The grills will be sizzling with skewers of beef shish kebab, onions, peppers and ripe tomatoes. We’ll have a ‘unique to New England’ version of a traditional Armenian-style hamburger: Losh kebab patties spiced with red pepper paste and coriander stuffed into freshly baked pita bread. The wood fired pizza oven will be blazing hot to cook the traditional lamajun, an Armenian flatbread in a quick three minutes.
Your dinner plate will be piled high with fragrant pilaf, a warm chickpea & tomato salad, homemade hummus and fresh greens. Care for dessert? We’ve used our grandmother’s recipes for the homemade paklava & korabia (Armenian butter cookies), served with traditional coffee prepared in a jezvah over the open flame. (This delicious food will sell out fast, so book your dinner tickets as soon as possible at makersguildmaine.org/armenian-picnic)
While food takes the center stage at a picnic, music and dancing are key ingredients to understanding the culture. Legendary Oud player, Leo Derderian, and veteran musician, Bob Arzigian (oud/guitar) will be providing traditional Middle Eastern music supported by Hagop Garabedian (keyboard) and Harry Bogosian (dumbeg/percussion) from 11-1 and 3-5 on the center stage. Mr. Derderian has been collecting traditional tunes for 50+ years and will share stories of his adventures in between songs of joy and lament, journeys and village life. Armenian dance expert Carolyn Rapkievian will lead an afternoon session of village/folk dancing lessons for all.
Between 1-3 there will be a special concert in recognition of the support that Balkan countries, and Poland in particular, lent to the Armenians during the genocide, and now, again, to the Ukrainians. Kotwica (which means ‘anchor’ in Polish) a new, and highly praised, folk band will play music from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Its members – who came from across Maine, include musicians on fiddle, balalaika, button accordion, guitar and string bass.
We first came up with the idea of holding an Armenian picnic three years ago to cheer people up after Covid. My father’s family originally came from Armenia and like many Armenians, settled in New England. Every year our local Armenian churches would organize a Summer Picnic. Everybody would be there: grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors, friends, all the kids. There would be lots of traditional music and dancing, and always the most wonderful, outdoor food.
Our picnics are part of a tradition that began in the late nineteenth century when Armenians, fleeing religious persecution, began to leave their villages, farms and orchards to resettle around the globe. Many ended up in America’s industrial towns, crowded into tiny apartments, and working long days in the mills. These annual Summer picnics offered a day of glorious freedom in the countryside, time to catch up with family and friends, to bless the grapes, and keep the customs of the ‘old ‘country alive.
After a long conversation at the dinner table, we decided it was time to bring the warmth and spirit of an Armenian picnic to midcoast Maine. Think of it as part harvest festival, part dance party. We have this beautiful setting amidst the gardens on Penobscot Bay, wonderful local produce, and Armenians are famous for their hospitality. We put out a call for help to family, friends and the Armenian Church and everyone rallied round, sharing recipes, memories and performance ideas. The first year was very exciting, but also nerve wracking. We had no idea if anyone would show up! The rest, as they say, is history. The 2020 event drew so many locals, tourists, and Armenians from far beyond Maine that we ran out of food. It was so much more popular than we ever expected and we had to promise to do it again.
Searsport’s Armenian Picnic is being sponsored by several local organizations and small businesses: The Makers Guild of Maine, a local nonprofit that promotes the ongoing value of heritage skills – and making things by hand, or at home, or in the community. (2) The Armenian Cultural Association of Maine, a Portland based nonprofit dedicated to preserving and perpetuating the Armenian culture and heritage in all aspects of life through the enhancement of its language, education, art, music, dance, literature, singing, theater, and sports. (3) Flying Shoes of Belfast, a nonprofit dedicated to bolstering the spirited dance and music community of Midcoast Maine.
Admission is free but all are asked to leave their pets and food/drink at home. Food and beverages will be available for purchase throughout the day, but advance booking is strongly recommended as last year’s feast sold out fast. You can see the full menu and purchase your tickets here.
As always, this is a wheelchair friendly event.