NORWAY — The president of Nateva Festivals, who plans a three-day concert at the Oxford Fairgrounds in July, chose Oxford County because he was welcomed by the communities, he said.
But the 19th-century Oxford Fairgrounds, home of the 150-year-old “Big O” Oxford Fair, was not Frank Chandler’s first choice of venue for the scheduled lineup of world-class music.
“It’s about economics,” Chandler said in an interview Thursday night outside the Norway Town Hall, where he had just received provisional approval for an outdoor festival permit.
The multi-stage event put on by Nateva Festivals LLC of Newton, Mass., is expected to draw up to 15,000 people to the Oxford Fairgrounds on Route 26 on the Oxford-Norway town line from Friday, July 2, through Sunday, July 4. The event will feature bands such as Further, Jakob Dylan and the Flaming Lips. Tickets have been sold in every state in the country and in Japan and England, Chandler said.
Chandler, who turns 48 on Saturday, said this was his first foray into a major musical event. It has presented myriad challenges, not the least being where to hold a concert that would attract international musical acts and accommodate thousands of concert-goers.
The former senior vice president and national sales director for Boston Capital Securities Inc. left his job 18 months ago to begin what he hopes will turn into an annual event at the Oxford Fairgrounds.
“I wouldn’t go through all this for one shot,” he said. He named the festival after his 7-year-old son, Nate, and his 5-year-old daughter, Eva, who live with him and his wife, Suzanne, in the Boston suburb of Newton.
With the financial help of an old Maine camp mate from the early 1970s and longtime friend Jeff Kahn, his former boss at Boston Capital, Richard DeAgazio, and a childhood friend and her brother, the project was launched.
“I didn’t wake up one morning and decide to have a major music festival in Maine,” Chandler said, adding that he has a passion for music and a love of Maine where he believes people have a real demand for world-class music.
Working on a full-time basis for the past year and a half, Chandler said he narrowed his sights more than a year ago to venues in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, rather than going to more populated and larger venues such as Boston. The reason? Many of the big-name bands have what’s called a “radius clause” in their contracts that prevents them from playing within a certain radius of a previous gig before and after the event for a certain amount of time.
Chandler said he started his search in Vermont, but high entertainment taxes turned him away. With personal ties to Maine and knowing the “great” music scene in Portland and the Lewiston-Auburn area and the sophisticated needs of music listeners in Maine, he decided to come to the Pine Tree State.
But where in Maine?
He first approached officials in Cumberland where the 140-year-old Cumberland Fairgrounds is located near Falmouth and Yarmouth on the coast. The officials weren’t overly enthusiastic about the venture, he said, adding that he believes the more affluent communities in that area simply weren’t looking at the beneficial economics of the venture.
But he wasn’t deterred.
“There are 26 fairgrounds in Maine,” Chandler said, asking himself, ‘Where to next?’ Oxford was the up and coming fairground.”
It is 3 miles from Oxford Plains Speedway, where the Grateful Dead played to a sellout crowd in 1988. This new venue, however, offered Chandler the space and buildings and other accommodations he needed. It also has nearby communities that are looking for economic opportunities.
Chandler called the fairground possibility “exciting” and its owners “very business-orientated.”
“And it is a great venue, physically,” he said.
With a willing community, he went forward. For the past year he has been in the area every week planning for the event that will bring at least 40 musical acts including rock, jazz and reggae. About nine local acts have also been hired, although Chandler said with the depth of musical talent in the area, he wished he could have hired more local bands.
Although his provisional permit from Norway may require some additional legwork, Chandler said he’s ironing out the details as the days count down to the festival.
Maine has a saying: You can’t get there from here.
That’s not true, Chandler said. Directions couldn’t be more simple. “If you’re coming from Miami, you just get on I-95 and drive north to Exit 63 in Gray in Maine, get off and take Route 26, and you’re there,” he said.
“Are you kidding?” he asked with a huge smile. “It’s unbelievable.”