A parade through downtown Biddeford kicks off the 36th annual La Kermesse Franco-Americaine Festival. The La Kermesse float passes on Jefferson Street as riders wave to spectators. DEREK DAVIS/Portland Press Herald

BIDDEFORD — Franco-American tradition is at the heart of Biddeford’s La Kermesse festival, even more so this year with a new French-Canadian Cabin du Sucre (Sugar Shack), live music by Sylvain’s Acadian Aces and La Famille LeBlanc, and a La Kermesse pageant with a Memere, or French grandmother, category.

La Kermesse kicks off with a free community block party with fireworks Thursday, June 20, at 8:30 p.m. at Mechanics Park and continues with a community parade the next day at 6 p.m. starting on the corner of Jefferson and South Streets. The festival then moves to St. Louis Field on the corner of Prospect and West streets for the rest of the weekend, with the cost of admission $12 in advance or $15 at the gate for all three days, or $8 per day, and free for kids age 7 and under.

“We try to be diverse and have something for everybody – something for kids, something for teenagers,” said board President Jessica Quattrone. “We have a huge parade Friday night, amusement rides and games, music throughout the weekend, a professional wrestling show and a new La Kermesse pageant for all ages.”

The headliner band is the nine-piece Classic Rock Orchestra, playing Saturday night. “Think of Kansas’ ‘Dust in the Wind’ with strings,” Quattrone said. “They’re amazing. They brought the house down last year.”

La Famille LeBlanc, another La Kermesse favorite, is playing Saturday and Sunday. “It’s fiddle music, and you can’t help but tap your toes,” Quattrone said. “All the lyrics are in French.”

Food is another big part of any celebration, and La Kermesse offers everything from fried dough to lobster rolls to homemade French-Canadian favorites.

“Our big seller is poutine,” Quattrone said. “We import real French-Canadian gravy and our cheese curds are locally made. It’s just delicious. We have people who come just for that. We also have pork pie and creton – the insides of the pork pie served cold on a baguette with mustard. It’s delicious. Our pork pie is homemade. We have a whole crew of people who make our pork pie.”

For a sweet treat, La Kermesse is bringing back an old-time tradition, building a Cabin du Sucre, or Sugar Shack. “It’s a huge Franco thing,” Quattrone said. “You take a metal table and ice, put sticks down, and pour warm maple syrup and it creates something like a lollipop with real maple syrup. It’s so nostalgic and a real Canadian thing.”

For the full schedule, go to lakermessefestival.com.

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Scarborough.

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