Tue, Aug 6, 2013.
Back in the olden times, say, the 1970's, it was a big deal to go to a rock concert. Thing is, there weren't many in these parts, aside from the usual swings east by the likes of The Stampeders and April Wine. To see the biggest names, you had to wait until they came close, say to Montreal, or more often, into Maine. I heard the stories after the fact of my siblings driving to Bangor or Portland, for, say, Jethro Tull. Later, it was my turn, anyone from Jackson Browne to Yes. Others got equally excited for Tom Petty. After all it was just three hours to Bangor from Fredericton, an easy trip fro something so important.
Concert-going has changed dramatically, in a time when we can see The Rolling Stones, U2 or Springsteen in the province. Still, people are willing to travel if the show is right. These days, festivals are high on the interest list. If you have an interesting two or three days planned, the festival tourist comes calling, ready to camp out and visit the whole town for a few days, rather than rushing in and out for one concert. With our close borders, there's a lot of interest in bringing people from Canada into Maine for their events, the same as there is for, say, Harvest Jazz and Blues to attract U.S. visitors. Festival tourism dollars are a big deal, now a recognized part of any regions tourism plans.
There's an event in Bangor this weekend that is making its name, and starting to attract cross-border attention. The KahBang Festival is in its fifth year, and has an emphesis on discovery. That means new music, but they don't limit themselves to any genre. You'll find emerging musicians from all over North America, playing everything from rock to electronic, hip-hop, country-rock, and indie- folk. As well, it's a multi-media event, combining film and art portions as well, with lots of installations and 30 movies on offer, plus boating, a brew fest and more. It takes place on the Banger Waterfront, around those classic old brick buildings found in Maine cities and towns. Music headliners this year include Dr. Dog, St. Lucia, hip-hop's Earl Sweatshirt and dozens more over several stages.
KahBang has worked hard to get the word out about the festival into Atlantic Canada. Sarah Eremita is the Public Relations Director: "Maine in itself is typically a tourist state, and we have a lot to offer. Bangor is a small area, 30-thousand, and it's really great for a economy to provide a festival of this size. Just in the past few years, being so close to Canada, it's another event for them to check out. When we set it up, we wanted to pull in from Atlantic Canada, and highlight Maine and everything we have to offer."
To advertise KahBang, the organizers have gone straight to the already-strong festival scene in this area, especially the new music events. "Last year, I was head of marketing, and did a large push for it," says Eremita. "We've been talking with the people with Halifax Pop Explosion, and SappyFest (in Sackville), to find out how to negotiate our way through Canada and spread the word. We noticed last year with ticket sales we had a large amount NB and Nova Scotia. And this year, it's spreading west, to Quebec and Toronto. This year we're getting comments from Canadians saying that we have artists comparible to other major U.S. festivals like Bonnaroo, Coachella, but a lot closer. You might not get to go to California, and this is much easier. Plus we have camping and outdoor activities, and it's a mini-vacation. It's attractive to the 25-35 age group, plus a lot of college kids into the discovery aspect of the music."
About 10,000 people will attend the festival, and this year they're getting a special treat. To celebrate the 5th anniversary, most of the events are free. KahBang starts Thursday, August 8th with a free concert, and winds up on Sunday. All the info is available at www.kahbang.com.
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Bob Mersereau has been covering music, and the East Coast Music Scene since 1985 for CBC. He's a veteran scene-maker at the ECMA's, knows where the best shows and right parties are happening, and more importantly, has survived to tell the tales. His weekly East Coast music column is heard on Shift on Radio 1 in New Brunswick each Wednesday at 4'45. He's also the author of two national best-selling books, The Top 100 Canadian Albums (2007) and The Top 100 Canadian Singles (2010).