Aroostook’s only bluegrass festival expects major post-COVID revival

9 months ago

FORT FAIRFIELD, Maine — An internationally recognized bluegrass festival in Aroostook plans to return in a big way Labor Day weekend.

The County Bluegrass Festival is the only one of its kind in Aroostook. Organized entirely by Fort Fairfield residents Stev and Nancy Rogeski and family, the festival brings together up-and-coming bluegrass musicians and fans in a laidback venue out in the country. 

Though not the only bluegrass festival in Maine, The County’s version is a sought-after tradition for fans across the United States and Canada every July and Labor Day weekend.

The festival returned last summer, but remaining COVID-19 restrictions for border-crossing visitors discouraged many Canadians from attending, said Stev Rogeski. 

But the Rogeskis saw attendance for their July 2023 shows get closer to 1,000 people, like in pre-COVID years, and they expect next week’s shows — running from Aug. 31 to Sept. 3 — to be bigger now that pandemic restrictions are gone.

“We’re confident that we’re going to bounce back,” Stev Rogeski said. “People are calling us every day to make RV and camper reservations.”

The Rogeskis originally partnered with Fort Fairfield to host the bluegrass concerts as part of the Maine Potato Blossom Festival every July. 

When the town decided not to continue the concerts, the Rogeskis began holding them on property they own on West Limestone Road in Fort Fairfield, starting in 2006. They held the festival every year until 2020 when the pandemic shut down music venues across the country.

Though they can’t afford more famous bluegrass musicians like Rhonda Vincent and Alison Krauss, the Rogeskis have gained connections with early or mid-career musicians by attending the International Bluegrass Music Association Awards in Nashville every year.

Musicians like the Waterville-based Blistered Fingers and Kansas native Rick Faris got their start at County Bluegrass and now play larger venues across the country. 

Those bands will return next weekend, along with newer acts like Massachusetts-based The Ruta Beggars, Nick Chandler & Delivered from North Carolina and Prairie Wildfire from Wyoming.

“We have a feeling all those acts will take off and do well in the bluegrass world,” Stev Rogeski said. “Our mission is to find the bands people don’t really know yet.”

County Bluegrass has become so popular that in 2018 the Rogeskis were nominated for Special Event of the Year at the International Bluegrass Music Association Awards. Though they did not win, the couple was recognized alongside festivals from Illinois, New York, Florida and Massachusetts.

That same year, Fort Fairfield sold The Farm Park, a 7,000-square-foot pavilion, to the Rogeskis after learning of major repair costs. The couple had already been hosting the festival at Farm Park, but the sale solidified their reputation as committed organizers.

Every year, attendees and musicians can choose from 800 RV and camper sites, 350 of which have electric power access. The venue also includes water for campsites and hot shower facilities, allowing people to stay multiple days if they choose. 

The Rogeskis even treat everyone to a barbecue cook-out the day before concerts begin.

The County Bluegrass Festival joins a line-up of other Maine bluegrass events, including Thomas Point Beach Bluegrass Festival in Brunswick, also being held Labor Day weekend, and the Blistered Fingers Festival in Litchfield this weekend. 

Aroostook’s event has gained a devoted following in large part because of the family-friendly vibe and local hospitality, Stev Rogeski said.

“People have helped our attendees when their RVs or cars have broken down, or just treated them well when shopping or eating out,” Stev Rogeski said. “The support from all our communities is a big help to us.”
A full concert schedule is featured on The County Bluegrass Festival’s website.