The Belfast Free Range Music Festival is set for Saturday, April 27, and it’s one of my favorite weekends of the year – tons of bands, a beautiful setting and lots of interesting people to meet. Tickets are $25 for the full weekend, including the opening night party on Friday and the after party late Saturday night, in seven venues around town, including the Colonial Theatre, the American Legion Hall, Waterfall Arts, Aarhus Gallery, the First Church, the Belfast Free Library and Mym’s on Market Street. Maps and schedules can be found at the Free Range website, though you can also get a pamphlet at the festival HQ on the day of. Don’t know where to start? Here’s some tips.
One of the best things about Free Range is that it pairs bands from all over the country and even from Europe, with bands from right here in Maine. A short list of bands from Maine include well-known folksinger Gordon Bok (2 p.m., Colonial Theatre), Portland-based Alhan Middle Eastern Ensemble (3:45 p.m., Aarhus Gallery), Portland alt-bluegrass band the Ghost of Paul Revere (4 p.m., First Church, pictured at left), rockabilly ramblers Pete Witham and the Cozmik Zombies (1:15 p.m., American Legion Hall) Portland indie rockers Endless Jags (3:15 p.m. American Legion Hall), and southern Maine flamenco ensemble Olas (6 p.m., Chase’s Daily).
2. Midcoast Maine bands
More specifically, the Free Range Fest might be the only place you’ll get to see some of the breadth of music that’s being made in the Midcoast – musicians that rarely perform outside of the Midcoast itself. They include festival openers and Camden teenage folk-pop duo Clio and Chloe (11:45 a.m., Aarhus), Belfast-based dance band The Hips (noon, First Church), Waldo County bluegrass band Blue Northern (12:30 p.m., Colonial), Belfast songwriter Ethan Andrews (1:45 p.m., Aarhus), Waldo County Portuguese fado group Tremolino (3 p.m., Library), harmonizing Palermo folk trio Mister Moon (5 p.m., Library), and Waldo County folk duo Edith and Bennett (6:30 p.m., Waterfall Arts).
If there’s a band that’s an unofficial headliner – Free Range Fest isn’t really about things like headliners and top billing and what not – then it’s O’Death, the New York-via-Maine alt-country band who will play at 7:15 p.m. at the American Legion Hall. The band formed in 2003 in New York, combining the rawness of early 20th century American folk, blues and country with punk and indie rock – call it gothic Americana. The band has put out four albums, including “Outside,” released in 2011. Singer and guitarist Greg Jamie lives in Biddeford, where he operates music and art venue The Oak & the Ax.
4. The weirdness
If you’re someone that appreciates music that is just off the road to mainstream – or, in some cases, WAY off the road to mainstream – Free Range is just your kind of festival. Some of the decidedly unique bands set to play this year include southern Maine psychedelic-noise band Herbcraft (2 p.m., Waterfall Arts), Unity-based experimental noise duo Hammer of Hathor (4 p.m., Mym’s on Market), violinist, guitarist and Thurston Moore collaborator Samara Lubelski (5:45 p.m., Aarhus), and Portland electro duo Video Nasties (9:30 p.m, Mym’s on Market).
Oh, the dancing. So many opportunities to dance, whether you’re a swirling hippie, a headbanger or somewhere in between. My recommendations for kicking up your heels include the aforementioned band The Hips, the Bangor-based party rocking four piece Chamberlain (4:30 p.m., Waterfall Arts), the horn-drenched New York ensemble CSC Funk, which as expected play funk music, of the stripped-down kind (5:15 p.m., Legion Hall), honky-tonkin’ Missouri band Jack Grelle (8:30 p.m., Colonial) and Vermont country-rockers Waylon Speed (9:15 p.m., Legion Hall, pictured above).
6. The opening night party and the after party
New this year is the opening night party, set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 26 at the Legion Hall. Full disclosure: Her Majesty’s Cabaret, the comedy-theater group of which I, your humble column writer, am a part, is one of the featured acts at the show, along with New York-based progressive bluegrass group the Blind Owl Band. Then, after all the festival acts have finished up – around 10 p.m. Saturday – Three Tides on the Belfast Waterfront hosts the Hillytown After Party, featuring the delightfully groovy sounds of Brooklyn’s Ava Luna, the pogo-rific Portland band Leaves, Leaves, and experimental indie pop band Leapling, out of Brooklyn. It’s 21 plus, so teens, we’re sorry – no dice.
7. The sampler download
Don’t know where to start with all the music to be heard and this year’s fest? Stream or download the Hillytown Free Range Sampler, available right here. While not every single act at the fest is on the sampler, it’s nevertheless an excellent cross section of some of what you can expect to hear – and it’s free, so there’s no excuse not to.
The diversity of unique music is most of what makes the festival so cool – but it’s also just the vibe around town, something Belfast possesses in a general sense all year long, but is amplified on festival day. All sorts of people converge on the town that day, from bespectacled Portland hipsters to gentle backwoods artists, from locals supporting their friends to folks driving in from all over New England, from sprawling young families to bluegrass-loving retired couples. If you’ve got a spare moment amid all the music, take a walk down the footbridge, eat lunch at a local restaurant, or just sit on a bench and people watch.