BELFAST, Maine — It’s been three years since the Belfast waterfront was filled with the musicians, music fans, kilt-wearers and cheese chasers who take part in the Maine Celtic Celebration.
Next month, the popular summer event will return to the waterfront after a long pandemic hiatus. Belle Colson, the president of the volunteer-run festival, said she’s more than ready for its return.
“I’m looking forward to the energy,” she said. “I’ve missed the Celtic Celebration for the last two years, and I’m excited to feel that again.”
Festivals are as integral a part of the Maine summer experience as lobster rolls and blueberry pie. In fact, both of those tasty delicacies play a starring role in their own special celebrations — the Maine Lobster Festival in Rockland in August and the Maine Wild Blueberry Festival at the Union Fair in July.
Here is a sampling of some of the classic festivals on tap around Penobscot Bay.
Bastille Day Celebration, Castine, Thursday, July 14.
Castine is named after the French nobleman — Baron de St. Castin — who established a trading post there in the 1670s. Every summer, the town leans into its Gallic heritage with its celebration of Bastille Day, the national day of France.
The day begins with a famous French toast breakfast, held from 8:30-10 a.m. at the Trinitarian Congregational Parish, and continues with tours of the Dyce Head Lighthouse and walking tours of the village. Later, the signature event, “Picnic en Blanc,” will take place at 5:30 p.m. when festival goers — as many as 400 of them — will be seated at long tables under the town’s famous elms. People are asked to wear white and to bring their own picnic dinners. A French flair is optional but welcome, Pat Bishop, part of the Bastille Day organizing committee, said.
“It’s really very pretty, because the table is probably 200 feet long, with all-white tablecloths. We have candelabras and fresh cut flowers,” she said. “It’s really quite photogenic.”
She is thrilled to have the event return.
“People are saying that they’re excited and happy we’re doing this,” she said. “They get to see people they haven’t seen in a long time. It’s a big get together, and everybody is happy to see everybody else.”
North Atlantic Blues Festival, Rockland, Saturday, July 16 to Sunday, July 17.
The annual two-day blues festival, held at the Rockland Public Landing, was canceled in 2020 but returned last summer. Producer Paul Benjamin believes it may have been the first large outdoor event to be held last year in Maine, and possibly even in New England. And it was a hit, he said. More people came to the blues festival last summer than did in 2019, and some took advantage of the pop-up vaccination clinic held there.
“People were anxious to get out,” he said. “We had a great, great crowd last year.”
Benjamin is looking forward to this summer’s lineup, which features award-winning artists aplenty, including piano players, vocalists, guitarists and harmonica players. Ticket sales have been brisk, he said. That doesn’t surprise him.
“It’s Maine. It’s July. It’s on the ocean. It’s great blues, and we’ve got lobsters,” he said. “When people say, ‘Why should I come,’ I give them those reasons.”
Maine Celtic Celebration, Belfast, Friday, July 22 to Sunday, July 24.
This year’s celebration will feature lots of music, crowd-favorite events like the New World Cheese Roll Championships, and a dramatic firework display over Belfast Harbor scheduled for Saturday, July 23.
Organizers have strived to make improvements, Colson said, including moving one of the stages closer to the water to make a more picturesque backdrop for the performers.
“This year we’re coming back revised, updated, bigger and better,” she said. “As always, our entertainment lineup is going to be absolutely beautiful. We have some fresh faces and some old favorites coming back.”
The Union Fair and Maine’s Wild Blueberry Festival, Union, Wednesday, July 27 to Sunday, July 31.
This annual event, which celebrates agriculture in Maine, has it all. There’s harness racing, demolition derbies, live music, fireworks, midway rides, an exhibition hall, lawnmower racing, a children’s blueberry pie eating contest and the coronation of the blueberry queen.
The Maine Lobster Festival, Rockland, Wednesday, Aug. 3 to Sunday, Aug. 7.
This iconic event draws lobster fans from near and far to the scenic Rockland waterfront where they can dine on 20,000 pounds of fresh-caught lobster and enjoy many other activities. There’s the Great International Lobster Crate Race, in which participants take a shot at scampering across a string of 50 lobster storage crates. There’s also footraces, a parade, a seafood cooking contest, and the Maine Sea Goddess coronation.
And this year there is no admission charge. Festival president Celia Knight said that organizers wanted to make the event free admission to mark its 75th anniversary and the two-year pandemic hiatus.
“Whether you come just 15 minutes or come for all five days, we want everybody to enjoy the celebration,” she said on the festival’s blog.
There also will not be carnival rides this year, but organizers said not to worry. There will be plenty of other family fun activities, including playsets, a rock climbing wall, a petting zoo, an arcade room, pony rides and more.