Maybe it’s because the state is smothered under snow six months out of the year, but Maine seems to go a bit wild during its short summers, playing host to a sprawling slate of outdoor festivals. Nearly every weekend between Memorial Day and Columbus Day finds Mainers gathering somewhere in large numbers to dance, eat, and drink toasts to various (often quirky or obscure) bits of the state’s history and culture. And while many small-town fests across the country aren’t much more than just homogenized rituals of sad parades, creaking midway rides, and fried dough, summer frolics in the Pine Tree State tend to retain a lot of character. Popular excuses for street parties include homages to favorite foods and beverages, along with old-school civic pride. For my money, beer never tastes so good or music sound so sweet as when both are consumed outdoors amid a crowd of strangers.
Old Port Festival
Portland observes the first weekend in June with a giant puppet parade and a half dozen stages of live music (heavy on roots and rock) that effectively take over the city’s cobblestone historic district. Portland is a foodie town above all, and some 50 food vendors include sidewalk versions of some of the city’s best restaurants.
Maybe the most impressive thing about Bangor’s wildly eclectic August blowout is its scale: It’s a music fest that’s brought in acts like My Morning Jacket, Earl Sweatshirt, and St. Vincent, but it’s also an arts fest, a film fest, a beer fest, and a TED-style ideas conference. The crowd skews young at New England’s ascendant answer to South by Southwest.
Maine’s divisive, nineteenth-century soft drink is flavored with gentian root and sold almost nowhere else in the country. It is often described politely as “an acquired taste,” but legions of the syrupy beverage’s fans gather in July for recipe contests, the state’s largest parade, and a high-fructose chugging competition that’s slightly reminiscent of a traffic accident—you can’t look away.
Maine Lobster Festival
Rockland’s nearly 70-year summer tradition revolves around the world’s largest lobster cooker and the 20,000 pounds of succulent lobster it boils each year. Sure, there are also bands and a fun run, but heaping seafood platters are the draw (the spectacle of the chow tent was immortalized in David Foster Wallace’s essay, “Consider the Lobster”).
Maine’s toniest seaside hamlet welcomes summer with six days of cocktail parties, art shows, and hors d'oeuvre receptions at local businesses and (usually quite stately) private homes. It’s a mingle-fest with a gourmet twist, and the week wraps with an outdoor tapas party along the pretty Kennebunk River. Dress nice and come hungry.