Guest post by Felicia K. Knight
I love to go to the American Folk Festival and I enjoy being on the beautiful Bangor Waterfront overlooking the mighty Penobscot River. I enjoy this because I remember when no one said “beautiful” and “Bangor Waterfront” in the same sentence, unless they were dreaming. Lucky for all of us, back then a few people were dreaming (I’m looking at you, John Rohman.) and had a vision for what the waterfront could become, and over time it did.
I was working at the National Endowment for the Arts in Washington, DC, (which provides grant support) when the festival transitioned from the National Folk Festival to the American Folk Festival. Bangor’s embrace of the festival was a national success story—viewed as a textbook execution of how to present and celebrate folk and traditional art and artists, while engaging widespread support. I’ve been attending the festival for most of the past 15 years, and it continues to be the best entertainment value of the summer. Or ever. Because admission is free.
Now, in order for the festival to be free to the public, the organizers must raise $1 million.
In New York City, one million dollars will buy you 366 square feet of real estate (that’s a little larger than the festival booth where you can find Strawberry and Blueberry Shortcake). But in Bangor, Maine, one million dollars buys you two-and-a-half days of music from around the world, food from multiple cultures, and folk and traditional arts from across the centuries. You can sit in the beautiful Maine outdoors and listen all day and into the night. And if you want, the only thing you have to spend is the energy to walk from tent to tent.
Or—you can be personally invested in this fantastic event and kick in to the “Bucket Brigade.” This brigade of volunteers strolls the festival each year, and attendees who are so inclined drop a donation into the bucket. A suggested donation is $10 per person per day or $20 per family per day.
You may be thinking, “Well, if it’s free, then why should I spend money to go?” A legitimate question. Here’s another one: Why do you donate to any non-profit? You do it show your support, your appreciation for its mission and its value to the community. You do it to make sure it’s always there to serve everyone, not just those who can afford it.
Keeping the festival free maintains the spirit of the folk and traditional arts, which often are handed down through generations. It keeps it unique and especially attractive to out-of-state visitors who’re spending time in Vacationland. It’s also attractive to those of us who live here. I just love the idea of quality art, free for the partaking.
The American Folk Festival is an economic engine driving visitors and dollars into the greater Bangor area. According to a recent study from the Maine Arts Commission, the calculated economic impact is just over $15 million. It was the original spark that ignited development of the waterfront and turned it into a summer destination. The festival is a family-friendly event that allows everyone to enjoy a multi-cultural experience they otherwise may not have the resources to attend—and certainly not all in one place. It’s a wholly uplifting event that celebrates history, heritage, and tradition—things we appreciate here in Maine.
So, when you see a smiling volunteer with a bucket, think of all the work that has gone into bringing the waterfront to life for the weekend, and make a donation. The American Folk Festival deserves our support.
Felicia K. Knight is president of The Knight Canney Group, a strategic consultancy based in Portland, ME. She is a former resident of Bangor who returns frequently—especially the weekend before Labor Day.