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The parade, with the Acadian flag, Buck-Wit (the moose mascot) and a dancer in colorful Acadian garb
The Other Maine

Le Festival Acadien

By Alex Seise | September 26, 2011

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A few weeks before we moved to the Other Maine, we were sitting in our condominium in New Jersey browsing websites about Aroostook County. One of them described the local fairs and festivals.

The big wheel at the Northern Maine Fair in Presque Isle

“You’ll never believe this,” David said, chuckling as he clicked around. “We’re going to miss the Ploye Festival by a week.”

He then explained to me that a ploye was a buckwheat pancake, one that is made and adored by the people of the Saint John Valley. It’s not quite a crepe, and it’s not quite a standard flapjack. The buckwheat flour gives it a yellow hue, and the cooking technique requires that it cook on only one side, leaving the griddle-facing edge smooth and the other pocked with air bubbles.

And to honor this simple side dish, an entire festival is organized, played out and enjoyed on an annual basis. That’s part of the charm of Aroostook County; the people here are proud of their culture, and even in the era of smart phones and social media, they never pass up the chance to laud a treasured treat over the course of a summer weekend.

Festivals, fairs and celebrations are not uncommon in Northern Maine. Whether they’re small, like the Moosestock Festival in Allagash, or large, like the Northern Maine Fair in Presque Isle, each has its charm. In fact, if you have the moxie to drive around from town to town, you could likely attend at least one each weekend during the spring, summer and fall seasons without ever leaving the County.

One of the largest in the region is Madawaska’s Acadian Festival, also known by its French moniker, Le Festival Acadien. Though it traditionally takes place in early July, this year’s 34th annual festival marked a shift to mid-August.

A local band, RoxxU, performs rock music in the park grandstand

All around town, preparations for the festival began months in advance. Fliers were taped to shop windows. In the week leading up to the festivities, the town tied colorful bows to the streetlights on Main Street. Brochures show throngs of revelers decked out in red, white and blue garb with the yellow Acadian star, often times joined by the festival’s mascot, Buck-Wit, a plush moose.

The festival always coincides with a family reunion; this year, it happened to be the Cyr family. Cousins, children, aunts and uncles arrived in the days leading up to the festival, staying with relatives and anywhere there was room.

On the second night of the festival, David and I ventured out to explore the “Danse du Main Street,” a raucous collection of bands, disc jockeys and vendors. People danced on the closed boulevard, nibbling on Dough Boys and other street fare. The half mile stretch was refreshing; the energy was incredible.

The next morning, the schedule advertised a craft fair and several other events around town. But as we walked along the sidewalks, a reminder of the reality of the festival was apparent. There was buzz and excitement, make no mistake. The colorful streetlight décor, the meticulously adorned shop windows and the increased traffic were more than evident. But the energy of the previous night’s dance was absent; several empty tables lined the route of the craft fair, and a lone painter worked on a landscape in front of the Chamber of Commerce office.

Ployes were sold in the park during the festival

Fortunately, despite the lulls, the spirit of the festival was far from dismal. An antique car show and several booths in the park proved successful, as did a performance by local bands. The parade went off without a hitch, drawing a significant crowd to the curbs of Main Street. And the Tintamarre, a spectacular march in which participants clang pots and pans, was a lively and uplifting way to bring the festival to a close.

Coinciding with the Festival Acadien were the Muskie Derby and the Ploye Festival, both taking place in Fort Kent. Looking at the three, as well as other fairs in the region, it’s easy to understand what these events really stand for. They’re more than escapism, and they go far beyond the music and food.

Rather, they represent the celebrations that follow a long season spent tilling the soil and toiling in the backwoods to make ends meet. They also represent heritage, family and reconnecting with friends and neighbors in an old-fashioned manner. But most of all, they act as carriers of a culture that slowly seeps away as members of the community pass away and move on to other regions. Even though the individuals change, the proud Acadian culture lives on.

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