With the Maine Blues Festival in Naples canceled again this year because of the pandemic, some local venues are opting to participate in an inaugural music festival in town instead.

Spearheaded by Songo River Queen owner Kent Uicker, the Naples Father’s Day Weekend Music Festival will include individually organized events at five venues in Naples. With the exception of a fee to ride the Songo River Queen, the venues will offer free music.

Songo River Queen owner Kent Uicker has organized the Naples Day Father’s Day Weekend Music Festival. File photo / Lakes Region Weekly

“I took it upon myself to bring back the excitement that Father’s Day weekend usually generates,” Uicker said. “Most venues will be participating in this in some way, shape or form.”

The Maine Blues Festival, which was started in 2006 by Kevin Kimball and Mike Bray, operated annually until 2020, when the festival was canceled due to COVID. 

This year, a variety of factors led to the cancellation of the festival for Father’s Day weekend. The festival typically relies on sponsors to help pay for its roughly 60 bands, shuttle buses and advertising, but now it has to rely on grant money, Kimball said. 

“We are holding out for grant money to come through,” Kimball said. “If it does, we will do something on a much smaller scale. We haven’t completely ruled it out yet, it just won’t be like what we have done in years past. The festival is a very expensive proposition.”

The festival was originally designed to provide a platform for Maine-based artists, and without a guaranteed way to fund the artists’ performances, along with COVID concerns, the festival can’t be held, he said. 

“We support the much simpler proposition (Naples Father’s Day Weekend Music Festival) that venues are in a position to facilitate, and if they want to go ahead and do that, good for them,” Kimball said.

Rick’s Cafe and the Freedom Cafe and Pub are among the previous Maine Blues Festival venues that will be hosting concerts under the name Naples Father’s Day Weekend Music Festival this year. 

Rick’s Cafe, the Songo River Queen and Freedom Cafe and Pub combined will host over 10 Maine-based artists from June 18-20, including The Cover Tones, The Lazzlo Family Band and Poke Chop & Other White Meat. 

The venues will organize and fund the events independently but advertise and promote them under the festival’s name, instead of relying on a third-party organizer. The festival will also expand beyond the blues.

“The Naples Father’s Day Weekend Music Festival is an enhancement of something that no longer exists,” Uicker said. “It’s not a blues festival. Blues is dying and so are its aficionados, so this is good music on Father’s Day weekend and not limited to any one genre.”

COVID-19 dealt a blow to his Songo River Queen cruise boat and other tourism-dependent businesses in Naples.

“People we had booked were coming in from out of state, and people couldn’t come in and quarantine and then come for the event, so we lost a lot of money from private out-of-state business,” Uicker said.

Naples Town Manager John Hawley wrote in his 2020 annual report that “the tourist season, or lack thereof, hurt the local eating and drinking establishments financially.”

“Had we not experienced the cancellation of all activities and festivals, this summer would have been an economic boom for our local businesses,” Hawley said. 

Many Naples businesses rely on the Maine Blues Festival and other summer events to bring in tourists to the area.

“The Blues Festival effectively extends the tourist season for the town by two weeks, and that went away, so that’s got to hurt. That’s not good for anybody,” Kimball said.

If the Maine Blues Festival receives the grant and can accommodate its musicians and patrons safely, Kimball said they will consider hosting the festival at the end of the summer or in early fall. Regardless, they are planning to return with a more normal festival in 2022.

As the tourism season prepares to kick off and some COVID restrictions ease, Uicker expects the Naples establishments to have a successful summer. 

“People are sick of being cooped up and want to get out and about,” Uicker said. “The phone is ringing off the hook, and we don’t have Saturdays left for private charters for the 2021 season. This year is going to be phenomenal.”

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