The Kennebunkport Festival, the biggest event of the year for the tiny town of Kennebunkport, Maine, is right around the corner. Bringing together local artists, residents and visitors alike, the festival is an intimate weeklong see-and-be-seen party filled with the best in food, wine and art. And this year’s festivities, which expect to draw a crowd of more than 3,800 to an area of just under 3,500, will continue to wow guests in its 11th installation from June 8 through 13.
Hosted by Maine and Maine Home + Design magazines, the festival will not only be a celebration of savory meals created by some of the state’s top chefs, it also presents the chance to support Full Plates Full Potential, an organization whose mission is to end childhood hunger in the Maine school system. And according to Emily McConnell, assistant publisher for the publications, at least $30,000 will be donated to Full Plates, regardless of ticket sales.
With so much to do at this cultural fete, our Forbes Travel Guide editors compiled a list of where to stay, the hottest places to play and some of our favorite people along the way.
Where To Stay
It’s important to secure sophisticated accommodations in the center of all the action. The charming Dock Square is a central address for festival excitement, and the street-lined spot is where you’ll find everything from specialty boutiques for yourself (Three Dories carries colorful casual tunics and more) to a place for your pup (Scalawags This & Thats for Dogs & Cats is filled with lobster-shaped dog treats, collars with anchor designs and other goodies). Located just five minutes from the square is Forbes Travel Guide Recommended The Captain Lord Mansion, one of Maine’s historic inns (the property is more than 200 years old). You’ll appreciate how much time innkeepers Bev Davis and Rick Litchfield invest in their 20,000-square-foot abode. Accommodations are named after ships like Lincoln or Ophelia (look for stats on each room’s door that tell you when the ship launched, its tonnage, the principal owner and more). After 10 visits to the well-kept manor, you just might see your own name engraved on a stone in the Memory Garden or elsewhere.
Davis and Litchfield want to celebrate Kennebunkport Festival with you. On June 13, the couple will host its fourth annual Taste of Maine Garden Party. You’ll find the husband-and-wife pair on The Captain Lord Mansion’s front lawn from 1:30 to 4 p.m. serving resident guests small bites such as teriyaki-flavored meatballs and Cabot cheddar cheese with seasoned crackers. Don’t be surprised if you see their boxers Haley and Quinn hanging out on the grass, too. Their property offers perfect views of the festival’s outdoor lawn party, Brews & Tunes. Expect acts like Spencer Albee to perform with special guests such as Kat Wright & The Indomitable Soul Band. Brews & Tunes, which takes place on The Green at The Captain Lord Mansion, is a laid-back event for flip-flop-wearing folks who want to have some fun.
The White Barn Inn works as your home base on a number of levels as well. For starters, this Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star winner is only a two-minute drive from the Dock Square. Secondly, the 26-room hotel charms with antiques and wood-burning fireplaces in the bedroom and Maine sea salt-packing treatments in the spa. But the big reason to stay here is the Five-Star White Barn Inn Restaurant. Aside from getting a chance to indulge in fresh New England cuisine from Jonathan Cartwright — Maine’s only Five-Star chef — you will be well situated for the restaurant’s A Taste of Grace at The White Barn Inn event on June 9. To celebrate Grace Hotels’ properties all over the world, Cartwright will serve local seafood, vegetables, and grilled and roasted meats for an alfresco evening that also includes wines, cocktails and dancing.
If you want to be able to walk to the festivities, The Boathouse Waterfront Hotel is just a few steps away from the Dock Square and the site of June 13’s Grand Finale. The coastal-chic rooms come with custom navy blue headboards, white-striped Turkish bath linens, a balcony overlooking the Kennebunk River and mahogany furnishings. When you’re hungry, head downstairs to David’s KPT, where Portland chef David Turin serves breakfast (think croque madame made with French-style ham, Gruyère, sauce mornay and a fried egg), lunch (order the steak and lobster white pizza with goat cheese, arugula, roasted tomatoes and caramelized onions) and dinner (try the vanilla bean-brown butter salmon with rainbow fingerlings, braised kale and a maple miso finish).
For a second straight year, the hotel will host the festival’s Grand Finale at David’s KPT, where live music, wine and small plates (savor the lamb chops with sea salt and minted balsamic) from Turin keep partygoers in a festive mood. And although the bash is scheduled to happen from 7 to 11 p.m., we can assure you that the Grand Finale somehow always finds a way to continue well past its designated shutdown time.
Where To Play
Since the Kennebunkport Festival is the area’s hottest ticket of the year, a lot of the happenings — Grand Cru, some Art of Dining dinners and cocktail parties — are already sold out. But, if you act fast, there is still availability to some amazing affairs, including the aforementioned A Taste of Grace at The White Barn Inn on June 9. Also that day, from 7 to 10 p.m., is Art of Dining: The Leonardi Residence featuring chef Josh Hixson of 40 Paper. Hosted in Jack and Lynda Leonardi’s home, a five-course meal awaits. Here’s how it works: When ticket holders show up, they will find their name at one of two dinner tables. Before dinner is served (in 2014, Hixson cooked up thyme gnocchi with spring parsnips, peas and chicken confit), a lot of mixing and mingling goes on. This is a good time to check out the work by the spotlighted artist. Last year, we enjoyed perusing William Crosby’s coastal-inspired landscapes. (“These paintings remind me of places I’ve been,” Crosby says. “Allow your imagination to work with a painting and grow.”) Each course arrives to the table paired with a wine, like organically grown pours from Paul Chartrand of Chartrand Selections. You’ll begin the evening sitting next to strangers, but by the end of the night, you’ll have met a few new friends.
While making your way from party to party, you’ll start seeing familiar faces. That’s part of what makes the festival unique — you’ll become fast buddies with friendly locals. A not-to-miss event for you and your new pals is Saturday afternoon’s Grand Tapas party. It’s a passport to culinary exploration with more than 25 chefs and wineries providing samples of their goods. Come with an empty stomach to try desserts from Rococo artisan ice cream (we couldn’t help ourselves from going back for seconds of the brand’s strawberry basil as well as the goat cheese and blackberry Chambord swirl) and a variety of other dishes from local toques and those scattered about the New England coast. Be sure to snag a “Be A Chef Yourself” business card to download the recipes from the 2015 Grand Tapas party, too.
Who You Should Know
Everyone appreciates some Southern hospitality, right? Well, the people of Kennebunkport don’t let geography get in the way of extending a warm welcome to tourists. They have mastered the art of being hospitable and could give any Dixie resident a run for his money. Take, for instance, Susan and Brian MacDonald, owners of Coastal Jewelers in Dock Square. The couple’s store, said to have been visited by former first lady Barbara Bush, is filled with handcrafted pieces that form its Beachstone, The Wave, fine jewelry or tourmaline (Maine’s state stone) collections. When the temperatures dropped one night during our visit to Kennebunkport, Susan left a bag of sweaters for us at the front desk of our hotel with a note that said, “Here are a few things to hopefully help with our chilly Maine air!” The thoughtful gesture was certainly appreciated.
Get to know Catherine York and John Powers, owners of The Gilded Nut Snack Co., too. The dynamic duo resides in Portland (about 30 minutes away from Kennebunkport) but is sure to be at this year’s festival. You can find their tasty pistachios — which come in original blend, Mediterranean herb, habanero heat and sea salt and pepper flavors — in the rooms of some of America’s top hotels (such as Five-Star Mandarin Oriental, New York, Five-Star Montage Beverly Hills and Four-Star The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe), and you can expect to see the pleasant pair cutting a rug at the festival’s Brews & Tunes and The Grand Finale.
Another person you’ll want to meet is the cheery Beth Shissler, owner of the popular Portland Sea Bags brand. If you don’t own one of her handmade totes, you should. Each tote (or duffel, courier or limited-edition bag) is made from recycled sails. Keep your eyes peeled for festivalgoers walking around with a custom-designed Kennebunkport Festival Sea Bag. The brand, whose new summer 2015 collection was inspired by everything from Nantucket (like a Madras plaid tote) to polka dots (including the Dot and Anchor tote), is one of the festival sponsors this year.