BETHEL – Entering Bethel village via Broad Street on Saturday afternoon was like stepping into a dysfunctional time machine.

On the town common side of the street, crowds enjoyed the antics of several professional street performers during the first Maine Performance Arts Festival. The five-day event ends today.

On the eastern side, early 18th-century re-enactors went about their business in period costumes during Bethel’s three-day Sudbury Canada Days celebration of the town’s early history. It, too, ends today.

Dressed in 1780s garb, former Kentucky fiddler John Kuehne, now of Waterville, played Irish jigs from the 18th century, while children dressed in Revolutionary War-era clothing vigorously danced impromptu and improvised hopping and spinning routines in front of him.

In a grassy field behind a row of white canvas tents, a squad of Colonial soldiers marched drills in full uniform while carrying black powder muskets outfitted with long, sharp bayonets.

Across the way on the common, Eric Royer, a one-man Bluegrass band, performed “Old Susannah.”

But when The Airborne Comedians, Dan Foley and Joel Harris, began juggling lawn chairs between them while throwing a birdbath at each other, Colonial-dressed characters and 18th-century garbed Abenaki and Blackfoot Indian re-enactors on the other side of the street began oohing and ahhing amidst laughter.

Both festivals attracted large crowds, and many people crossed the street to view performances on both sides.

It was what festival organizers had hoped for, said Town Manager Scott Cole, who gave one Colonial army soldier permission to strike the nearby fire department’s bell, alerting people to the Early Settlers and Indians children’s parade.

“We’ve had a pretty good crowd of people,” said Carol Monte of Monson, Mass., who was re-enacting the part of a sutler, a person who followed the army doing dirty work.

“We’re pleased with the amount of people going through here, and the town supporting it,” she added.

Foley and Harris and Yo-Yo People performers John and Rebecca Higby also thought the crowd was good, though far short of their usual audience.

“Last week in Ireland, we did 10 acts in front of 25,000 people in two days,” John Higby said.

“We certainly get bigger crowds, but I don’t think you can find better people than here in Bethel,” Foley said.

Bethel businesses and residents have put up more than a dozen performers and fed and entertained them with kayak rides and outdoor experiences in exchange for performances.

“We got to go kayaking yesterday, and we saw a rainbow. We’re also staying at The Bethel Inn,” said John Higby, originally from Alaska.

His wife, who is from Yarmouth, quipped, “We’re getting the real Maine experience.”

Both sets of performers also got more than they expected from the other side of the road.

Right after Foley and Harris finished their act and while the Higbys launched their acrobatic routines and yo-yo tricks, the squad of Colonial soldiers marched in formation onto the common, then, without warning fired off a loud volley of musket fire.

Foley and Harris jumped, whipping their heads up to see the commotion, while the Higbys improvised hastily.

“I thought we were in New York,” Foley said into his amped headset to the crowd, which burst out laughing.

After several more volleys, not more than 50 yards away, Rebecca Higby said such an interruption was old hat to them.

“We were doing a performance at Strawberry Bank in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on the Fourth of July, and every hour muskets were fired from really out of nowhere. So it’s funny today,” she said.


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