Madawaska’s Fall Fest celebrates the turning season on a surprise sunny Saturday

MADAWASKA, Maine — On a weekend where inches of rain flooded Madawaska’s roads and rushed over the long-dry bed of the St. John River, the town’s second annual Fall Fest caught a lucky few hours of sunshine Saturday morning. 

Under a September-blue sky, the usually empty parking lot of the abandoned Kmart plaza filled with craft fair booths and bake sale tables. Musicians played under the roof of the farmer’s market pavilion and farmers sold fresh vegetables and jars of pickles and jams.

Madawaska celebrated its second annual Fall Fest at the farmer’s market and the vacant Kmart parking lot on a surprisingly sunny Saturday morning. (Hannah Catlin | St. John Valley Times)

Craft fair booths lined the edge of the vacant Kmart parking lot in downtown Madawaska on Saturday for the second annual fall festival. (Hannah Catlin | St. John Valley Times)

Organized by the town’s beautification committee, Fall Fest is one of the last chances for Madawaska residents to gather together outside before winter forces them back indoors. During another year of COVID-19 safety protocols, autumn may be the last chance for such a large event for a while. 

“People are just anxious to socialize again, and they’re happy to be out here — especially when the sun is shining,” organizer Theresa Theriault said. “We haven’t seen cars like this in the Kmart parking lot in a long time.”

Twenty-nine vendors set up booths under a large event tent, selling handmade jewelry, knitted socks and felted mittens. 

Roger Dechaine, whose table was at the front corner of the fair, was selling hand-made board games including a wooden pinball machine he made himself. He started making the games years ago during times when he couldn’t sleep, and each piece is hand-carved and painted. 

Roger Dechaine shows a young customer how to use his hand-made board games at the craft fair during Madawaska’s second annual Fall Fest. (Hannah Catlin | St. John Valley Times)

Madawaska High School seniors pose near their bake sale booth at the second annual Fall Fest. Proceeds from these and other fundraisers go to Project Grad, a fund to raise money for their senior class trip. From left: Jessica Theriault, Chantal Ackley, Pierre Hickey, Emmanuel Morin, Hannah Albert and Isabelle Lavoie. (Hannah Catlin | St. John Valley Times)

Across the way, seniors from Madawaska High School sold baked goods to raise money for their class trip.

“We aren’t sure where we’re going to go yet but we’ll figure it out,” Hannah Albert said. “We’re selling all kinds of things. We’re doing pretty good.” 

Next to them, the Morin family of Freckle Farm tabled with their fall crop: carrots, tomatoes, corn and onions. The family has been selling their produce at the pavilion almost every weekend, but Saturday was by far the best turnout of the season, owner Keren Morin said. Often, they’re the only table there, she said.

Presque Isle’s and Houlton’s farmers markets every weekend have the feel of Madawaska’s Fall Fest, Morin said, with multiple vendors, food and live music. She hopes that in the future, Freckle Farm could help build up the weekly events to be like that.

“It’s a thing to go to every week. It’s a thing to bring your kids to,” Morin said. “Seeing [Fall Fest], it brings me a lot of optimism that the community wants to come together and they want to do these things to support local businesses.”

Dana Laferriere (left) and Reynold Blair, also known as Eagle Lake-based band Old Strings performed at Madawaska’s second annual Fall Fest. (Hannah Catlin | St. John Valley Times)

Festival-goers tour the craft fair booths at Madawaska’s second annual Fall Fest. (Hannah Catlin | St. John Valley Times)

In the middle of the crowd, a pair of women danced to the live music played by Old Strings — an Eagle Lake-based band featuring Reynold Blair and Dana Laferriere. Occasionally, the dancers would fall out of sync and laugh together, before picking up the rhythm again. 

“I’m not one for the heat, and I’m not one for the cold, so fall is my favorite time,” Theriault said. 

Nevertheless: “Stay tuned for Christmas, because [the beautification committee has] got big plans for Christmas.”

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