Lisbon Falls may look like a lot of other worn-down mill towns in Maine, but it is actually the seat of a far-reaching nation.
Moxie Nation, to be exact.
The town’s annual Moxie Festival has grown in size and mystique since its founding 35 years ago. It draws some 40,000 to 50,000 people for three days each July, and its become one of southern Maine’s best-known summer events, along with Yarmouth’s Clam Festival. It’ll be held Friday through Sunday.
This year, as usual, there will be Moxie drinkers from all over the country coming to the festival for the first time. They are intrigued by this celebration of a somewhat obscure soda invented by a Mainer in 1876. They’ve seen pictures of people chugging Moxie, of bright orange floats in the festival’s parade, of people dressed in Moxie-orange suits. And they decide they have to come.
“I’m interested in the history, the camaraderie of being with people who drink Moxie,” said Sean Sullivan, 31, a mechanic from Warwick, Rhode Island, who’ll be attending his first Moxie Festival this weekend. “Everybody drinks Coke and Pepsi, I want to be around people who lean toward Moxie.”
The festival kicks off Friday in all around downtown Lisbon Falls. Highlights include the chugging contest, a recipe contest, the parade, fireworks, and lots of Moxie memorabilia and Moxie historic collectibles.
This year’s festival will be the first held since the man known as Mr. Moxie, Frank Anicetti, died in May at the age of 77. Anicetti was a Moxie fan who held a book signing for Frank Potter’s “The Moxie Mystique” at his Kennebec Fruit Co. store in the early 1980s. The signing attracted hundreds of Moxie fans and convinced Anicetti and others in town that this downtrodden former textile town should latch on to the Moxie magic and start a larger event.
Anicetti turned his store into a center of Moxie merchandise and lore and became the face of Moxie in Maine. The Moxie Festival today is run by an army of volunteers and the lead organizer is the town’s economic development director. Even though Moxie was never made in Lisbon Falls and has no connection to the town (see “Fun Facts” box for more on this), it’s become what the town is best known for.
Anicetti will be honored a couple ways during the festival. First, Gina Mason, a state representative from Lisbon Falls and a festival volunteer, will read an official Legislative sentiment. The declaration recognizes Anicetti for his passion for his town and for Moxie.
Mason will present a signed copy of the declaration to Traci and Tony Austin, who bought Anicetti’s store and have turned into a restaurant. The new eatery is called Frank’s and has Moxie-orange awnings. It will be open for the festival, not serving a full menu yet, but things like Moxie floats and other treats.
“We’re honoring Frank just by holding the festival, and I know he’ll look down on it and be happy,” Mason said of Anicetti.
Most people coming for the first time this year don’t know about Anicetti. But they know about the festival and know they’ll find like-minded folks.
Moxie, to put it delicately, is not for everyone. It has a slightly bitter taste that seems incongruous in a world of super-sweet sodas. So people who like it are outliers. They like the fact they’re not drinking the latest cool, hip beverage. They like the fact that their drink of choice is celebrated with a wacky festival.
“I just want to go up and hang out,” said Billy McGarry, 51, of Randolph, Massachusetts. He’ll be coming to the festival for the first time, partly because he has a hard time finding Moxie in 12-packs near his home. “I’ll probably fill the car up while I’m there.”
Kevin Sarli, 42, of Johnston, Rhode Island, has loved Moxie and its mystique since he was a kid. In college, he liked the fact that he could keep lots of it in the fraternity house fridge and nobody else would touch it.
Sarlie said he and his wife have been talking about coming to the festival for years but something always got in the way.
This year, he plans to come up with his wife, their three kids and the family dog: Moxie.
WHEN: Friday through Sunday
WHERE: Locations around downtown Lisbon Falls, off Route 196.
HOW MUCH: Free admission, food and memorabilia for sale
HIGHLIGHTS: Recipe contest at 4 p.m. Friday, Chummy’s MidTown Diner, 580 Lisbon St.; fireworks at 9 p.m. Friday at Lisbon High School, 2 Sugg Drive; Moxie model train display 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at MTM Center, 18 School St.; parade from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday on Capital Avenue, Route 196 and Main Street; Moxie Chugging Challenge at 1 p.m. Saturday at Miller’s Variety, Route 196; Moxie Car Show, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, Lisbon High School.