TOPSHAM — Everything from fiddles and flutes to banjos and bones will rattle the rafters at Mt. Ararat Middle School and the Orion Performing Arts Center when the 29th annual DownEast Folk Festival takes place there this weekend.

Nearly 30 bands from throughout Maine and beyond will be featured at this year’s event, and while some of the music is just for listening, the vast majority serves to fuel the feet of the hundreds of people who flock there each year for dancing offered nonstop from 7:30 p.m. to midnight on Friday, March 29, and 10 a.m. to midnight on Saturday, March 30.

The mainstay of the festival is traditional New England contra dancing, an energetic social dance form which has its roots in the more sedate English country dances done by American colonists over 200 years ago. Though similar to square dancing, contras are danced in a double-line formation of as many as 20 couples, allowing a great deal of intermingling and socializing.

Swirling skirts and smiling faces will abound at the 29th annual DownEast Folk Festival taking place on March 29 and 30 at Mt. Ararat Middle School in Topsham. (Photo by Ryan Carollo)


In addition to contras, festival attendees can choose from a whole spectrum of other dance styles as well as musical activities. Saturday is workshop day, offering beginner-friendly contra dance sessions in addition to classes in English and Scottish country dancing, French Canadian step dancing, flat-foot clogging, belly dance, French bourees and an array of other international dance styles from Eastern Europe, Israel, China and many other regions of the world. The art of couple dancing will also be covered with sessions in waltz, swing, polka and blues dancing.

Those looking to expand their musical horizons can get a crash course on how to play the bones or pick up new techniques in fiddle, mandolin, banjo, piano, hammered dulcimer or guitar styles. Also offered will be sing-along sessions as well as workshops in round singing, harmonizing, yodeling and vocal improvisation. A number of mini-concerts are also on the roster, featuring everything from Celtic jigs and Quebecois reels to old-time gospel songs and gypsy-jazz music.


On Saturday evening, dancers will have a choice between contra dancing to the Franklin County Fiddlers and the Moving Violations (with Chrissy Fowler and Luke Donforth calling) or carousing at an international folk dance party with music provided by the Sladka Quartet. Friday evening’s focus is fully on contras and will feature the bands Steam Packet and the Moving Violations, with callers Bill Olson and Luke Donforth.

Admission prices for the festival range from $12 to $42, depending on the number of sessions one attends, with discounted tickets offered to full-time students age 11 to 21, and free admission to any child age 10 or under if accompanied by an adult.

Mt. Ararat Middle School and the adjacent Orion Performing Arts Center are on Route 201.

More information on the festival, including a full schedule of activities, is available at or by calling 207-837-8249.

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