After 32 years, Chuck Kruger exits the Lobster Festival, ‘takes back summer’
THOMASTON – After 32 years of providing entertainment, advertising and publicity to the Maine Lobster Festival, Chuck Kruger says he is retiring and in his words, "I'm taking back summer."
Kruger said it was his plan to retire at 30 years and here it is 32, "so I'm not quite on schedule."
It all started when he was hired to play at the Lobster Festival in 1985.
"I played and then they got some more money and said do you know anyone else," he said. "I took that to mean, did you know anybody with a bigger name. I happened to be with Jonathan Edwards, who was spending the day at my house and I asked him if he wanted to play the Lobster Festival that summer. He said sure."
Edwards was best known for his song, "Sunshine." Edwards plays country and folk and still plays around the New England area.
"That was a seminal moment as I look back on it," Kruger said. "It was my career change out of performing and into the business side, and my involvement with the festival."
About that time Kruger started Entertainment Resources, his business that booked not only the Lobster Festivals, but acts for the Midcoast.
"I produced shows," he said. "I was getting a lot of calls from people who where moving through and wanted a date here or there, so I started doing shows at the Rockport and Camden opera houses."
Not only bands, but comedians, too.
"We had Don Rickles here," he said. “He came and did a great show. His road manager was Frank Sinatra's road manager. When Sinatra died, his name was Tony, he went to work for Don Rickles, so Tony was here and that in itself was an interesting set of stories."
Kruger said he looked for acts for the Festival that would have appeal.
"We used to do three nights of headliners," he said. "Acts that would not only appeal to people, but would also like to have that lobster in the rough experience. There always had to be some synchronicity there for the audience for the act and audience for the festival. We never did punk, we never did opera. Not that there's anything wrong with that, it's just that it didn't have a place in the festival."
Kruger said the festival never had the Beach Boys, but they had Al Jardine's version of the Beach Boys. Jardine was an American musician, singer and songwriter, who co-founded the Beach Boys. He is best known as the band's rhythm guitarist, and for occasionally singing lead vocals on singles such as "Help Me, Rhonda."
"The Michael Love Beach Boys are too expensive for us," Kruger said. "Al Jardin had a pretty good act. They did all the Beach Boys hits, plus some other beach songs. Al had his two sons who had been playing with the Beach Boys, plus Billy Hinsche."
Billy Hinsche was part of the band Dino, Desi and Billy. Dino was Deam Martin's son, Desi was Desi Arnez Jr.
A lot of the acts are subs said Kruger. He said they got Lou Gramm, the lead singer from Foreigner.
"The band Foreigner is still out there with the guitar player Mick Jones, but Lou Gramm, the lead singer sang on all their big hits," he said. "He didn't come as Foreigner, but as the lead singer of Foreigner and there is a very funny story that goes with that."
Kruger said that after Gramm was booked and it was in the paper that they were coming he got a call from the captain of one of the Coast Guard ice breakers stationed in Rockland.
"It turned out that their theme song, when they went up the Kennebec River breaking ice, was the Foreigner's song ‘Cold as Ice,’” he said. "We communicated that to the band and they went over and saw the guys on the ships and had dinner with them at the base and then the guys from the base came over in their uniforms and sang a chorus. They had a great time and it was a lot of fun."
Kruger said it was the kind of thing that only happens in Rockland.
Kruger was president of the Lobster Festival for one year, but said he did it under duress.
"I did want to do it," he said. "I was also serving in the Legislature at the time. It wasn't a good match for me and I was willing to do it to keep the festival going, but I didn't want to do it and it wasn't on my channel."
When asked if the city and the Lobster Festival get along, Kruger said they have moments.
"What is odd is that the festival bought Merrill Park and gave it to the city and now they charge us rent to use it,” he said. “I never had a problem with paying rent, per se, for the city park, but I also thought that since we were a nonprofit and we give all our profits back into the community, including paving and an ambulance and we paid for a part of that tower truck."
Kruger said it was all about personalities and that always slowed you down when you're trying to make progress.
"Paul Benjamin with the Blues Festival rents it [the park]," he said. "Maine Boats, Homes and Harbors rents it. I never had a problem with the festival renting it, I just thought that maybe they could give us a break because we were a nonprofit."
Kruger said that had set up the original Camden Opera House layout whereby local nonprofits paid a different rate then out-of-town for-profits.
Kruger said that made sense to him and it was common around the country.
"So it was sort of irritating to me that the city said let's get ‘em," he said. "And there's a group of people within the city who hate the festival and want to see it go away. They don't like the choked streets. The city has something like a $6 million or $7 million bounce from this festival."
Kruger said the festival could stand to be shortened.
"It could be shortened," he said. "There are ways that it could be made to better suit the community now. If you look at how Rockland has evolved over the years and then look at how the festival has evolved over the years, which is to say, not that much, there is some work to be done."
Kruger said it was the city that wanted to decide what happened to the charitable donations and not the festival organizers.
"People came for the Lobster Festival not because it was Rockland,” he said. “The festival has put Rockland on the map in the grand scheme of things over its 72 years."
Kruger also took care of advertising and promotion for the Lobster Festival. Kruger said he did it more because he had to than wanted to.
"The festival is basically a volunteer operation," he said. "It was important for me to sell tickets and to sell tickets you have to let people know the tickets are available for sale. That involved advertising and public relations."
Kruger said advertising for the festival has changed and evolved a lot over the years.
"Much of it is moving toward social media," he said. "Radio used to be great, but it's not as effective, anymore. People have so many ways to get their music other than what we remember. We always bought a schedule on Channel 6 in Portland and that brought a lot of people and we'd buy a schedule on Channel 5 in Bangor, as well."
Kruger said print advertising is expensive.
"USA Today, New York Times, very expensive," he said. "We had done some spring advertising in the Globe. There are no hotel rooms during the festival, so it has to be day trippers whom we appeal to, so New York is really beyond the day tripper range. It's Boston and northern New England that is the market."
Kruger said that life has been an interesting journey.
"Not always predictable changes, but you can connect the dots. I'm finally completing my retirement plans and won't be handling entertainment, production or advertising for the 2018 Maine Lobster Festival."
Kruger said he hopes to collect and share some stories. He would be glad to be a resource and said he wishes everyone involved great success.