Arootsakoostik Music Festival – Thomas Park (New Sweden, Maine)
The Arootsakoostik Music Festival marked its sixth year under cobalt-blue skies at Thomas Park in New Sweden, Maine (Aroostook County), on July 7, 2012.
Founded in 2006 by local musician Travis Cyr, Arootsakoostik is a celebration of Maine roots music, with proceeds going to support local charities such as the Caribou Children’s Museum and the Children’s Make-A-Wish Foundation.
“My love is acoustic roots-based music,” Cyr says. “Being a traveling musician myself, up and down the state, the past ten years, I’ve crossed paths with a lot of good talent. And there’s a lot of good talent that has originated [in Northern Maine], but it has ventured elsewhere. So, along my travels, I started making all these friends and thinking, man, you know, I always come down here to see your area and play for your people; I’d like to bring you guys up to my area and showcase you. I think it’s important to showcase what we’re doing, because a lot of people that might come to this might not see it elsewhere.”
Throughout much of the all-day event, the crisp sounds of acoustic instruments adeptly played only occasionally gave way to crashing electric guitars or experimental electronica, as various musicians took to the Music Bowl and lower field stage of sun-dappled Thomas Park. Bands such as the alt-country threesome Wesley Hartley & the Traveling Trees and folk duo Putnam Smith & Sorcha delighted fans with standout performances, as festival goers visited food vendors and were entertained with horse rides and a chainsaw-carving demonstration.
Arootsakoostik promotes a wide variety of musical genres, from traditional folk and bluegrass music to arty indie rock and New Wave, much of it steeped in the kind of earthy Americana rarely heard on commercial radio.
Cyr was first to take the Music Bowl main stage. Due to power issues, Cyr, who organized the event and is one half of the “acousta-funky-folk-grass” duo Travis Cyr and the Strings of Calamity, was forced to perform solo until joined by the Portland-based band Dark Hollow Bottling Co. for the last song of his set.
“It’s hard to put on and play the event, you know?” he chuckled.
Griffin Sherry, vocalist and guitarist with The Ghost of Paul Revere, says his band had been set to play the field stage, but those plans changed after Cyr played a show with Ghost and was impressed enough to put them on the main stage.
“We’re really honored to be asked up here, because I’d never been this far north before,” Sherry says. “It’s nice to find a community that’s so accepting to different types of music. And it’s good to give people access, because it’s tougher in rural areas to get music that’s not necessarily mainstream, and especially small local artists–to try to give them exposure and get people listening. It’s an awesome thing that Travis is doing.”
The Ghost of Paul Revere is another Portland-based band whose debut CD North boasts six tracks of sublime, foot-stomping nu-grass, each song distinguished by gorgeous three part-harmonies and a distinctive blending of folk, bluegrass, and Staples Singers-inspired gospel that Sherry describes as “holler folk.” “We’re not quite folk, we’re not quite bluegrass, we’re just kind of an amalgamation of a lot of different influences,” he said. “The three of us that are singing, we’ve known each other since we were little kids, so singing together kind of comes naturally.”
Banjoist Max Davis, one of the other singers in The Ghost of Paul Revere, loves the communal aspect of Arootsakoostik. “Last night we came up here early and a lot of the members of Theodore Treehouse were here, and we just kind of set up camp next to them and ended up sitting around the campfire playing songs and passing guitars back and forth. We had never met these guys, and we’ve been in the [same] city for a year now and just haven’t had a chance to share that kind of experience. That same thing has happened with a bunch of bands today. It’s just been really great meeting people, swapping ideas. That kind of thing has been wonderful.”
All agreed that Arootsakoostik is an invaluable local venue for live music in a region where most folks’ knowledge of roots music is largely informed by what they hear on country radio. “I myself don’t listen to much radio up here,” says Cyr, “because I don’t find anything of interest on the radio. Everything I’ve always listened to I’ve had to seek out. All these musicians [playing Arootsakoostik] I have seen and crossed paths with, and they’ve influenced me or caught my attention in some way, enough for me to feel that it’s important that somebody sees this.”
Asked about his own musical influences, Cyr had this to say: “Bob Dylan–number one, probably. Grateful Dead–a lot of that stuff, growing up. But as I got older, I listened to a lot of traditional, old-timey music. I like a lot of bluegrass. I got really into Uncle Tupelo when they first came out, and then i followed Wilco and Son Volt–that whole alt-country scene was a big influence. I think, more than than any individual, it’s been genres that have influenced me. You know, I’ll get real big into a bluegrass kick or an old Johnny Cash kick–you know, real country. This New Country–I can’t listen to it, it makes my skin crawl. But real country has some heart and some truth to it…And I just think as a festival it’s important to showcase a little bit of everything, but keep it real, you know?”
Judging from the positive response to Arootsakoostik over the years, Cyr and his musician friends have done a more than decent job of keeping it real.
As for the guys in The Ghost of Paul Revere, they’re looking forward to stopping by Caribou’s own Burger Boy before they head south.
“A restaurant that calls itself ‘Burger Boy’ just sounds like it’d be at least mediocre-ally [sic] great,” says Sherry.