The American Folk Festival on the Bangor Waterfront never gets old for me: It’s always the fun, exhausting-in-a-good-way ending to my summer. Even if it’s in the same place during the same time of year each year, it’s always different. New faces, new cultures and, most importantly, new sounds.

As you may have noticed, I’m a little bit of a music fan. So naturally, the folk fest is like an all-you-can-eat buffet: a little Cajun here, a little bluegrass there, a dash of Middle Eastern music to top it off. Here are the bands I am most excited to see at this year’s festival.

Mighty Sam McClain: He might not be a household name like Al Green or Solomon Burke, but Sam McClain’s voice and spirit are just as powerful and exuberant. Like many soul singers, he got started singing in church, growing up in Louisiana. Throughout the ’60s, he toured the South. Then, in the 1980s, his career got a jumpstart when he worked with the Neville Brothers and moved up to Boston. Now, he’s touring the world. I love soul music, so the chance to see a guy like this is one I’m certainly not going to miss.

Rob Curto’s Forro For All: I’m not sure which group, in the end, I’m most excited about — Sam McClain or Rob Curto. Curto plays Brazilian forro music, traditional dance music with its roots in northern Brazil and its soul in New York City. Curto’s band is big, full of new sounds and new dances for festival crowds to learn — dance instructor Liliana Araujo will lead the crowd at the dance tent in forro lessons.

Los Texmaniacs: These Tex-Mex cowboys bring the party — they play traditional Tejano music, complete with accordions and loping polka rhythms. But they add in elements of rock ’n’ roll and jazz to put their own spin on the sound. Go see them on the dance stage at 12:15 p.m. Saturday or 3:15 p.m. Sunday. You don’t want to miss it.

Joshua Nelson: Kosher gospel. Yes, you read that right: kosher gospel. The Jewish African-American Nelson traces his roots back to observant Jews in Senegal, but grew up in New Jersey, To reconcile both aspects of his upbringing, he combined Jewish religious lyrics and meanings with the soaring melodies of American gospel. I’ve specifically not listened to his music yet, so I can enjoy it firsthand when he performs this weekend. Very cool.

The Upper Nile Ethiopian Ensemble: Ethiopians immigrated en masse to the U.S. in the 1970s, with many settling in the Washington, D.C., area. They continued to play their traditional music, of course, and now the nation’s capital is full of the polyrhythmic, fast-paced dance music. The Upper Nile Ensemble features vocalist Alemayehu Ashete, whose rich, multi-octave range is complimented by one-bowed fiddle player Setegn Atenaw, lyre-player and drummer Minale Dagnew and drummer Solomon Dedany. Rounding out the band are dancers Wunayhu Wurwuro and Ashenafi Mitiku.

Nikolay Kolev and Bulgarika: Eastern European music is intoxicating — it manages to be both irresistibly danceable and mysterious, all at the same time. Bulgarian music makes its debut at the festival this year. Though sadly this group will not be featured on the dance stage, it nevertheless will bring its vibrant, powerful sound to the Railroad Stage on Sunday — also a good place for dancing.


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Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native and proud Bangorian, covering business, the arts, restaurants and the culture and history of the Bangor region.