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National Folk Festival Draws Crowd

BANGOR, Maine (AP) — The 64th National Folk Festival fulfilled predictions by drawing more than 70,000 people during three days of performances in its first year in Bangor, according to estimates by city officials and festival organizers.

"We're obviously very pleased things have gone as well as they have. We really did have high expectations, and we honestly did not know what the attendance would be. But everything worked out just fine," said John Rohman, the former mayor who helped initiate the push to bring the festival to Maine.

Bangor is the smallest city ever to host the festival, which is put on by the National Council for the Traditional Arts. The event features mostly music, but also includes other folk arts and cultural displays.

The festival, whose performances are open to the public for free, remains in the host city for three years before moving to a new site. The event will return to Bangor next summer and again in 2004.

Rohman said the only significant problems stemmed from the large crowds that gathered at the festival site near the city's waterfront.

"We do know we have to get more food vendors next year. The vendors this year loved it, but the lines were too long. And we'll have to have some additional parking spaces next year, as well."

Festival organizers praised the city, the army of 700 volunteers who staffed the festival and the residents of Maine and the region who turned out for the event.

"We're all just so pleased with the friendliness of the people and enthusiasm of the city," said Peggy Bulger, director of the American Folk Life Center at the Library of Congress, who served as emcee over the weekend.

Another out-of-town emcee, National Public radio's Nick Spitzer, noted that second-year crowds usually are bigger than first-year crowds. He advised organizers to begin planning now for next August.

"I have never seen this festival in a city this size have this much attendance already," said Spitzer, who has attended several festivals over the years at various locations.

Rohman said he was most pleased with the audience response to the variety of musical styles showcased on the festival's five stages. Rohman said he knew the French- and Maritime-influenced groups would go over well, but he was less certain that more obscure acts — like Tibetan opera — would also draw big crowds.