Washington County: Maine and the Black-Volk Festival

I’ve gone to Maine, mostly in the summer, all my life. My grandparents lived in Portland and we visited them every summer (which now I realize must have driven my parents crazy but I adored it). Later, Ernie and I (and sometimes my mother and I) antiqued the hell out of New Hampshire and Maine to buy things for Blackwelder/Voelkl Antiques. Lord, we had fun. It was wonderful to be able to connect Ernie to all my childhood memories.

We stopped going when the boys were infants but then started up again when they were a little older. We started renting a little place for the week, often near Ferry Beach in Saco. Then life got a tad complicated, caring for my parents and my sister. We didn’t plan a trip in 2009 because my sister was living with us and was dying. She passed sooner than we thought, in early February. It had been a brutal couple of years (my father died the previous year, my mother would die the following year) and I began to yearn for Maine.

We decided to try to find a place but everything we could have afforded was already booked up. I kept looking further and further afield and came across Lubec. The easternmost town in the US, on the water, across the bridge to Canada. It sounded so, hell, I don’t know…so freeing somehow, cleansing. So we found a place and headed to Lubec. We wondered what the hell we were doing on parts of that drive (they’ve since repaved some of the highway there) but we fell deeply in love.

Lubec, and the surrounding area, Washington County, felt like a glimpse of the Maine I remembered as a child. The Portland area had been growing and growing and growing. All my favorite houses had been vinyl sided and either restored or mucked up to death. It just wasn’t the same.

As much as we adore Lubec, I worry about it. Washington County is incredibly poor and its population continues to shrink. Lubec is dear to our heart and when we are there we try to spend our dollars there as much as we are able. According to Wikipedia, in 2010, “the per capita income for the town was $13,081. About 20.3% of families and 28.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 49.6% of those under age 18 and 20.6% of those age 65 or over.”

Not an easy place to make a living and of course we haven’t even talked about what the pandemic and housing crisis have done to it. It breaks my heart.

Who perfectly nails all of this? Why my beloved Rod Picott of course, himself a Mainer, with co-writer Mark Erelli. This song goes right to my gut.

I bet Rod will sing it this Saturday (at least I’m hoping) at Black-Volk Festival. Tickets here. Come and prepare to listen to a song about a beloved county in Maine while you sit on a goat farm in Illinois, enjoying good food, drink and friends. Life is unexpected, but often damn good.

Washington County
Rod Picott/Mark Erelli

Used to be it was only Massachusetts
Now there’s “from aways”
From every goddamn place
The coastal folks they all grin and bear it
‘Cause dollars in from the interstate

Up here it’s just hunters and peepers
A couple of months to
make some extra scratch
Try to save it up and make
A Christmas for the kids
Or do the best you can
With a sewn-on patch

Once a month we hit the food bank
Once a month we reach the end
Of the rope we’re clinging onto
And the check the county sends

Blue-lipped children
Waiting on a school bus
All secondhand jackets and
Boots and gloves
Late afternoon they’ll come back
Home in darkness
‘neath streetlights that flicker and buzz

Uncle Joe he used to work the railroad
But the trains they don’t go
Through here no more
He raised a family the kids all left for Bangor
You choose to move or just stay poor


There used to be some work
Down at the pulp mill
There used to be some money cutting trees
But they bought up every lot
Along the coastline
Turned it all into BnB’s

You can skip a stone out on the water
But you can’t drive any further east
The roads all end out at the cold Atlantic
I could walk on in and surely be released