MECHANIC FALLS — Hundreds of people arrived at Harvest Hill Farm on Saturday for music and healing rock ‘n’ roll-style, as two wounded entities came together to present Party in the Pasture Rock Fest.
Jack Russell’s Great White was the headline act for the daylong event in its first New England performance since 2003 when The Station nightclub in Rhode Island caught fire during a performance by Great White, killing 100 people.
However, a power outage at the farm at about 9:30 p.m. kept the band from taking the stage.
Russell said playing back in the region for the first time was going to be an emotional experience, but it was time.
“There’s a lot of fans who’ve been texting us and emailing us,” he said, adding, “This is my chance to say that I’m sorry for everything that happened. I lost a lot of friends that night.”
Concert promoters lauded the event as a venue for healing, given that this also happens to be the first event Harvest Hill Farm has hosted since a fatal hayride accident last fall that killed Cassidy Charette, 17, of Oakland and seriously injured her boyfriend, Connor Garland, 16, of Belgrade. Nearly two dozen other people were injured.
Harvest Hill Farm owner Peter Bolduc said he hoped the event would let people know that the farm is still there and still welcoming as an agri-entertainment destination for families.
“I think there’s probably some people who’ve written us off, and this puts a stake in the ground saying we’re still here,” Bolduc said. “Music has always been on our bucket list for this facility, and this is the first step in that direction.”
A key to making this a successful event was ensuring a safe experience for all who attended. With the two tragedies looming in people’s minds, Bolduc said he had to be proactive in his approach to safety.
“We’ve worked very closely with Mechanic Falls Fire and Rescue,” he said. “We’ve worked closely with the concert promoters. We’re even trying to learn from other tragedies,” he said referring to the recent circus tent collapse in Lancaster, N.H., in which a man and his 6-year-old daughter died. More than 20 others were injured as a severe weather cell moved through the area and brought down the tent during a performance.
Jon Damon, department chief for Mechanic Falls Fire and Rescue, said that in addition to hiring emergency and security personnel, Bolduc had gone above and beyond to ensure safety at the event, even going so far as to informing state and county police of the concert plans.
“He hired two EMS on top of the Oxford Fire and EMS as the transporting agency. Then we have volunteers,” said Damon who was also monitoring the day’s weather as the first step in a plan in place for dealing with potential severe weather in the area.
“If I see a cell coming, then we’ll shut down the concert and have people go to their vehicles until it passes,” Damon said. “Being proactive is definitely going to help (Bolduc) get past the accident that happened, and he’s doing that now.”
For the most part, the weather was warm and muggy throughout the event, which failed to stop determined fans from enjoying themselves.
Jack Russell’s Great White were to perform as part of their “It’s a Pirate’s Life” tour. North East Concerts and Monster Energy sponsored the event, which seemed to appeal to people from all over New England and of all ages.
Mikayla Jackson, 14, and her friend Makenna Verrill, 14, both of Minot, were some of the younger concert-goers at the show’s open to watch one of their favorite local bands, Civil Disturbance, perform. The lead singer was Jackson’s cousin and a friend of Verrill’s family. The girls also are in their own band, The World Between Us, and have aspirations to one day play an event like Party in the Pasture Rock Fest.
“It’s really cool to see local bands,” Jackson said.
Neither girl had heard the headliner’s music before, but Russell, who started his first band when he was 11 and Great White when he was 16, said he always hopes fans of his music will introduce it to their children so the music can continue to grow and evolve with the next generation.
“You keep playing your old stuff; you write some new stuff,” he said. “We see a lot of young fans singing words I wrote in 1982.”
Russell said he will keep singing “as long as God lets me — it’s his voice.”
In a strange coincidence, the tentative title of Russell’s upcoming album is “The Gauntlet,” the name of the haunted hayride on which the accident occurred at the farm last fall. Russell knew nothing about the connection, and appeared shaken by the revelation.
“It was laying down the gauntlet for my ex-band members,” he said. “A name change might be in order. This is so typical of my life.”
The other bands that shared the stage Saturday seemed to realize the importance of the collective mission that day.
Matt Eli, the lead singer of Civil Disturbance and an Auburn police officer, said, “Obviously, the healing process is necessary, and it comes after any tragedy. I think this is a good effort to bring people together, not to forget the tragedy, but to help the process of healing for those who are ready to heal. There’s no better way to heal than through music.”
Sandi Elderd of Lynn, Mass, said her friend Scotty Dunbar, who sings for the band DMK — which was among the bands in Saturday’s lineup — happened to be in The Station as a Great White fan the night of the fatal fire.
“Scotty was in the fire and lost two of his friends,” Elderd said.
Now, 12 years after the incident that changed his and so many others’ lives forever, he took the stage just two spots before the band he went to see that night in 2003.
Dunbar has spoken openly in interviews about his life since the fire, and he saw the concert as an opportunity for moving forward in the healing process. He performed his song, “Memories Never Fade,” which is dedicated to the two friends he lost that night.
Party in the Pasture Rock Fest included performances by regionally local bands DMK featuring Scotty Dunbar, Fifth Freedom, Gunhouse Hill, 13 High, Tester, Kamikaze Angel, Civil Disturbance and Limbo Cage.