Summer is a fantastic time to visit Maine. The Mid-Coast in July is particularly wonderful with moderately warm temperatures and beautiful scenery. Another great thing about July in Maine is the North Atlantic Blues Festival.
Every year, thousands of people congregate in Rockland Maine to enjoy a weekend of music performed by some of the most celebrated names in blues from across the country. The festival features delicious drinks and food too!
Here’s everything you need to know about one of the best-known blues festivals in the United States…
The Spread of Blues to the Northern East Coast
Since the early 1900s, Maine has been mentioned in blues lyrics and taken an active role in the development of blues music in the Pine Tree State. Jimmie Rodgers, a Mississippi native, first name-dropped Maine in 1928 during his song “The Brakeman’s Blues.”
B.B. King and Muddy Waters were other well-known blues artists from Mississippi who started performing in Maine clubs in the 1970s. After that, more blues performers were headlining in clubs across the state.
The Father of the North Atlantic Blues Festival
In 1978, the Wolf Gang and Eddie Shaw were booked at the club where Paul Benjamin was working as a bouncer. At the Trade Winds Blues Plus Lounge and the Time Out Pub, Benjamin presented dozens more blues artists and musicians from Mississippi and other states.
In 1994, Benjamin organized the first North Atlantic Blues Festival, strengthening the presence of blues music along the East Coast. He has been helping organize the festivities ever since!
Maine North Atlantic Blues Festival Details
The annual North Atlantic Blues Festival is always held at the Public Landing in Rockland Maine for two days in mid-July. This area is situated next to Harbor Park and Mildred B. Merrill Park, which overlook the scenic harbor and Penobscot Bay.
The festival is such a major event for the city and surrounding communities that it supports local businesses, giving many of them the best sales weekend of the year. You can contribute to this positive impact and be part of the celebration of blues as well.
Before you go, though, you might want to make a few preparations. Even if you’ve been to this blues music event before, we might have tips that haven’t come to mind.
1. Friday Celebrations at Local Restaurants & Bars
Although not technically organized as part of the North Atlantic Blues Festival, several local restaurants and bars start hosting blues performers the Friday before the organized festivities. There are no wristbands for these pre-fest events, and some of the places may have a cover charge.
Many of the restaurants and bars are on Main Street near the festival grounds. Ada’s Kitchen, the Fog Bar & Cafe, and Myrtle Street Tavern are a few examples. Some other places that may host blue music on Friday include the Grey Owl Bar & Grill and the Trackside Station.
2. Performances by Top Blues Bands & Artists
The main attraction to this Maine blues celebration is, of course, the blues musicians and artists themselves. The event books some of the biggest names in blues music, from classic female, country, Chicago, and other blues styles.
Best of all, different performers attend every year, so you’ll always have a new experience. Check out the current full lineup here. The performances start on Saturday and Sunday mornings at the Public Landing stage and in some of the local restaurants and bars.
3. Folding Chairs & Blankets for Concerts
The organizers for the North Atlantic Blues Festival have some folding chairs in front of the main stage on the Public Landing that you’re free to use. However, you’re not guaranteed to get one unless you have a VIP pass, for which yellow-covered chairs are provided to the right of the stage.
The only other way to secure a seat is to bring it yourself. The organizers allow you to bring folding chairs and blankets onto the grounds well before the first performance so that you can pick a preferred spot. After claiming your spot, though, you have to leave until the festival gates open.
Chairs with canopies, tents, and sun umbrellas aren’t allowed. Other prohibited items include alcohol, coolers, pets, and your own food and water. All bags are searched at the ticket gate.
4. Blues Festival Food, Drinks, & Crafts Galore
Live entertainment isn’t the only attraction at this popular East Coast blues festival. A lot of people also attend to eat lobster, for which Rockland Maine is famous. You’ll find a wide array of food and drink vendors around Main Street and the Public Landing.
On top of that, merchandise and art vendors set up tents around the festival. A lot of them feature blues-related gifts and keepsakes. You may find some other crafty items too.
You can even order North Atlantic Blues merchandise on the festival website.
5. The Blues Club Crawl, Sunday Brunch, & All-Star Jam
After the primary performances during the day on Saturday, Main Street in Rockland Maine closes to traffic for the Club Crawl. Several stages are set up along the street, continuing the festivities into the night.
All ages are welcome to watch, listen, and dance to the street performances. Those of legal age with a wristband from the festival can also head to participating restaurants and clubs to listen to regional bands.
On Sunday morning, some of the participating restaurants host a Blues Brunch as well. It’s open to the public. Then after the daytime festivities, they host the All-Star Jam into the night.
6. North Atlantic Blues Festival Tickets
If you plan to attend the blues music festival, you can get tickets in advance online for a discounted price. Tickets are a little pricier at the ticket stand when you arrive.
However, children’s tickets are cheap and only available at the gate for kids ages 6 to 12. Children younger than 5 are admitted for free. When you purchase at the ticket stand, keep in mind that only cash is accepted (ATMs are nearby).
The wristbands that you receive allow you to leave and reenter the festival grounds as much as you want. So, you can check out locally owned restaurants nearby or other Rockland attractions during your visit. Additionally, the wristbands provide free entrance to participating restaurants and clubs.
Tickets are nonrefundable, but the festival will continue, rain or shine.
7. Plenty of Parking for Festival Attendees
This Maine blues festival doesn’t have designated parking, and no parking is allowed on the grounds. But, Rockland Maine has plenty of parking along the streets from the Rockland Breakwater to Snow Marine Park. You can use the Rockland Harbor Trail to walk to the event.
In addition, some civic organizations permit parking in their lots for a fee. On the other hand, you can use a taxi service to get from your lodging to the Rockland Public Landing. Joe’s Taxi and Schooner Bay Taxi are two services that the festival organizers recommend.
8. Support for the Local Schools
We already noted that the North Atlantic Blues Festival has a positive effect on local businesses, but it does even more for the community. Some of the proceeds go to the Midwest Musical Academy and local schools to support musical programs.
Furthermore, the festival is a supporter of Raising The Blues Ltd. This nonprofit charity presents instruments and music to kids who face emotional, educational, physical, and medical challenges.
Where to Stay During the North Atlantic Blues Festival
As you’re planning to attend the North Atlantic Blues Festival, consider staying at one of our two Midcoast inns:
The Country Inn
Our Camden Maine bed-and-breakfast-style inn is only about a 15-minute ride from the Rockland Public Landing, so you can easily drive or call for a taxi.
We have 36 guest rooms and suites, as well as 11 individual cottages to keep you comfortable. You get to enjoy several luxury amenities as well, such as our heated indoor pool and hot tub and homemade breakfast every morning. Check our availability at The Country Inn for your festival getaway!
Glen Cove Inn & Suites
If you plan well ahead of the festival, you could stay even closer to Rockland at our sister property — Glen Cove Inn & Suites. We’re only about a 10-minute drive from the festival grounds.