SEARSPORT — On July 23 Searsport Shores Campground hosted a day of cultural immersion — Armenian-picnic-style.

“We thought we’d replace lobsters, lighthouses and blueberries with shish kebab, dancing and baklava,” said Searsport Shores owner and picnic organizer Astrig Koltookian Tanguay.

Tanguay, who is Armenian, has managed Searsport Shores for 28 years with her husband and parents. Today it is more a community than a campground, which was Tanguay’s intention. “Over (28 years) we’ve been developing the music and the art,” she said. “Really focusing on local food, crafting and our gardens.”

Searsport Shores hosts weekly musical jams, offers crafting and art classes and is home to the Makers Guild, an organization that offers courses in fiber arts, toolmaking and other crafts. It also hosts a lending library for musical instruments and fiber tools.

“It’s all evolved organically,” Tanguay said. As did the idea for the Armenian-themed picnic.

Searsport Shores has hosted community picnics in the past. These are important links to Tanguay’s childhood. “Our parents would always bring us to community picnics,” Tanguay said of her Armenian upbringing. “They would be in a church parking lot or a field. There was always music, dancing and food.”

One night while talking with friends, Tanguay got the idea to combine the two cultures at Searsport Shores.

“We were doing picnics,” Tanguay said. “We just weren’t inviting the Armenian community. So we thought we’d try a Middle East meets the Midcoast.”

Tanguay reached out to her family for help in assembling the pieces of a traditional Armenian picnic: food, music, crafts and dancing. “They covered all the bases,” Tanguay said. “They helped bring it all together, along with our community here (at Searsport Shores).”

That was in 2021, admittedly a test run for the Armenian picnic.

“It was wildly popular,” Tanguay said. “(The dinners) sold out and everyone had such a great time. We thought we’d make it an annual event.”

The 2021 Armenian picnic was threatened by COVID guidelines. Still, Tanguay and her crew felt the need to move forward, conservatively. “Everything was going to be outdoors,” she said of the 2021 event. “All the food is cooked over an open fire, and all of our food is locally grown or produced. We thought it could be done.”

The popularity of the first Armenian picnic has spread. This year’s July 23 picnic saw larger crowds. The traditional meal of shish kebab, rice pilaf and baklava sold out and the event attracted a greater number of musicians, artists and performers.

Tickets for the dinner of kebabs, rice and baklava sold out. Photo by Jim Leonard

“An amazing day,” said Tanguay of this year’s Armenian picnic. “It’s a lot of work, and our volunteers make it happen. It’s such a privilege to share the (Armenian) culture. We’re already looking forward to next year.”

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