Expanding its dosage of cultural shock therapy for central Maine, the KahBang festival, created as a single-day concert last year, is now a music, art, and film festival dominating the Bangor waterfront and downtown for nine days. It'll bring a lot of fans to town, but people active in the city's music scene are hoping not just for more annual events — they want a club scene with some its own intrinsic momentum.
Out of the mix of 30-plus local and national artists confirmed for the two days of music on the waterfront, only three of them are based in Bangor — Casio folk trio Good Kids Sprouting Horns, pop rockers Sam & Yuri, and progressive jam band Restless Groove (as winner of KahBattle of the Bands vying for a spot). The rest of the local acts are eight reasonably established Portland bands, such as Holy Boys Danger Club, Grand Hotel, and Gypsy Tailwind.
But this year, the festival's second, there's something new: KahBang @ Night, with dozens of Bangor bands, DJs, and comedians performing alongside acts from the main festival at local clubs throughout the week. The festival organizers say they teamed up with downtown businesses to bring these artists to bars and restaurants across the area.
The organizers' ultimate goal of creating a small-scale, Northeastern version of South by Southwest (NXNE?) is still somewhere on the horizon, but their more immediate goal of giving the community they grew up in something to be excited about is in their grasp. KahBang communications director Chris Michaud, who is in his 20s, says that when was a young musician, he could only find shows and audiences when traveling south to Portland and beyond. He says the organizers want to give local musicians a chance to play alongside national acts.
Good Kids Sprouting Horns were one of the first local bands announced on KahBang lineup. They have been buzzed about on blogs and went on a "micro-tour" at venues across the East Coast in late July. But for most of their shows, they make the two-hour drive down to Portland, because there isn't a venue for them in Bangor.
Instead of commuting, singer/songwriter Jakob Battick, who grew up in Bangor, decided to move to Portland. He recalls shows in worker's centers and community spaces with audiences of 10 people: four fans, and the members of the other bands on the evening's bill such as such as power-pop duo Wood Burning Cat (also with Anthony Bitetti of Good Kids Sprouting Horns) and Portland noise rockers the Rattlesnakes.
KahBang fits right in with a massive push by both city officials and business owners to develop Bangor's downtown and waterfront areas over the last decade. In 2000 there was almost nothing in the downtown, but each new addition (the American Folk Festival, art museums, restaurants) builds on the last, says Emily Burnham, lifestyle reporter for the Bangor Daily News.
The festival's impact on the city has manifested itself in different ways over the past year. Burnham says she thinks the new Hollywood Slots Waterfront Concert Series (featuring shows by artists ranging from Lynyrd Skynyrd to Tim McGraw to Jason Mraz) wouldn't have been possible if KahBang hadn't worked so well in its inaugural year. She says it proved there was a market for music on the waterfront.