Denmark is a town of about 1,200 in Oxford County, about 6 miles from the Maine-New Hampshire border and about 35 miles north of Portland. It has a bunch of scenic little ponds and summer camps, and a small, cute downtown. And each summer, it’s home to one of the best new music festivals in the state: the Dam Jam, organized by Denmark Arts Center chair Jamie Hook.
“I grew up in Denmark, went away for a long time and then came back,” said Hook, who lives in New York during the winters. “The Arts Center is this beautiful building across the street from the only park in town. Everyone in town was lamenting, ‘What do we do with this stuff?’ I was like, ‘I know exactly what to do.’”
This year’s festival, the third annual event, set for 3-10 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 2 in Denmark’s Bicentennial Park, features nationally known indie rock band Deerhoof and Canadian experimental group Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra. Northern New England bands are taking the stage as well, including Bangor rockers Chamberlain, Portland synth pop ensemble Sunset Hearts, Portland indie band Butcher Boy, western Maine singer-songwriter Oble Varnum and New Hampshire Ghanaian drumming group Akwaaba Ensemble.
There is beer from Baxter Brewing Co., there are art exhibits, there is a taco truck, a popsicle stand and treats from Beth’s Kitchen Cafe and Standard Gastropub. There’s camping, too, at any of the three campgrounds located less than 3 miles from the park. In short, it’s a real festival, but it has stayed intimate and laid-back enough to welcome families and retirees as well.
“It’s a tricky thing to balance what both the retirees and the young people want, but we’ve got a relaxed, family-friendly afternoon, and then more of an adult time in the evening,” Hook said. “If we get 500 people, I’ll be thrilled. I love the fact that we have a small crowd of people watching bands like Deerhoof or last year Kristen Hersh. I’m foolish enough to believe that someday we’ll have Wilco playing for a couple hundred people. Wouldn’t that be great?”
Denmark, like most towns in Maine, is just off the beaten path for the tourist footprint — i.e. not near Interstate 95 or U.S. Route 1. Without the immediate draw of Portland’s thriving downtown or coastal Maine’s scenic beauty, enterprising people such as Hook and communities such as Denmark need to get creative to get people to pay attention.
“Denmark is not the coast. It’s tucked away. It’s this little scenic place. Casey from Sunset Hearts, who played last year, too, said playing Denmark is like playing ‘Twin Peaks,’” Hook said, referring to David Lynch’s cult favorite TV series. “What I like about this is that we’re pulling from all over the state, from Portland, Bangor, western Maine, and then from outside, too. It’s a model that’s working. So far, so good.”
General admission for Dam Jam 2014 is $12. Portland-area festival goers can purchase a $25 ticket that includes admission and round trip bus fare. The bus will leave at 3 p.m. that day from the Space Gallery on Congress Street and will return by midnight. For information, visit www.thedamjam.com.