June 21, 2013

Spirit of La Kermesse brings families, traditions together

By Gillian Graham ggraham@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD — For many in the city, it wouldn't be La Kermesse without the French music.

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Jessica Quattrone, right, president of the La Kermesse Board of Directors, helps Jim Howard, a long-time volunteer and now a new member of the board, in putting up one of the many signs at the festival on Thursday, June 20, 2013.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographers

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Guy Gosselin of Biddeford, crepe-maker extraordinaire, pours over a pound of melted butter from one of this seasoned cast iron skillets into one of his five-gallon buckets of batter he makes for the festival. Photographed on Thursday, June 20, 2013.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

For others, it wouldn't be La Kermesse without poutine and pork pie.

But for Guy Gosselin, it wouldn't be La Kermesse without crepes.

On Thursday afternoon, as a dozen volunteers put the final touches on the annual festival in Biddeford, Gosselin melted pounds of butter in the same cast iron pans he uses for crepes every year, then folded it into five-gallon buckets of batter.

As the celebration of Franco-American and other cultures stretches through the weekend, Gosselin will cook thousands of crepes, using up to four gallons of mix an hour. His family donates all the crepe supplies.

"If I wasn't here I'd feel like something is missing," Gosselin said of his annual stint as the crepe guy at La Kermesse, now in its 31st year in Biddeford. "I like that we celebrate as a community."

The food, rides, music and other activities are expected to draw thousands of visitors through the weekend. The fairgrounds open at 4 p.m. Friday and will be open all day Saturday and Sunday.

After nearly three decades at St. Louis Field and financial troubles that threatened its future, the nonprofit festival moved downtown two years ago to Mechanics Park, at the corner of Main and Water streets. With the shift in venue, La Kermesse organizers also refocused the weekend festival to include celebrations of not just Franco-American culture, but other cultures represented in the city.

Jessica Quattrone, president of the La Kermesse board of directors, said the new focus was the original vision of Joseph Plamondon, who founded the festival in 1982 but died before the first event was held.

In addition to the traditional French music featured in the main tent, the Heart of Biddeford is sponsoring a world music stage, with performances ranging from Afro-Cuban music to Serbian dancing.

Quattrone said festival organizers are trying to make La Kermesse more accessible to families this year by only charging a $5 admission fee per day to the main tent.

The areas with food and craft vendors, rides and the world music stage will be free, though tickets are needed for rides.

Last year, organizers sold 6,500 admission bracelets. Quattrone hopes the free admission to most of the festival will help double the number this year.

Other highlights include a Friday evening parade, fireworks over the Saco River on Saturday night and a Catholic Mass followed by a crepe breakfast Sunday morning.

Quattrone, 36, has been involved with the festival since she was 9.

Her parents both serve on the board of directors and the other volunteers have become her extended family.

That sense of family, she said, is one of the most special things about La Kermesse.

"And the spirit," she said. 'It's the enduring spirit of what this represents.

It's a festival, but it's so much more than that."

For many who attend the festival every year, it is a chance to reconnect with old friends and honor relatives who moved to Biddeford from Quebec to work in the textile mills.

"La Kermesse is such an important piece of maintaining Biddeford's mill worker history and Franco-American history," said Delilah Poupore, executive director of the Heart of Biddeford.

A complete schedule is available on www.lakermessefestival.com.

 

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

ggraham@pressherald.com

 

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