The DamBluesFest marked its 10th year last weekend at a new venue, and despite the initial doubts of founder and promoter Paul Sidelinger, appears likely to return for an 11th.
The annual festival attracted a few hundred faithful fans to Duck Puddle Campground in Nobleboro from Friday-Sunday, Aug. 4-6. The festival had outgrown Darrows Barn, at Round Top Farm in Damariscotta, its home for the last eight years.
Sidelinger privately expressed doubt about the future of the festival prior to the weekend and did so publicly while introducing headliner Junior Brown on Saturday night.
But by Monday, Sidelinger sounded ready for another year. He hopes to convince the campground to build a roof over its stage, which would save him the expense of renting a separate stage. “If there’s a roof on that stage, we’ll do it next year,” he said.
For Sidelinger and many others, the highlight of this year’s festival was Brown’s set inside The Lakeside Barn, the campground’s newly renovated event venue.
Rain had threatened the outdoor festival all day Saturday, but a couple of showers moved quickly through the area and the show went on.
During setup for the headliner, however, the rain started again and a gentle shower quickly escalated into a raging thunderstorm.
Some festival-goers left, but Brown’s wife and bandmate, Tanya Rae, suggested moving the performance inside the barn.
The remainder of the crowd, as well as many of the musicians who had performed earlier in the day, packed into the barn.
Boston bluesman Racky Thomas, who had performed with his band earlier Saturday, played acoustic guitar and sang inside the barn while Brown’s crew and festival volunteers set up.
The resulting performance “was like seeing Junior in your living room,” Sidelinger said.
A four-time Grammy nominee, Brown plays a unique Guit-Steel guitar. Among other claims to fame, the country rocker and his music have appeared on “Better Call Saul” and “Saturday Night Live.”
The festival opened Friday evening with the Maine blues band Blue Steel Express. Saturday afternoon started with The Jazz Babies, born in the Twin Villages some 41 years ago; followed by Florida blues rocker Albert Castiglia, the Racky Thomas Band, and J.P. Soars and the Red Hots, before the lightning and Brown’s concert in the barn.
The Boneheads, another popular local band, opened Sunday, followed by the old-school blues of L.C. Williams and the Driver, a band that formed in Maine before moving to St. Petersburg, Fla., and an “all-star jam” hosted by Soars and the Red Hots.
The lineup received rave reviews from the small but enthusiastic audience.
Caroline Haskins, of Amesbury, Mass., attended DamBluesFest for the first time. She traveled from Amesbury to Nobleboro specifically for the festival.
Haskins started going to blues festivals three years ago. She fell in with a group of die-hard blues fans from Maine, and together, they travel to at least one festival every year.
“We made some good friends and we listen to great music,” Haskins said.
A dozen members of the group attended the DamBluesFest. Tim and Carol Stinchfield, of Mexico, Maine, were among them.
The husband and wife of 40 years have attended DamBluesFest at least five or six times since meeting Sidelinger through “blues friends,” they said. This year, they camped at Duck Puddle and were enjoying the new venue.
Both Haskins and the Stinchfields named Castiglia as their favorite performer and the strongest draw to the festival.
The performers, in turn, said they were glad to return to Lincoln County, where they appreciate the warm reception, the scenery, and – like many visitors – the lobster.
Thomas, the Boston bluesman, returned to DamBluesFest for the third time with his band and fourth time overall, including a solo performance.
Thomas enjoys his trips to the area.
“I like the folks,” he said. “I feel like they get it. They really appreciate the music. They really roll out the red carpet for us and make us feel right at home.”
Soars, of South Florida, was playing DamBluesFest for the fifth time since 2009. He has toured around the world for about 10 years, but still enjoys his regular trips to Lincoln County.
“We love the water,” he said. “We love coming up here. We love lobster.”
The first DamBluesFest took place at Schooner Landing in Damariscotta and packed the restaurant. The festival moved to Darrows Barn the next year.
Sidelinger said he sold more than 500 tickets this year, the most ever. It was the first, and perhaps only, all-weekend event in the festival’s history.
Sidelinger expects the festival to go back to a one-day event next year. While this year was the festival’s best in terms of attendance, it wasn’t enough to cover expenses. Attendance Friday and Sunday was not nearly as strong as Saturday.
The festival has only broken even one year out of 10. A landlord and semi-retiree who spends summers in Nobleboro and winters in Florida, Sidelinger makes up the difference each year out of his own pocket.
“It’d be great to break even,” he said, but it’s never been about the bottom line. He sees it as community service – a way to bring people to the area, support causes like music education and youth football, and spread his passion for the blues.