|FROM The Free Press August 2001
FIVE DAYS, THREE STAGES, FORTY ACTS
By Georgeanne Davis
Fans of the Maine Lobster Festival, held in Rockland for the 54th year Wednedsay through Sunday, August 1 through 5, are familiar with King Neptune, the Sea Goddess and her court, and with the entertainers booked for the event, such as last year's big draw, Willie Nelson. Not as many are familiar with the name Chuck Kruger, but Kruger has been the man behind the festival entertainment for the last 15 years, booking forty acts for three stages over five days- largely as a volunteer.
In addition to the Lobster Festival, Entertainment Resources, Kruger's firm, has been producing the enter- tainment for the Camden New Year's Celebration, the Cumberland Fair, and between five and six hundred wed- dings a year. According to Kruger, all wedding planners in New England know him, and use him as a resource. "Maine is a fabulous place to get manied," he says, adding that Hawaii is equally popular. If it's a Maine wedding you want, Entertainment Resources is there to help at what is often a multi-stage event: Kruger can make arrangements for a lobster bake with traditional fiddle band for the rehearsal dinner, a harp, flute and oboe trio for the wed- ding ceremony, a pianist to play during the banquet, and an eight-or nine-piece band for the reception. If you want a scenic coastal cruise or need a bus or two to transport guests, he'll see to that as well.
Recently, Entertainment Resources has been increasing- ly busy with corporate events and large private parties. For example, when an extremely well known media person who has a summer estate in Northeast Harbor hosted her annual Fourth of July party, it was Entertainment Resources who booked Harry Belafonte as the entertain- ment - one of the last shows the 74-year-old musician' plans to do. Meeting Belafonte was a great privilege for Kruger, who listened to the singer-turned-actor's calypso and folk music as a child. Kruger was able to chat with Belafonte, who is now ambassador to the United Nations for UNICEF, and heard about his current three-year proj- ect to produce a five-CD boxed set of the history of Aftican-American music.
The story of how Kruger became a music producer in Maine is a long and circuitous one, reaching all the way back to his years growing up in Morristown, New Jersey, when he sang alto in the choir of an Episcopal Church. In 1964 a family friend gave him a guitar for Christmas and taught him three chords., "I wrote my first song that night," said Kruger. Playing guitar and writing songs was a great outlet for him as a teen, Kruger reminisces. "By writing songs I learned who I was." While in high school in New Hope, Pennsylvania, he discovered the Philadelphia folk scene and heard the greats - Tom Rush, Joan Baez, Jim Kweskin Jug Band and Bob Dylan, for example - in cof- fee houses there.
From playing electric guitar at school dances Kruger went on to playing in a band in New York City, while also singing in a choral group that performed classical works by Beethoven, Bach and Orff. He'd play in the Electric Circus, in St. Marks Place, and then perform with the Masterworks Chorus at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. But in 1969 Kruger suddenly left the city and enrolled in Nasson College (now defunct), in Springvale, Maine. "I went to Nasson to get away from New York City; I couldn't handle success," he says. "I think we're much better prepared for failure than success." But entertainment must have gotten into his veins, because he soon discovered he could make some money and get free drinks and ski pass- es just by entertaining a bar full of happy, tired skiers in the resorts of North Conway, New Hampshire, and at near- by Sugarloaf. He ultimately found performing was a great way to make a living and traveled in Maine from Portland to Bar Harbor and into New Hampshire, playing two or three nights in the same place, moving on and returning once again in five or six weeks - "just me and my dog and a van."
Home base for Kruger was southern Maine until the mid '70s, when he moved to Appleton Ridge and then to Camden. He was looking for a two-family home with a barn, one he could share with a family that would care for his dog and home while he traveled and where, he hoped, he'd someday have a recording studio in the barn. That was his plan, until he realized a recording studio was a hole you filled up with money. He finally found a home in Thomaston and began to settle into the community, where he lives to this day. He had some recording successes and continued to perform, but along the way he'd married, had a child and found performing was less satisfying and more hard work once he had "a little human -alarm. clock." Kruger was Mr. Mom while his wife, Linda, worked for the post office, then played on Friday and Saturday nights. "I was tired - tired of being a musician, lugging the PA system around ... I felt guilty making a living doing some- thing I didn't like."
This growing discontent coincided with the first benefit Kruger produced: a fundraiser for the Red Cross at the Maine Center for the Arts, where Kruger, along with Stephen King, Devonsquare and Tim Sample, appeared together on the bill. During a conversation after the per- formance, Sample convinced Kruger to take over as his manager, and soon he was doing the same for other friends, such as Devonsquare, Schooner Fare and Dave Mallett - all of whom hated doing the booking and man- agement for themselves. Kruger quickly found "I am much better booking other people than myself."
Kruger is a producer, not a promoter, he says. A pro- moter usually books a few artists exclusively and takes a fee. As producer, Kruger forges a partnership between the artist and the presenter. An artist, Kruger says, usually thinks his or her job is "get the next gig and show up." The presenter or buyer thinks all he needs to do is book theact, put up posters and take out a few ads. "Both are wrong," states Kruger. Entertainment Resources has an elaborate system that provides a kind of road map for special events, with seven different documents attached to every booking that cover all the arrangements - both backstage and front of house - necessary to make better gigs
Entertainment Resources tries to make the best possible match for their buyers, assisting them in their choice of whether to hire an oldies show or a dance band. Sometimes this requires reminding a prospective groom who loves heavy metal that grandmothers and other fami- ly members at the wedding may not enjoy his selection. Kruger also makes certain that the entertainers know what to expect so they don't arrive at a lobster bake dressed in a tuxedo or wear jeans to a formal wedding - "It's all going to be right, it's going to match," he says.
Selecting the entertainment for the Lobster Festival also requires that Kruger and his fellow volunteers try to find something for everyone, not always an eas @ task, as the y directors may not be the judges of what's best. He recounts a favorite story of when Entertainment Resources first began to work with the Cumberland Fair. A 115-year-old event, the directors had never felt they needed a professional agent. One of them said, at their first meeting, "I'll tell you one thing. If I've ever heard of it, we don't Want it." In a similar situation, when Kruger suggested the Dixie Chicks as headliners for the festival three years ago, there were a lot of blank faces on the music committee. The band, just cresting in popularity, went on to play in the Superbowl halftime extravaganza that year - Kruger has booked three or four bands that played both the festival and the Superbowl in his 15 years of service.
Looking towards the future of the festival, Kruger sees space becoming an issue if the festival entertainment draws too large a crowd. If they could reach a certain level of attendance, he'd be happy to see the event focus on quality, not quantity. "That's a debate we may have."
Meanwhile, Entertainment Resources seems to be adding more and more quality to the services they pro- vide. At the Cedarworks annual party the firm made all the arrangements for the food, security, DJ, electrician, police, portapotties - they even printed the name tags for the guests to wear. For another recent corporate event in Northport, they provided 18 buses for 16 hours a day for 5 days, 75 portapotties (four handicapped-accessible), crew, sound systems, and artist hospitality for speakers. The details for these big events are endless, but Kruger takes care of all of them and is on the spot to be certain that everything goes well. As he puts it, "When there's a big event, I know I've done my job when I'm there and I don't have much to do."