Bonnie "Prince" Billy, at Newport Folk Fest.
The lazy, the restless, the cheapskates, yuppies, ravers, snobs, and prudes: the magic of the outdoor summer concert ecosystem is that it offers very nearly everyone who doesn’t care about exquisite sound quality a reason to get out of their house or state for a day, evening, or weekend.
Tennessee may have Bonnaroo — the country’s largest and most expansive folk/pop/indie music festival — but it also has Tennessee, and its attendant heatstrokes, sludge puddles, and profound middle-American isolation. A New England summer — temporarily inoculated, by and large, from the crazy-making impacts of global warming — offers a cornucopia of more modest and inherently more pleasurable affairs. From municipal sunset concert series to a smattering of multi-day, campground affairs, this summer’s outdoor music
slate is diverse and busy enough that it seems to be united by nothing but picturesque settings and a reasonable proximity to a refreshing body of water.
Whether three minutes or three hours from your doorstep, what follows is a sampling of some of the season’s most promising offerings. Further details can be found in our listings and on festival websites.
With its spacious Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion, Bangor has become the unlikely hub for many of Maine’s biggest annual outdoor events. The venue plays host to a series of ticketed evening shows this summer, beginning with Sting’s “Back to Bass” tour on June 20. Phish will clog the highways before creating a temporary township on the site July 3, two weeks before acclaimed filmmaker Rob Zombie brings his latest “Mayhem Festival” to Maine, with Five Finger Death Punch and critic-favorite metal band Mastodon (among others) in tow. Later, Barenaked Ladies, Ben Folds Five, and Guster make an inevitably futile attempt to be funny or provocative as their “Last Summer on Earth” tour arrives on July 21, just 48 hours before T.I. and Lil Wayne hit town. (Fans of cognitive dissonance may want to stick around for the next day’s performance by Nickelodeon’s prefab pop group Big Time Rush.) Appealing late-summer engagements include a co-headlining tour by country-pop great Miranda Lambert and Dierks Bentley on August 2 and an August 30 date with the irrepressible Ke$ha. The venue is also home to a few multi-day affairs, the most longstanding of which is the American Folk Festival, which runs from August 23 to 25, and the fifth annual KahBang Festival (August 8-11), Maine’s great white hope for a thriving hipster music festival. The lineups for both festivals will be announced soon.
Elsewhere around the state, blues, folk, and druggy campground affairs rule the calendar. The North Atlantic Blues Festival returns to the Public Landing in Rockland for the weekend of July 13-14, and features the unstoppable Mavis Staples, along with Sugar Ray (not that one) and the Bluetones, and the Holmes Brothers. Rockland also plays host to the Maine Lobster Festival (July 31-August 4), which offers a rotating cast of local acts and an August 2 performance by the Spin Doctors. Bluegrass fans will hitch their trailers to the campgrounds at the Ossipee Valley Music Festival in South Hiram from July 25 to 28; that event will feature Marty Stuart and His Band, along with Sarah Jarosz, Sara Watkins, and dozens of other bands (and the odd flatpicking competition). The town of Starks plays host to a few weekend music festivals explicitly aligned with marijuana legalization efforts; assuming no further details are needed, you can educate yourself about those events online at mainevocals.net. Lastly, a favorite stop for Maine musicians is one of the longest drives in New England. The Arootsakoostik Music Festival goes down in the county on July 13 with the Mallett Brothers, Jacob Augustine, Dead End Armory, and plenty more.