Farmington’s first Sandy River Music Festival puts on a show

Goldenoak performs at the first Sandy River Music Festival in Farmington Sunday, May 29. Lena and Zak Kendall, projected on the screen, grew up in the Farmington area and said it was very “magical” to be performing in their hometown again. Kay Neufeld/Franklin Journal

FARMINGTON — Music lovers from far and wide gathered for the first Sandy River Music Festival Saturday, May 28, and Sunday, May 29, at the Narrow Gauge Cinema.

The festival, alongside the Whistlestop Concert Series, was put on by John Moore, owner of the Narrow Gauge Cinema and Big Sky Grill.

Moore said he was looking for a way to liven up the community during the quiet time of summer after University of Maine at Farmington students leave for break.

“You look at what some of the festivals around the state can do and how it can bring people to a community,” Moore said. “I really miss having the Trek Across Maine come to Farmington. It brings a vitality to the community for a night or two… I thought we could possibly make that up in some fashion over time.”

Attendees were lucky enough to see performances from headliners The Mallet Brothers Band and Goldenoak, alongside Jason Spooner Band, Love by Numb3rs, Eleanor Buckland and more.

,[Many] of those bands were headline worthy,” Moore said.

When it came to the lineup, Moore said it was important he also lift up local musicians, which “is a fun thing.”

“It’s nice to have some ties back to the community,” he said. “To give [local musicians] a chance to play on a little bit bigger stage … to have professionals actually mix [their] music, it’s a good experience for them and gives them a chance to do something a little bit different.”

Performers with roots in Farmington included Goldenoak, a “popular indie-soul-folk band” led by brother-sister duo Zak and Lena Kendall who grew up in the area.

Zak Kendall said in an interview it was “heartwarming” to be back in Farmington performing.

“We spend a lot of time out on the road. To be able to hang out at the family camp and then come here [and perform] after is the best thing ever,” Zak said. “I wish every show could be like this.”

During breaks in their set, Lena talked about how “it feels so good to be home.”

“There’s something very magical about this town,” she said. “It’s been an emotional day reconnecting with people. That’s what this town does.”

Goldenoak also drew out a crowd of fans Sunday night that included the Kendalls’ former Head Start teacher, Karen White of Farmington.

Donna Carlton, at left and Karen White dance together during Love by Numb3rs’ performance at the Sandy River Music Festival Sunday, May 29. It was the first run for the festival, also held Saturday. White said it’s offered locals an “unbelievable” opportunity to see such great musicians all at once in Farmington. Kay Neufeld/Franklin Journal

“I’m very proud. I’ve never seen them in concert,” White said in between dancing.

She added that it was an “unbelievable opportunity” to see such amazing bands in Farmington.

White’s dancing partner, Donna Carlton, said it was special that Farmington was hosting the event.

“We’re pretty lucky to have it here [in Farmington],” Carlton said. “You usually have to go a long ways for an opportunity [to see live music] like this.”

By the middle of Goldenoak’s set, attendees were up and dancing at the front of the stage to tunes like their original song “The Light and the Loneliness” and a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” to close out the show.

Behind the dancing, attendees sat in lawn chairs and on the grass. Some gathered by fire pits after the sun set.

Tents and campers were also set up in the adjacent field, where attendees had the opportunity to camp for the weekend.

Rain, hail and lightening put some plans on hold Saturday night. Moore said it took the festival team by surprise and they had to push the opening set back to 5 pm, run later than expected.

“We were not ready for sleet and possible lightning,” Moore said. “That’s something we have to address in our schedule, to build that timeframe…. and not go over our 10 o’clock ordinance.”

Ultimately, Moore said the response has been “largely positive.” He said attendees came from all over – from Rangeley and Portland to West Virginia.

“It was a friendly vibe,” he said. “People were in a good mood.”

“I planned on this for my Memorial Day weekend,” White said. “In a couple of years, it’s going to be huge.”

In the future, Moore envisions the Sandy River Music Festival growing — but not too much. He wants the festival to grow to 600 to 1,000 attendees but not have it “so packed with lines so long that it just feels too congested.”

Ultimately, Moore will know it’s a success next year when “people vote with their pocketbooks,” he said.

He hopes the festival will endure thanks to music’s connective ability where people are “enjoying the same thing together … listening to the vibe of the music.”

“There’s something about music and summer in Maine that’s magical,” Moore said. “To be able to be outside and have a warm, nice breeze coming through and listening to some good music is a win-win situation.”

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