all was sung and done, you surely noticed the silence. You could hear a pin drop where only hours early, Congolese drums were pounding. “It was, in a way, so sad,” said Katz. But it was also very promising.

That same zeal Katz nimbly depicts in these photos will carry us through the winter and into the next festival and, as city organizers hope, beyond to a time when dragons and legends are part of what it means to live in Bangor.


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