The Mighty Folquemeisters take Bangor by storm
A flurry of folk music and dance activity, took place in Bangor on Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018, when the Maine Folque Co-op brought its merry band of musicians to town.
The Mighty Folquemeisters presented an informal concert at Pete & Larry's Pub at the Holiday Inn that afternoon and that evening they provided the music for an evening of dancing for all ages at the Unitarian-Universalist Church.
The multi-generational ensemble featured a trio of young, whizbang fiddlers (age 5 to 13) backed up by more seasoned musicians on guitar, mandolin, banjo, bagpipes and spoons. Their visit to Bangor was a back-by-popular-demand appearance. Several members of the group had had the opportunity to perform at the American Folk Festival two months earlier, where they provided the music for a contra dance workshop at the Festival's Dance Pavilion. Attending that event were some of the organizers for Bangor's monthly contra dance series who were impressed by the talent and energy of the young fiddlers, whose dynamic mix of French Canadian and Celtic jigs and reels kept the crowd of nearly 200 aspiring dancers moving non-stop .
“Our dance series was marking its 13th year in existence so we wanted to do something special to celebrate,” said Tavi Merrill, president of Penobscot ContraDancers, the group which sponsors the dances. “Inviting the Folquemeisters to play for a special beginner-friendly family dance as a lead-in to our regular dance this month fit the bill perfectly.”
Cindy Larock – who led the contra workshop at the American Folk Festival (and who also serves as director for the Folquemeisters when she's not teaching dance) – served as caller for the family dance, which featured a selection of circle and contra dances which Larock described as “designed to be fun & easy for all ages – from schoolchildren to grandparents. Anyone who's old enough to know their left from their right can jump right in.” And they did!
Merrill took over the caller's mic at 7 p.m. with a half-hour “tutorial” to review a few contra style basics, and then the Folquemeisters returned to the stage to play for three hours of dancing with Merrill at the helm. Both newcomers and experienced dancers were in attendance.
Included in the band's repertoire were two tunes that they learned in a master class with Pascal Gemme, the fiddler from the Quebecois band Genticorum, one of the 2018 AFF's headlining acts. Gemme and his bandmates were so impressed by the Folquemeisters' performance at the festival's dance workshop that they invited the youngsters to join them onstage during their own Dance Pavilion performance immediately afterwards.
“Being able to not only learn from but also play alongside such folk luminaries as Pascal and his cronies was an incredibly empowering experience for our young fiddlers,” said Larock, who pointed out that the youngsters were also inspired by the many other outstanding performances that they were exposed to over the course of the Festival weekend. So appreciative was Larock of the cultural enrichment opportunities that the festival offers to budding young musicians that she approached the Holiday Inn (which serves as the official lodging site for AFF performers and staff each year) about hosting a benefit concert by her Folquemeisters. Not only did the hotel enthusiastically offer their on-site restaurant as a venue for that event – for which admission was free with donations accepted to support the festival – but they also provided free overnight accommodations for the Folquemeisters and their parents so they didn't have to face a late-night drive back home after the evening dance concludes.
“The American Folk Festival is a wonderful event for our community so we are happy to be able to support it in this way,” said Christina Bustard, manager of operations for the Holiday Inn in Bangor.
The festival, in turn, was pleased to be the beneficiary of this endeavor. “Every dollar counts as we gear up for next summer,” said AFF executive director Heather McCarthy. “And we love knowing that the festival is having such a positive effect on the next generation of Maine's traditional musicians.”
The money that the Folquemeisters earn by playing for events such as the Bangor dance is added to its travel-and-education fund, to help pay for future learning opportunities with other master artists from Quebec and elsewhere.
“From my vantage point, it's a win-win situation for all involved, including community members,” said Larock. “As the saying goes, 'It takes a village to raise a child...', and the 'village' of Bangor has come through admirably in helping to keep the folk spirit alive here for generations to come.”
The stated mission of the Maine Folque Co-op is to “honor Maine's cultural heritage by bringing the generations together through traditional music and dance.”