September 27, 2013

Norridgewock festival draws art, and some complaints

Last Breath Farm has been hosting various cultural events since 1997, but not everyone is a fan.

By Rachel Ohm
Staff Writer

NORRIDGEWOCK — A flowing canopy of pink and orange plastic streamers, measuring about 20 feet by 30 feet and suspended with bright pink string between trees, is the project of two recent art school graduates traveling the country and exhibiting their work at festivals.

click image to enlarge

Gabe Kenney, 28, of Pittsburg, helps install an exhibit titled Bloom Bloom by artist Dana Harper, 26, of Colombus, Ohio in the woods during preparations for the first Great North Festival in Norridgewock on Thursday. The first year of the festival will feature music with headliner Beat Antiques and 60 other groups as well as art exhibits.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

"The space was created to forget about the outside world and experience something more emotional or spiritual," said Dana Lynn Harper, 26, as she walked through the forest with a spool of hot-pink string tucked into her flannel shirt.

Harper and her boyfriend, Gabe Kenney, who are graduates of the Pennsylvania State University School of Visual Arts, are touring the country, displaying their art at festivals. Their most recent stop is the Great North Festival in Norridgewock, where they spent Wednesday afternoon and most of Thursday working on installing "Bloom bloom," Harper's senior project for her master's degree in sculpture.

The festival, which begins today at Last Breath Farm and runs through Sunday, features 60 musical artists and 25 visual ones, mostly made up of electronic and hip-hop bands and modern geometrical artists who have installed their work in ways that make use of the 400-acre farm's natural setting.

This is the Great North festival's first year, although Tim Rogers, 54, the ninth-generation owner of Last Breath Farm, said he has been hosting events there since 1997, when his 10-year-old daughter was burned badly in a cooking accident and he wanted to raise money for Shriners Hospital for Children.

Since then, festivals have come and gone. In the past, Rogers said, he has been disappointed with the negative light cast on the festivals by neighbors and the news media -- mostly because of some noise and drinking problems, he thinks, more than drugs. Somerset County is home to several pro-marijuana festivals, including three annual festivals at Harry Brown's Farm in Starks and others organized by activist Don Christen in Harmony.

"There are always going to be troublemakers. Some of my neighbors think I am the worst, but by having this festival I'm bringing more people into town than anything else," Rogers said.

Norridgewock Town Manager Michelle Flewelling said because of prior activities, the town has a mass-gathering ordinance that stipulates that any outdoor gathering of 1,000 or more people requires a permit from the town and the state Department of Health and Human Services.

She said any past complaints the town received have been mostly about noise, and there have been few other problems with the festivals. Part of the mass-gathering ordinance requires that noise levels be monitored, she said.

Chris Cote, 30, executive producer of Kind Mind Productions, is the producer of this year's festival and was subcontracted as a stage manager for an event there last year. He said he hopes to put on a different show this weekend.

"No one's been able to really knock it out of the park. We really want this to work," said Cote, 30, of Mount Vernon.

Rogers, who has worked as a concert security guard and toured with Metallica, said the scene has outgrown him, and although he has lost money hosting festivals, he continues to do it because he thinks there are few people that have the land and are willing to do it.

"Shows should be well produced, not underproduced. Attendance depends on things like having amenities available, having a large staff to provide security. When things like that are overlooked for reasons of making more money, you have lots and lots of incidents," said Cote, although he wouldn't elaborate on what some of the problems with the previous festival were.

This year's main event is Allyson and Alex Grey, husband and wife visual artists who create psychedelic paintings, geometrical configurations of unpronounceable letters rooted in Hinduism.


Rachel Ohm can be contacted at 612-2368, or at


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