Year eight, and singer-songwriter Travis Cyr feels as though the Arootsakootik Music Festival, his annual celebration of Maine indie rock and roots music, is in a secure place. Nearly 1,000 people showed up last year to the Thomas Park Bandshell in the tiny Aroostook County town of New Sweden, to spend the day listening to a wide array of bands and artists, mostly from Maine.
He feels good about it. The festival has gradually grown to be beloved statewide, among music fans and musicians themselves. As far as music events in Maine go, it’s got to be one of the best.
“It’s really been a purely word of mouth kind of event,” said Cyr, who released his most recent album of hard-charging folk music, “Eureka,” in April of this year. “Each year a few more people venture up, and each year we see more of the same faces. It’s been very organic.”
To capitalize on that hard-won success, this year Arootsakoostik is expanding to become a three-day affair, with the actual festival — this year set for Saturday, July 12 — bookended by two showcases Friday and Sunday at Eureka Hall in Stockholm, the bar and restaurant Cyr has been booking music at for the past year.
On Friday night, July 11, a four band bill will play at Eureka, featuring the acoustic band Greg Klein (formerly of Dark Hollow Bottling Company) and the Right of Way, the tuneful County natives Dominic and the Lucid, the energetic, joyful indie rock band Theodore Treehouse, and soulful alt-bluegrass band the Ghost of Paul Revere. After the festival, on Sunday, July 13 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Eureka will host a barbecue and a songwriter’s showcase featuring the haunting music of Jacob Augustine, folk rebel Dan Blakeslee with his band the Calabash Club, and one-man dynamo the Suitcase Junket.
“We’ve built a little community at Eureka, because before that, there really wasn’t anything at all for original music in the County,” said Cyr. “You can see lots of cover bands, but Maine made, original music was just non-existent. It’s really been encouraging.”
On the actual festival day, the music starts at 11 a.m. and runs straight through to 9 p.m., all in the bucolic Thomas Park in New Sweden. The town has a unique, beautifully designed little bandshell which Cyr and his team of volunteers each year decorate and turn into an idyllic rural musical garden for the festival.
Featured bands and artists at this year’s festival include the Toughcats, the Other Bones, the Tricky Britches, Audrey Ryan, Line of Force, Putnam Smith, Wesley Hartley, Heather Styka, Blood Warrior, Herbcraft, Sorcha and Cyr himself, as well as all the other bands featured at the Friday and Sunday showcases. There’s also a multi-artist tribute to Brown Bird, a New England alt-folk duo that played Arootsakoostik twice. Brown Bird’s main songwriter, David Lamb, died earlier this year after a long battle with leukemia.
While the festival draws a healthy crowd in terms of local music events generally across the state, Cyr’s efforts to bring original music to the County nevertheless draws some puzzled looks from some folks up north.
“We do get some recognition up here, and there are a handful of businesses who definitely get a bump when folks come into town for the festival, but there are some old timers who are a bit confused. They don’t like the new stuff,” said Cyr. “But I have to say, the reaction over the years has been nothing but positive. There are people up here who really crave this kind of stuff.”
Tickets for Arootsakoostik are $20 and are available at the gate. There will be food and craft vendors at the festival, and attendees are welcome to bring food, drink and chairs and blankets. There is no overnight camping. Thomas Park in New Sweden is located on the Station Road, about 11 miles from Caribou.