Grand times in Grand Lake Stream

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Most people go to Grand Lake Stream to fish. Some go relax. I go to shop. That’s not easy in a sleepy fishing town that boasts just one tiny general store.

Grand Lake Stream gives meaning to the punchline of the old Maine joke, “ya cahn’t get theyah from heah.” Located two hours east of Bangor, Maine, and less than one hour from New Brunswick, Canada, it’s a remote lake-dotted region where logging and sportsfishing are the economic mainstays.

Once a year, however, during the last full weekend in July, Grand Lake Stream’s population of 127 swells, when more than 5,000 visitors arrive for the Grand Lake Stream Folk Arts Festival. They’re attracted by the family-friendly atmosphere and wallet-friendly prices.

The festival comprises about 50 vendors, a music tent, a snack tent and an education tent, as well as exhibits highlighting quilts and the region’s canoe-building heritage. It’s all spread out on the grassy ballfield in the center of town. Children have room to run, dogs space to roll. Crowding is not a problem in this neck of the woods.

This is one of my all-time favorite Maine events–it’s just a wicked good time. For one thing, the music is great and nonstop. A highlight is jazz/blues trumpet player Mark Tiptree, who grew up spending summers here but now plays in New York. Yeah, he’s good. So is Jim Gallant, whose guitar fingerwork alone is worth the price of admission, never mind his deep voice. The Black Sox Band and others keep feet tapping and kids dancing.

Potters, quilters, woodworkers, clothing makers, painters, sculptors, furniture makers, metal workers, basket makers, weavers, jewelers, glass artisans, leather crafters, doll makers, and on and on display, sell and often demonstrate their crafts. Food’s mighty fine, too–if Vinny is selling his smoked salmon kebobs, splurge. And if it gets too hot, you can always jump in a lake.

The Grand Lake Stream Guides Association hosts a lakeside chicken barbeque on Friday night, a lobster feed on Saturday night; both come with all the trimmings, including homemade pies. Saturday night there’s also usually a contra dance in the school basement. And the Sunday morning music jam keeps the circle unbroken among area–and visiting–musicians: Anyone can join in, heck bring a set of spoons!

Lodging at this late date is probably hard to snag right in Grand Lake Stream village, but Calais and Eastport are easy commutes to the festival. Gates open 10 a.m. and close at 5 p.m., both Saturday and Sunday. Admission is $5 for one day or $8 for the weekend.