Walking home early in the morning in downtown Bangor is usually a quiet experience, save perhaps for the occasional drunk or fire truck racing down Main Street.
This past Sunday morning was different as people were still roaming the streets long after the bars and clubs had closed down around West Market Square, still buzzing about what had finished only hours earlier. Bands chatted with each other and their fans, recapping their different Saturday night experiences, and all commenting on the event that had brought them together: the second annual KahBang Music & Art Festival. This year’s event was a completely different beast from the previous year’s concert on the Bangor Waterfront and outdid the first version in every conceivable way.
Saturday afternoon kicked off the second main day of music programming and by the time the night had finished almost 6,000 fans had come through the gates, not only to catch headliners OK Go, and Atlanta hip-hop artist B.o.B., but also groups from New York, Boston, and even Bangor. It was evident, even from the first set I caught from Brooklyn-based The Yes Way, that the crowd was almost double the size of the previous afternoon. Other rock performances from The Aviation Orange and The Holy Boys Danger Club were solid, but the bands didn’t really stand out from each other.
That all changed when Boston quartet Bad Rabbits hit the stage to start off the final night. Their energy-fueled funk had the crowd excited, and their great dance moves just ratcheted the energy up a notch further. Their set was followed by the aptly named Philadelphia band Free Energy, whose dance-infused rock and great stage presence had the crowd really ready for what most of the attendees had likely shown up for – OK Go and B.o.B.
OK Go showed that they’re more than a group that makes great videos, as they did everything from playing a song accompanied by a choir of church handbells, to a hilarious impromptu staging of a scene from the musical “Les Miserables.” Their musicianship was solid, and while their songs could be considered derivative by any serious music critic, they’re a band who knows their audience. And they didn’t disappoint, with tightly arranged pop-rock that had the crowd dancing and singing along with each number.
While being a performer during the “KahBang @ Night” portion of the festival was a wonderful and unique experience, it forced me to miss headliner B.o.B., as I left to set-up for my own DJ set as he took the stage. The shouts of “B-O-B! B-O-B!” filled the air as I headed away from the festival. From all accounts, his performance was nothing short of amazing, blending genres and featuring a very talented backing band.
After the festival itself had ended, the evening continued, with four different after-parties for packed crowds throughout Bangor, featuring the hip-hop of Akrobatik, local band the BarSTuARDS, the fourth set in three days from Louisville band, Cabin, and my DJ set, each at a different venue.
This year’s festival was a giant leap forward from the one day concert organizers put together last year. For those music fans in Bangor whose taste doesn’t fall in the country or classic rock genres, seeing a live act almost always means driving to Portland or Boston to catch a show. The younger crowd who gathered over the course of the last week and a half from all over Maine hopefully showed that a festival like this is not only viable, but something that the Bangor community needs to have happen.
The unique blend of local, regional, and national acts also set KahBang apart from other music and art festivals around the country by giving exposure to more unknown local artists in a setting where they were sharing space with larger, more famous acts. While Bangor has a live music scene of its own, the sheer number of acts and larger audience – due to the festival’s promotion – combined with the work of club owners, set apart these shows from “the norm.”
KahBang wasn’t just about music this time around though. For the first time they introduced a film festival, and, true to their overall mission, did a great job of balancing films from local and national filmmakers.
Maine films (full-length features, documentaries and shorts) were shown throughout the week, and Film Festival director Josh Winery and KahBang Creative Director Joshua Gass did a great job of highlighting those films. No matter the size or budget, films were given equal attention, putting smaller works alongside films that had already received exposure at nationally renowned festivals like Sundance and the AFI-Discovery Channel Silverdocs Documentary Festival.
The biggest offerings of the film portion of the festival were two films that couldn’t have been more stylistically different. “The Red Riding Trilogy” (See our review from earlier in the week), was a disturbing and powerful drama presented by British television station Channel Four. Later in the week another audience crowded into the Bangor Opera House to see “Blood Into Wine,” a so-called “comedic documentary” about Tool/Perfect Circle frontman Maynard James Keenan and his foray into winemaking. The documentary also featured comedy stars such as Patton Oswalt, Bob Odenkirk and the duo of Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim (“Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!”) providing laughs as Keenan played the role of straight man. The film was followed by a wine tasting of Keenan’s wines courtesy of the Bangor Wine and Cheese Shop.
By all accounts the festival was a success, and all indications point to the possibility of KahBang 2011 being closer to a reality than a pipe dream. Total attendance figures for all of the events aren’t available yet, but suffice to say, the final day of the festival drew a crowd just slightly smaller than the Lynyrd Skynyrd show held at the same venue only weeks earlier.
The KahBang organizers showed it’s possible to bring a focused, well-programed, independent festival to northern Maine (as well as music, film and art fans). The only question now is, can they top themselves next summer?