BUCKSPORT — Last month, the Downeast Acadia Regional Tourism group awarded its 2016 Award for Innovation & Creativity to Bucksport’s Wednesday on Main, a weekly festival that hosts musicians, puppeteers, filmmakers, food vendors and much more along Bucksport’s waterfront on Wednesday afternoons in the summer.
“I was surprised and delighted,” said Bucksport resident Paula Kee, whose idea it was to start the festival two years ago. “I’m happy and proud that we were all able to come together and get things rolling.”
Kee first thought of the festival in 2014, shortly before the closure of the Verso Paper mill, which accounted for nearly 40 percent of Bucksport’s tax base.
“When the mill announced its closure, I decided that was the right time to get this program going,” said Kee, who hoped the festival would provide a spark of optimism and activity in an economically troublesome time.
Kee received plenty of support for her idea, including a grant from the Maine Community Foundation and funding from Bangor Savings Bank, Camden National Bank and the town of Bucksport.
“Between them all we had enough money to get cranked up, book performers and order tents,” Kee said. “It was so fun, people would stop and look and wonder what was going on and at 5:30 in the afternoon we would strike up the music and all the businesses would stay open until 6 or 7.”
The festival was so popular that Kee organized a second season in 2016. The acts included country, blues and jazz musicians, storytellers from across Maine, a speaker from the Sierra Club and food cooked by Bucksport’s own fire and police group, Guns & Hoses. Despite the success of her festival, Kee still gets nervous that nobody will show up.
“I am terrified every Wednesday that no one will come,” Kee said. “That has never happened, but if anyone who plans an event is not nervous about that, they are superhuman.”
Part of what has made the event so successful is Kee’s relentless promotion of the event in local newspapers: from this paper to the Portland Press Herald. Kee also seeks popular acts such as the Frogtown Mountain Puppeteers and the acoustic bluegrass band Blue Northern. Thanks to social media, the acts do their own promoting to their fan base.
“I sent press releases everywhere, and my performers are always very good about posting on their Facebook pages about the events too,” Kee said.
The success of the festival reflects the success of Bucksport in the wake of the mill closure. An arts center, a tapas restaurant and a gift shop are among the businesses that have opened since the mill closed. Real estate sales are also up as the town enjoys a wave of new residents moving in.
“There’s not much vacant space,” said Kee, who also gave a shout-out to the popular Bucksport Arts Festival as a sign of the town’s success. “Things are happening here. I consider everyone’s in the boat rowing the same way.”