BANGOR (AP) – To the curious delight of South Portland luthier Joel Eckhaus, Maine music, crafts and culture took center stage at the three-day National Folk Festival, which ended Sunday.

“I’m not sure I qualify as a folk artist, but I am happy to be here,” said Eckhaus, standing in front of a stand of his handmade ukuleles, mandolins and tenor guitars.

“I think this is a great festival to introduce people to what folk music and folk culture really are,” said Eckhaus, 52, who was among several Maine artisans participating in the free festival in downtown Bangor.

Basket makers, canoe makers, bean cookers, rug weavers, woodcarvers and others demonstrated their skills. The Abbe Museum of Bar Harbor, which chronicles Maine’s Native American Heritage, displayed items from its collection, and the Maine Discovery Museum of Bangor organized a variety of events geared toward children.

Attendance was expected to reach festival organizers’ goal of 100,000 people, 20,000 more than last year’s event.

Another festival returns to Bangor next August, then heads to another U.S. city for its next three-year residency.

Oud player – Alan Shavarsh Bardezbanian of West Bath – regaled an overflow Heritage Stage crowd with music inspired by his family’s Ottoman background.

The oud – pronounced like good, without the “g” – is a stringed instrument related to the lute.

From the opening notes, a dozen or so members of the crowd formed a small circle and danced slowly with the flow of the festive Middle Eastern music.

Other Maine musical acts were the Old Grey Goose, an acoustic band from the midcoast that plays traditional American and maritime music, and Franco fiddler Don Roy of Gorham.

Organizers expanded the folk and traditional arts areas after last year’s crowds expressed an interest in learning more about Maine culture and traditions, said festival director Heather McCarthy. This year there were two narrative stages and four demonstration areas, including a tent dedicated to Maine instrument makers.

For 30 years, Eckhaus has specialized in making ukuleles, a much-maligned stringed instrument most often associated with the late Tiny Tim. Eckhaus was on stage with Tiny Tim when the musician collapsed from a heart attack.

The last decade or so, the instrument has enjoyed new respect, Eckhaus said. “There is a resurgence going on. It started in the ’90s and it’s still going on. People are playing for all kinds of reasons and in all genres of music,” he said.

Eckhaus’s interest in acoustic music grew from his love of rock ‘n’ roll when he was in high school.

“From rock ‘n’ roll, I discovered the blues, folk music, bluegrass and old-time music. I worked backward instead of forward. And I was always interested in making things. When I was a kid I made models and toys, and I was always working with my hands,” he said. ” At one point, when I was 20 or so, I said, ‘Maybe I can start making instruments.” He now makes about 30 instruments a year, shipping them all over the world.

AP-ES-08-24-03 1315EDT



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