BANGOR – Many Mainers have foregone any kind of vacation this summer, choosing instead to save money as a hedge against an uncertain winter. Economic recovery is stalled. The stock market plummets, rises and plummets again with agitating irregularity. We’re all struggling beneath our own debt ceilings, tax bills and day-to-day expenses.

As our Maine summer begins to fade into fall, why not take the chill off some of that news, give ourselves a break and take part in one of the best economic stories the state has to offer? For free.

The American Folk Festival on the Bangor waterfront is 2½ days of family-friendly entertainment that more than 160,000 people attend each year. If you’re not one of them, it’s high time you took a drive up Interstate 95 to enjoy this jewel in the crown of the Queen City.

Ten years ago, the National Folk Festival, which has occurred every year somewhere in the U.S. since 1938, came to Bangor. The modus operandi of the National Folk Festival is to establish a three-year residency in an American city, in the hope that that city will then continue the celebration of folk and traditional arts on its own.

Bangor took up that challenge, and 10 years later the American Folk Festival is a thriving destination event that attracts visitors to Maine from across the country.

The impact of the festival on the greater Bangor region — and Maine — is significant: Research conducted in 2008 and 2009 put the economic impact at $9 million annually.

The festival gives a 10-to-1 return on the investment that has been made by Maine businesses and individuals, and grants from foundations, federal and state government, including the National Endowment for the Arts and the Maine Arts Commission.

The focus that the American Folk Festival has brought to the Bangor waterfront has spurred that area’s redevelopment.

This has led to even more economic contributions from the Waterfront Concerts series and festivals such as KahBang that draw thousands of people to the same site on the banks of the Penobscot River.

There is no doubt that Maine’s summer cultural festivals, such as the Bates Dance Festival, the Rockland Blues Festival, the Bar Harbor Music Festival and countless others, bring economic vitality to their communities, and by extension to the entire state.

They also bring something else: the transformative experiences that come with one-on-one engagement with live performance.

At the American Folk Festival on the Bangor waterfront, Mainers can see international musicians (and crafts) that carry with them centuries of tradition, modern interpretation, and years of mastery.

From Zydeco and Bluegrass to Congolese guitar and Western Swing. From Afro Cuban and New Orleans jazz to blues piano and Chinese guzheng. The world’s music — and food — will be planted in our own state from today through Sunday.

Without leaving Maine, we can enjoy an abundance of music, crafts, culture and all the simple enjoyment that comes with celebrating with your friends and neighbors in the Maine outdoors.

If you’ve never seen Rajasthani dance, if you’ve always wondered what Quebecois fiddlers sound like, or if you’re curious to hear Super Chikan, what better opportunity for getting a sample than a place where the music is free? Pick a stage and go listen for awhile. If the spirit moves you, get up and dance. You won’t be alone.

While the music is always the headline attraction, the folk and traditional crafts are also a vital part of the folk festival, showcasing food, cooking and agricultural traditions from Maine and elsewhere.

New this year is the Children’s Village, featuring four neighborhoods that represent a sampling of the cultures that are part of Maine — Native American, Franco-American and Acadian, Latino and Chinese.

Maine has an abundance of artistic offerings, and it is exciting and satisfying to travel around our beautiful state to see them. The Bangor waterfront is a picturesque, historic piece of Maine that, at festival time, hosts both expansive and intimate performance venues with plenty of room to enjoy all that the festival has to offer.

If you’ve never been, make this the year you go to the American Folk Festival on the Bangor waterfront.

– Special to the Press Herald