AUGUSTA — For some reason, lots of people who came to this year’s celebration of the Festival de la Bastille wanted to meet the Russian president.

“Everybody’s saying, ‘I want Putin,'” said Sue Boucher, one of many organizers of the event who was helping to keep the food tent running. “I said, ‘That guy’s over there.'”

In fact, those people were ordering poutine, a dish originally from Quebec that consists of french fries covered in gravy and cheese curds. But to Boucher, whose family is Franco-American, their pronunciation sounded off.

Many ingredients have stayed the same since a local organization for people of Franco-American heritage, Le Club Calumet, started celebrating the Festival de la Bastille 38 years ago. The event is a national holiday in France, marking a turning point in the country’s 18th century revolution.

In Augusta, there has always been dancing, performances by Franco-American musicians, and attendance by generations of French-speaking Mainers, some wearing white berets advertising Le Club Calumet.

But while other delicacies such as crepes and a blood sausage known as boudin have been served, this was the first year that Boucher can remember poutine being on the menu.

“It just kind of evolved,” she said of the reason for the new offering.

It’s not the only part of the festival that has evolved.

From 1997 to 2006, it lay dormant until the club started admitting women and some members helped restart it. The festival used to run all weekend every year. Now it happens every other year, and this weekend’s just went from Friday to Saturday.

While attendance used to top 10,000, it’s much lower now, said Gerard Lapierre, a past president of the club. About 500 people came on Friday night.

There were a series of musicians who played on Friday, including a country singer, Rene Turgeon, whom Lapierre describes as “the Tim McGraw of Canada.” On Saturday, there were kid’s activities followed by a chicken barbecue.

Lapierre was helping run the tent where beer and wine are served, and he noted another change that’s meant to appeal to younger families: craft beer from companies such as Baxter Brewing Co. and Funky Bow Beer Co.

Attracting new members will be a challenge for the club as its begins preparing for a much larger celebration in 2022, when the organization turns 100.

For that reason, when it holds events like the Festival de la Bastille, it tries to be as welcoming as possible, according to Lapierre.

“It’s about the French-American,” Lapierre said of the festival. “But you don’t have to be Franco-American to come.”

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker

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