It’s not super well-known, but I’m a very nostalgic, sentimental type of person. So as we approach the "end of summer" this Labor Day weekend I’m already looking back at all the live concerts that dropped on us for 2017. It was a super busy summer.
A reason for that is a competitive market. Big venues feature big artists fighting for big dollars. The addition of new venues like Aura also busied things up a bit. Portland's reputation as one of the hippest little cities in the country also plays a major factor.
All summer long the live music buzz seemed focused on the big shows, the national and international acts that shuffled through Vacationland more than ever before. This isn't a bad thing. We want more bands to add Maine to their touring schedule. With newer venues in the past few years and the hope you might bump into Krysten Ritter slamming down bourbon shots at Flask (hey, it could happen), artists and their booking agents seem to be getting more interested in Maine. That attention's good for us! Good for our restaurants, good for our stores, local products, and hotels. But it's not so good for local music.
These big shows around town are a blessing and a curse. With everyone focused on their Elvis Costello, Primus or O-Town tickets, the music we have right here year ‘round is largely forgotten, buried in a flurry of people with tour buses and out-of-control catering requests.
I’m not slamming these shows or the venues. Not at all. I’m happy for them! I was at a couple big shows this summer. It's great to see the good folks working at the State Theatre/Thompson Point/Port City Music Hall smile at a packed show. To see the sisters who own Aura so happy with the success of their new venue makes me as giddy as it does them. We want those shows and we want those venues to prosper. We want to see the biggest names in the world perform here. We also want our own artists to become big names too, though. I’m just not sure if everyone who attends the larger shows have balanced their concert diet by sourcing locally as well.
I remember not too long ago this city was in a weird spot. The then Asylum was hanging in there. Port City hadn’t opened yet and rumors were abound that the State Theatre was being sold to Bill Murray. Bangor Waterfront hadn't opened and about the only steady national acts we saw in Portland performed at SPACE Gallery, Asylum and the all-ages Station at Union Station Plaza.
We were low on big shows but the smaller local ones were rocking! The time was right. Artists from around here were steadily putting out great stuff and ripping stages up and down Congress Street. The Big Easy was slamming. Empire had just opened doors and caught on quick. The newly relocated Geno’s was doing its thing. People were packing in rooms to see Loverless, Sidecar Radio, Ocean, Covered in Bees, Cambiata, Sparks The Rescue and Pete Kilpatrick, just to name a few. It was great to see our bands create an atmosphere that was electric and approached by so many. Local ruled.
Then we all thought, damn, why doesn’t anyone major play Portland?! We need a big venue! Five seconds later here comes Port City, State Theatre is bought and reopened and Asylum’s 15th Anniversary kickstarted a new busy movement for them. Everyone was getting busier. Places like Blue, One Longfellow Square, St. Lawrence Arts Center and Mayo Street Arts were drawing nice crowds. Eventually, we saw that massive Mumford & Sons show on the Eastern Prom make a major statement. The Maine State Pier started their work. Thompson’s Point is a major spot now. Asylum got leveled to make Aura and Bayside Bowl invite more local music in with the bowlers.
Friends, in the past 10 years, this city has burst with live music options. It’s crazy when you think about the changes. I’m afraid though that the trend has turned many cold on local with concert dollars being shoved into Father John Misty and Ratt’s pockets. People’s wallets and free nights are spread thin.
What could help the cause during a busy summer? Maybe more local opening slots on big shows when they can happen. On-site promoting for after-show live music featuring related artists at venues in town. Big shows wrap early so maybe local acts need to hit social media harder. “Liked Wilco? You might like us too. After Wilco, show this flyer at the door to get in for $3.” Or whatever. Anything helps. Just some ideas.
As the cool air returns and you’re elbows deep in the closet looking for your favorite scarves, I invite you to return to the places where you get branded with a lazy Sharpie mark on your hand that will stick around for days. A place where top notch music will cost you maybe six bucks. Head out to support our own. Because as much as we like to meet new friends, there's nothing more important than family and home.