OAKLAND — If the number of people who turned out to OakFest this weekend are any indication, the town has successfully started a new summertime tradition.

Despite overcast skies and cool temperatures, swarms of people descended on downtown Oakland for the festivities, exceeding the expectations of some event organizers.

“We weren’t sure what we were going to get for a turnout,” said Ryan Johnston, a member of the festival committee and Oakland firefighter, as he looked over dozens of people strolling through the open air market Saturday afternoon.

“Everything is going really smoothly,” Johnston said. “It’s awesome.”

The three-day festival kicked off Friday evening with a parade and street dance in downtown Oakland. Despite a brief rain shower, the event was a big hit. Residents set up lawn chairs along the route to watch the parade, which several organizers said was the largest ever assembled in town.

Many folks stayed behind afterward for the street dance, Johnston said. A modified kayak, bicycle and run triathlon is scheduled for early Sunday morning at the town boat launch on Messalonskee Lake to cap off the three-day event.

The open-air market on Saturday was the big event of the weekend. Almost 100 vendors set up tents, food trucks and demonstrations in the field behind Williams Elementary School on Pleasant Street. The rows of tents featured artists and craftspeople, local organizations and businesses. A classical guitarist offered live music to accompany people as they browsed and chatted.

Nearby, lines formed in front of food sellers offering barbecue, fried dough and Greek gyros.

The baseball field next to the school was converted into a children’s area, complete with a bouncy house, games and pony rides. Kids hand-fed about two dozen pygmy goats and a couple of alpacas at a fenced-in petting zoo.

Overall, the atmosphere at the festival was laid back and relaxed. There weren’t the usual bright lights and noise often associated with the carnival rides that accompany many summer festivals. The festival was arranged to reduce crowding, giving people plenty of room to stroll.

“It’s got that small-town feel to it,” said Dominique Rollins, who was walking through the market with a couple of friends. The festival wasn’t so busy and crowded, she added.

OakFest was suggested by Town Manager Gary Bowman when he took the position late last year. The aim of the festival was to have a big summer event like neighboring towns and bring the community together for a celebration.

The sense of community was palpable on Saturday. Students from Messalonskee High School, dressed in orange OakFest T-shirts, guided cars into parking lots, and other volunteers helped, answering questions and coordinating the event. Residents took the opportunity to catch up with one another and chat.

Anne Hammond, another festival organizer, said that volunteers had put a huge amount of effort into getting the event ready. The organizing committee started planning for OakFest in February and managed to pull it all together in the last six months, she said.

Most people at the festival on Saturday were excited about the event and glad that the town had brought back a community festival.

“It’s awesome, it’s a good thing for Oakland,” said Wanda Grant, who came to the festival with her family.

Her husband David Grant agreed. His only complaint was that the open air market closed at 5 p.m., because he’d like to see it go on later into the evening.

Grant, among others, credited town manager Bowman for the festival’s success.

“Gary’s putting new blood into Oakland; it needs it,” Grant said.

Nearby, Bowman was all smiles as he surveyed the festival grounds.

“This couldn’t have turned out any better,” he said. The original idea was to anchor OakFest with a barbecue competition, and he’d still like to see that happen, but the town might wait to get a few more years of its new summer festival in before expanding it, he said. It is clear, however, that the first year was a success and that OakFest will likely return in 2016.

“Oakland has just been starving for something like this,” Bowman said.

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire


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