NEW SWEDEN, Maine — Travis Cyr was inspired to start New Sweden’s Arootsakoostik music festival in the mid-2000s, while playing a show at the Common Ground Fair in Unity with Tree by Leaf and the Toughcats, respectively hailing from Belfast and Fox Island.
“Something sparked and it gave me an idea to bring that sense of culture up here,” Cyr said. “I wanted to live up here, but still experience that, so I figured I’d bring some of the acts up here.”
In addition to the Common Ground Fair, Cyr was inspired by the Phish festivals in the late 1990s in Limestone, and how those shows brought local people together.
“I was always aware of Thomas Park,” Cyr added, referring to the festival venue in New Sweden. “All it took to get the ball rolling was a little encouragement.”
Ten years later, Cyr feels “extremely humbled and incredibly blessed.”
In addition to organizing one of northern Maine’s largest music festivals, Cyr also is responsible for booking bands at Stockholm’s Eureka Hall as well as the Nordic Heritage Center of Presque Isle.
Though hype for the festival began slowly, it has expanded to the point where Maine acts are contacting Cyr in hopes of getting in on the show.
“Our reputation has blossomed and proceeds us to the point where people are reaching out to us now,” Cyr said. “It’s tough saying no to people, but it’s something we’ve had to do.”
The performances this year opened at 11 a.m. Saturday with Aroots Around, featuring Frank Hopkins, Sorcha Cribben-Merrill, Putnam Smith and John Clavette. Fourteen more acts graced the woodland amphitheater from noon to 8 p.m. as more and more guests packed into Thomas Park.
Though the festival has featured out of state bands in the past, Cyr made a point to exclusively feature Maine musicians for the 10th anniversary.
“Everyone here is Maine made,” Cyr said. “We have about 15 bands on the roster. All of them are Maine acts and five or six of them have Aroostook County ties.”
While getting musicians to perform became easier as the festival gained in popularity, Cyr still has difficulty lining up food vendors.
“Food vendors are probably the hardest thing to line up for the show,” Cyr said. “We just keep an eye on who we see around, and since the same number of trucks are at most outdoor events, we just hit them up before the festival.”
Burger Boy owner Spenser Ouellette was on hand with General Manager Dustin Mancos to sell ice cream Saturday.
“This is our first year,” Mancos said. “Travis is a good friend of Spenser’s and he had asked us for the last few years to come, but this is the first time we’ve been able to come out and it seems to be pretty fun so far.”
“It’s been great,” Ouellette said. “The weather is holding off, and hopefully more people arrive throughout the day. It’s great getting different bands from downstate as well as Aroostook County. It’s a treat for people in The County to be able to listen to different kinds of music. We appreciate Travis Cyr for putting this together and congratulate him on 10 years.”
“The turnout is great,” Mancos said. “Nobody’s ever heard of New Sweden, so it’s great to see so many people come out.”
“It’s a great setting,” Ouellette said, “it’s nice being out in the woods and seeing people and their families come to enjoy the music.”
Despite the festival’s growing popularity over the last decade, Cyr initially expected the first Arootsakoostik to be a one-time gig.
“Somewhere down the line, 10 years became within reach,” Cyr said. “I would encourage people to come out today to enjoy this one because the future is a blank canvas where we’ll just take some time to reassess everything and see where we want to steer it from here.”