ROCKLAND, Maine — Maine Lobster Festival President Celia Knight will admit that in recent years local support for the festival — which brings tens of thousands of people to Rockland — has been “waning.”
So for this year’s festival, which kicks off this week, festival organizers are trying to make the event more accessible to locals by offering more options for discounted entry and offering events that enthrall a local audience — not just summer visitors.
“We started to see community support waning in recent years. We took note of that and made changes because of that,” Knight said. “I just want my community to love the lobster festival as much as I do.”
Wednesday marks the start of the 72nd Maine Lobster Festival, a cornerstone event in Knox County that seeks to promote the state’s lobster industry. During its five days, the festival attracts up to 70,000 people, Knight said.
The 71st Maine Lobster Festival was marked with controversy, after the 2018 Maine Sea Goddess was decrowned over social media posts. The decrowning created an uproar from the local community that felt the young woman was unfairly treated.
In the wake of last year’s festival, the Maine Lobster Festival board of directors made a number of changes, including new leadership. Knight, whose family has a long history with the festival, took over the role of president, which was previously held by Cynthia Powell.
While some folks questioned what the future of the Sea Goddess pageant would be in the wake of the controversy, the event will go on this year. However, guidelines for the competition have changed, board member Shannon Kinney said, to clarify expectations for Sea Goddess conduct as well as the judging criteria.
“I think the most important thing [in keeping the Sea Goddess competition] was that tradition matters,” Knight said. “Having a Sea Goddess is really having an ambassador. It’s not a beauty pageant. They’re an ambassador for our state and for our lobstering industry.”
Kinney also pointed out that “a lot of girls” in the midcoast “have waited and wanted to do this their whole childhood.”
Aside from the tweaks to the Sea Goddess pageant, festival organizers have also implemented changes to make it more affordable for people to enter and enjoy the festival.
The Maine Lobster Festival happens every year entirely because of the volunteers who run the show. This year, Knight said, by volunteering for at least one shift, an individual can gain free entry to the festival for its entire duration. Volunteers will also receive a 50 percent discount on items from the lobster-oriented food tent.
In response to hearing from families that the carnival aspect of the festival was too expensive, organizers increased the number of days when a $20 bracelet could get individuals a full day of carnival rides. Knight said the $20 bracelets will now be available on three days.
“We as a board wanted to make sure our friends and our family and everyone really can come to the festival,” Knight said.
In a continuation from last year, the festival will also feature musical talent strictly from Maine.
Saturday’s parade will also see an expansion this year. The board of directors decided that the parade’s grand marshal wouldn’t be a specific person this year, rather they would open up that role to any military veteran who wants to walk in the parade.
“We were thinking we were going to have a few dozen [veterans] participating. But they’re going to fill Main Street,” Kinney said. “It’s going to be a very patriotic moment.”
The Maine Lobster Festival runs from July 31 to Aug. 4 in Rockland’s Harbor Park.
Watch: The Maine lobster industry