Kingfield Pops goes shotgun

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KINGFIELD – Standing near a large stage in a sprawling farm field under threatening, windy skies Saturday afternoon, Susan Jonason wondered aloud just what would happen this year to make the fifth annual Kingfield Pops outdoor concert another one to remember.

On stage, renowned symphony conductor Xiao-Lu Li and the 65-member Bangor Symphony Orchestra rehearsed a classical number while a small group of vendors readied for a record expected crowd of more than 2,000.

“Every year, there’s something that’s not to be missed,” said Jonason, executive director of the orchestra.

Five years ago, at the first one off Route 27 in town, a thunderstorm blew in, the sky cleared, and a big rainbow spread above the venue. The orchestra played through the storm.

After that, the venue was moved to the Kennedy Farm off Route 142. The field was wired for power.

“In our second year, almost toward the end of the concert, the power goes off. No lights, no sound, but the orchestra played the rest of the concert in the dark. Guys came over to the stage and shined headlights from their pickup trucks so the orchestra could see their music. They played the last song by memory.

“In our third year, with the setting sun dropping over Mount Abraham, it blinded our trumpet player, who walked into a trailer hitch and was knocked out cold,” Jonason said.

Last year, a band that has written music for BSO performed with the orchestra for the first time. It also rained during that concert.

This year, BSO decided to perform Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” for the finale, something they’d done twice before at the Camden Pops using shotgun blasts into barrels to replicate the sound of cannon shots in the “1812.” Jonason said it was Li’s idea.

“So we thought we would do it here in Kingfield, too, because there are a lot of hunters here in this beautiful wilderness,” she said of Kingfield bird hunters Clay Pidgeon, Curt Johnson, Clay Tranten and Nick Tranten, the show’s “extreme percussionists.”

As if on cue, Li switched gears on stage, launching performers into the “1812.” Coincidentally, as the armed quartet headed for their black-painted barrels at the edge of woods well behind the stage, the sky darkened ominously.

For Saturday’s show, orchestra manager Surya Mitchell doubled as the “cannons maestro.” But unlike in Camden when they used walkie-talkies to signal shotgunners to blast away, Mitchell waved white flags at them to elicit timely blasts: five in the first volley, 11 in the second.

“This will be just another challenge for me,” Mitchell said after her first of three practices with the guys, who were stunned to learn just how fast they’d have to reload in the dark to keep time with the music.

“The difficult part will be trying to keep track of the music and also signaling them, plus it will be dark, but it will work out. The main thing is to make a lot of noise,” she said.

Just as the gunners were packing up and figuring out last minute details, Greg Massey, who owns Moonlighting Production Services of Portland – the event’s sound team – asked for a sound check. Massey said he’s been handling sound for symphonies for 15 years, but Saturday’s rehearsal and finale with shotguns is a first.

“It’s just another challenge for me. Fortunately, I know the music, so I know when (the blasts) come in, but this is the first time I’ve ever miked shotguns in a barrel. That’s something for my resume. It’s unique,” Massey said.

He and Mitchell stood back after Nick Tranten loaded a blank into a 12-gauge gun and put the muzzle into the barrel, eyeing Massey. Li and the orchestra continued practicing, then someone yelled, “Fire in the hole!”

“BOOM!”

And the band played on through three more blasts to fine-tune sound equipment.

Sixty minutes later, hundreds of people of all ages began streaming in, many lugging coolers, blankets and lawn chairs. And, more memorably, the sky cleared of clouds as the Kingfield Pops opening act, the Western Mountains Trash Can Band, began to play.

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