Branding Bangor

It's Maine's first large-scale indie music festival
By CHRISTOPHER GRAY  |  August 12, 2009

matt kim main

If a big-league indie pop festival falls in Bangor, will anyone hear it?

It's a cynical but unavoidable question as far as the inaugural KahBang Music & Art Festival, coming up this Saturday, is concerned. The festival will be held two hours north of its poor and difficult-to-motivate target audience (Pitchfork-astute Portland music aficionados), on Bangor's waterfront, and its headliners, the irrepressible Brooklyn keys-and-drums duo Matt & Kim, only drew about 100 people to their first Maine concert, at SPACE Gallery last summer.

Pessimism aside, though, the all-ages KahBang Festival has a lot more going for it than ambition and a marquee act: the festival's 11-plus-band lineup is deep with national and local talent (and, at $27.50 in advance and $35 at the door, tickets are fairly priced for the wealth of acts involved); despite the impulse to snicker about its location, Bangor is already home to one successful, time-tested festival (the annual American Folk Festival); perhaps most importantly, KahBang has a young, hip, motivated, and experienced staff giving the event a distinctive identity and an innovative promotional campaign.

Chris Michaud, 23, familiar to many as the vocalist and saxophonist for the Killing Moon, is KahBang's public-relations director and a part of the team that dreamed up the festival. "Basically, everyone who is a part of KahBang is a born-and-raised Bangor/Bangor area person, most of whom found a lot to be desired while growing up around here." The group dispersed after high school — production manager Chas Burns (27) cut his teeth on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and the Jimmy Kimmel Live!; financial director Tim Lo (26) worked for John Hancock; others became graphic designers or worked for television or print publications — but, at a Bangor bar in May, they conceived a loose idea of what would become KahBang: an annual showcase of emerging national acts, presented by a set of ears and eyes keen to fresh design and, vitally, marketing on social networks.

"A few days passed, the pipe dream began to fade," Michaud says, "until we received a phone call from Tim . . . 'Guys, I'm in Toronto. I got an investor. We're doing this.' And that was that."

Building on an army of nearly 1500 Facebook fans, KahBang posters and leaflets are familiar sights in Portland and beyond, and organizers are eager to give away tickets to volunteers. Smart viral-marketing contests — on Facebook, the best KahBang-related status update of the day earns a free pass — build the brand and attract more people to the event.

Apart from two alternating stages of music from noon through 10 pm or so (allowing minimal wait time between sets), KahBang will sport an interactive art festival, Apple computer and Best Buy tents, and food and snack venues (and fire jugglers). After it ends, three local bars will hold "KahBang at Night" concerts.

Michaud, whose band reunite at KahBang after a hiatus, is optimistic about the festival's potential, and sees this sort of branding initiative as a key to KahBang's success. "[We] hope that in a few years KahBang will be synonymous with new and upcoming talented, presented professionally and with vigor." With this lineup, he's off to a good start. Here's some info about two of KahBang's most exciting performers:

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