2016-06-16 / Front Page

Festival back at St. Louis Field

By Ben Meiklejohn
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – The 34th La Kermesse Franco-Americain Festival is set to take place this week with a return to St. Louis Field, where it was held from 1982 to 2009. The city had banned the festival from being held there after heavy equipment caused $25,000 in damage to the field after a weekend of downpouring rain. La Kermesse President Jessica Quattrone said this year’s festival marks a “return to the roots” and a newfound cooperation with the city to ensure that the field will be protected.

The festival will also mark the return of Smokey’s Greater Shows providing carnival rides. The company hasn’t been part of the festival since 2009.

“We haven’t had them in a few years. Our relationship with them was rocky because of a lot of things that happened in the past,” Quattrone said. “We mended things not only with the city but with a business.”

Quattrone credited the city council and Mayor Alan Casavant with being willing to consider a return to St. Louis Field.

“The relationship has always been there, it’s just the lines of communications opening up,” Quattrone said. “They’ve always been supportive but this time it was in a way of making groups like parks and recreation look at us. It’s always been a barrier.”

City Manager James Bennett said when he first started working for the city last year, he pulled together staff to plan how a festival could be held on the field.

“I asked them what we would have to do to minimize the potential for damage,” Bennett said. “My personal view is that a lot of communities have something unique that’s theirs, and the ones that do it well, it’s as source of pride and brings people into the community.”

Unlike past festivals at the field, alchohol will not be available said Quattrone, because the city ordinance doesn’t allow alcohol in city parks. The ordinance used to include an exception for La Kermesse Franco-Americaine Festival to provide alcohol on St. Louis Field, but the council amended the ordinance to remove the exception, said Quattrone.

“That’s the city’s decision because of the city ordinance,” Quattrone said. “I originally presented the idea before the city council, but was told by (At-large City Councilor) Marc Lessard and (Ward 5 City Councilor) Bob Mills that if I had any intention of pursuing alcohol, I would lose the votes.”

Quattrone said she was put on the spot at the council meeting last year and faced with an instant decision to make: whether to have the festival in a city park without alcohol or not in a city park.

Last year, the festival did not have alcohol or gambling because it was held on school grounds at Biddeford Middle School. Quattrone said gambling will return to the festival with a casino tent.

Quattrone said the Biddeford Middle School grounds, where the festival was held last year, were not equipped with enough drainage to sufficiently handle such an event. St. Louis Field however, has drainage and field lights that were paid for and installed by La Kermesse Franco- Americain Festival nearly 20 years ago.

Quattrone said a downpour a couple weeks ago didn’t soak St. Louis Field for long.

“Drainage is the numberone thing,” she said.

Carl Walsh, director of the city’s recreation department, credited early planning by La Kermesse Franco-Americain Festival that started last year, as contributing to the council’s support for the festival’s return.

“Certainly what they were looking to do was reduce the impact on the field,” Walsh said. “They made some changes, doing some things on the outskirts and on Waterhouse Field … They certainly put some work on the festival this year.”

With the festival returning to its home field, Quattrone said people had been asking for return of a block party, which will be held on Thursday, June 16, at Mechanics Park.

Water Street will be closed from Pike Street to Main Street at 3 p.m. Main Street will be blocked from Hill Street to Water Street in Saco, starting at 6 p.m.

Quattrone said the block party, which is free, has drawn as many as 10,000 people in the past.

Chris MacKay and the ToneShifters, sponsored by Heart of Biddeford, will perform.

“With the return of going back to St. Louis Field, the number one thing I heard from everybody is, ‘We want the block party,’” Quattrone said. “The block party is a free event to everybody, but it’s not free for us. That was a $20,000 show. When we open up the gates, we’re $20,000 in debt.”

The block party hasn’t been held as part of the festival since 2009, she added.

“The reason for that is because in 2010, we had to scramble just to get a festival together, and in 2011, 2012 and 2013, the festival was actually down in the block (at Mechanics Park).”

Quattrone said features of this year’s festival include a parade, wrestling and a Boston-based Bon Jovi tribute band, Living On a Bad Name.

“That’s really exciting to me,” Quattrone said of Living On a Bad Name. “They cost a pretty penny but they’re worth every dime. That’s new. We’ve never done a tribute band of somebody or a band from my generation.”

The parade will leave the corners of South and Jefferson streets on Friday, June 17, at 6 p.m., marching to St. Louis Field via Alfred Street, Graham Street Extension and West Street.

Quattrone said wrestling at last year’s festival was wellreceived and will return as field activities on Friday.

“It’s not going to be the festival of old, it’s a new festival,” Quattrone said. “It’s set up completely different than anything anybody’s seen because we’re doing our part to protect the field.”

Quattrone said the rides will be set up in the parking lot of Waterhouse Field on a tarp. The festival committee worked with the Waterhouse Field Commission to coordinate the festival’s layout.

The Biddeford Athletic Association will open its concession stand to raise money for Biddeford’s youth sports programs.

Prospect Street will be closed from Hillside Avenue to West Street, starting on Friday at 4 p.m. and lasting through the duration of the festival. St. Louis Field, Prospect Street and parts of Waterhouse Field will all be considered part of the fairgrounds, said Quattrone, with Prospect Street serving as the main gate to the festival.

In order to protect the field, Quattrone said all the vendors and games will be lined up along Prospect Street. Vehicles won’t be allowed on the field except for one area where vendors may quickly unload and then drive away.

Walsh said the city will have a better assessment of whether the precautions taken to reduce damage to the field were effective this year..

“They put their best foot forward to reduce impact,” he said. “Once the festival’s over, it’s a matter of reevaluating and seeing what the condition of the field is.”

“I think we presented what we felt was the best plan, still understanding that there are still risks if Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate,” Bennett said, “but it looks like Mother Nature is going to cooperate this weekend.”

“I have been a ball of anxiety, been losing sleep over this because I understand the pressure and trust that’s being put on us,” Quattrone said, “and I want to do right by all the people who believe in us. I don’t want to do them wrong.”

Tickets for the festival cost $7 a day, or $15 for the weeked, with free admission for children 10 and under.

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