Performances are part of the Biddeford arts celebration Fringe Fest, held on Sept. 20. Photo by Tammy Ackerman

Two complementary festivals held back-to-back in one weekend in September celebrate many aspects of life in the twin cities of Saco and Biddeford, from the mills to the river.

While the Friday night Fringe Fest is all about performances and partying in the street, the next day’s River Jam Festival highlights what you can do on the water, as well as the local music scene.

Like so many other local festivals, Biddeford-Saco’s big weekend includes a 5K road race, food trucks, a beer garden and a lineup of live music. But there’s also a 100-foot slip-and-slide, free canoeing on the Saco River, and quirky improv-type performance arts, including a soundscape experiment with a series of six microphones and a mixing board.

Local vendors are set up along Biddeford’s Main Street for Fringe Fest. Photo by Bret Labelle

Fringe Fest, organized by community arts organization Engine, is an artsy, all-ages block party from 5-9 p.m. on Sept. 20 along three blocks of Biddeford’s Main Street, from Washington Street to Alfred Street.

If you’re of the dessert-first school of thought, your first stop should be Pie Luck, the Fringe Fest’s second annual potluck of pies, from 5 p.m. until the pie runs out.

“Because, who doesn’t love free pie?” asked Tammy Ackerman, executive director of Engine.


Last year, about 300 people stopped by for slices from bakeries Maine Pie Co., Night Moves Bread, Biscuits & Co., and Stone Turtle Baking Co., as well as from regular pie-making folks getting in on the community spirit. Look for the long tables on Main Street set with gingham tablecloths, fresh flowers and, of course, pies.

There’s the K-pop (Korean pop music) dance party with DJ Don Tron at 6 p.m., followed by Ruby Yacht Artists’ Guild, a collective of rap artists, at 7:30 p.m. Other artsy offerings include artisan market vendors, an artistic light projection, and Karaokish (a more forgiving version of Karaoke) and beat box musical experimentation.

“The Fringe Fest … is designed to explore voices that maybe many haven’t heard from,” Ackerman said. “We’re trying to make this a festival for everybody. We put thought into, what can we do that is equitable, accessible to everyone and doesn’t cost anything?”

On Saturday, economic development organization Heart of Biddeford holds its River Jam Festival, celebrating the Saco River with events such as Dash to the Sea kayak races. History lovers can take 2-hour narrated boat rides. There’s even an opportunity to borrow a canoe (for free) at Rumery’s Boat Yard, from noon to 3 p.m..

If you’ve never been on the Saco River, borrow a canoe from Rumery’s Boat Yard in Biddeford from noon to 3 p.m. on Sept. 21 during the River Jam Festival. Photo courtesy of Todd Burgess

“This river is an incredible spot between Biddeford and Saco, and a lot of people have never been on it,” said Delilah Poupore, executive director of Heart of Biddeford. “We want people who live here or are visiting to have a chance to get out on the river.”

The local music scene is another big part of River Jam Festival. Entertainment runs from noon to 9 p.m. on the main stage in Mechanics Park in Biddeford, with food trucks, a beer garden, and – new this year – a giant slip-and-slide on the grass. The music lineup includes Canadian country singer Joan Kennedy (4-5 p.m.) and soul funk band Youngerbloods (5:45-7 p.m.).


“And then we’ll close out the night with Kenya Hall, who has a one-of-a-kind voice and is bringing her whole band with the horns,” Poupore said about the act that blends soul, hip hop and funk. “The sun will be going down over the river, and her music will be filling the mill district.”

The festival is in its sixth year and, true to its founding mission, is creating unity and welcoming visitors to Saco and Biddeford.

“People are just drawn to the exciting scene that’s building here,” Poupore said. “And new people who come to this area are part of a river that’s already flowing.”

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

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