By Tom Lamia
In a sweeping gesture of nature (and with a mass exodus from cities) summer comes to Maine. It brings euphoria, like the last day of school in fifth grade: There is no limit to tomorrow and no interest in yesterday. One day in early June, it is cold, wet, gray, and generally miserable (as it mostly has been since the previous October), when suddenly there is sun, dry air, warmth (“My God, it must be 70 today.”) with possibilities beyond reckoning: The beach! The mountains! The fire pit barbecue!
For those of us who have spent the fall, winter, and spring in increasing anticipation of this moment, the joy has no limit. As the Maine license plate plainly proclaims, this is “Vacationland.” That first warm day has sent a subliminal message to countless non-Mainers (“Summer People”) who are on the road immediately, in cars, SUVs, and trucks, many towing boat trailers or driving vehicles piled high with camping equipment. The good news has also reached a variety of animal and vegetable life that has spent the cold months under cover preparing for this moment: midges and gnats (“no-see-ums”); black flies and deer flies (both blood suckers); ticks (deer, dog, wood, black, and brown varieties); mosquitos; and toxic plant life (nettles, poison ivy). Against this army of attackers and new varieties for which there is no defense as yet (e.g., the brown-tailed moth caterpillar this year), protection, usually chemical, is in demand. I speak here of sunscreens, insecticides, protective sprays, nettings, emollients, and such, products that promise much but deliver little.
Okay, that is the good news and the bad news. But how does life change on the streets, in the stores, on the water, and in the family as Mainers and Summer People alike seek excitement, romance, and the back-to-nature freedom of summer in Maine? Answer: fairs and festivals. There is a summer fair or festival someplace in Maine for everyone and everything.
Festivals: The biggest and best known of these is the Maine Lobster Festival in nearby Rockland. The event has been celebrated annually since 1947. Maine’s economy owes a lot to the civic leaders of Rockland who sponsor the festival and to over 1,000 volunteers who stage the fun. From the start, the tourism and lobster industries have boomed in a symbiotic relationship where everyone seems to benefit. This year’s 70th iteration will be held from August 2nd through August 6th and will draw 40,000 to 50,000 people to the lobster eating, parades, concerts, competitive events (the ‘Crate Race’) and rides. The festival may have topped out around 2003 when attendance was 80,000 and Gourmet Magazine sent David Foster Wallace to cover it. Being Wallace, the writer reported his experience as one of ethical and physical outrage (bad smells, rude tourists, questionable lobster presentation) and generally savaged the festival in the piece “Consider the Lobster,” that ran in the August 2004 issue. The festival has yet to recover.
Agricultural Fairs: There are no days from July through September when there is not an active agricultural fair in Maine. I have been to the Union Fair in Union several times. It is held in late August on the fairgrounds opposite Union Farm Equipment, where I get my tractor parts, accessories, insect-fighting advice, and Maine dialect training. These are simple, homespun events and well worth the time. Not so many tourists, though.
Local Product Festivals: These, too, are active every day from July through August. Pick your product and go see it celebrated: potatoes, strawberries, arts, crafts, oysters, Celtic culture, music (separate festivals for every genre), clams, dogs, cars, tractors, logging, antiques, blueberries, boats, aircraft, apples, beer, bread, lobster rolls, films, and—well, really there is no end.
We want you to come. You are welcome! Help us celebrate our people, our products, our culture, and anything at all that might draw a crowd during the Maine summer when people are looking for something to do, especially when it rains. Then, after you have fully inhaled all of what makes Maine great in the summer, we want you to go home so our unique, rocky, windswept, and frigid home can fully recover for the next summer season. This is the continuing symbiotic and benign relationship between tourism and Maine.