With 2015 approaching its conclusion, fans of both Phish and the Grateful Dead are able to look back on the last 12 months as a historical culmination. The Grateful Dead celebrated its 50th anniversary with five concerts, billed as “Fare Thee Well: Celebrating 50 years of the Grateful Dead.” In tackling this venture, the seminal jam band hired Trey Anastasio of Phish to fill the role as lead guitarist, which many viewed as a long overdue collaboration.
Here in Portland, we are lucky enough to not only have a thriving art and music scene, but a diverse and eclectic one as well. Among the many locals who support live music, there is a strong presence of Deadheads and Phish fans or, “Phans.” The atmosphere and environment created at Grateful Dead and Phish shows is one that any seasoned fan would agree requires a first-hand experience, rather than a secondhand explanation. With that, there is one word that best describes the scene – community.
A great aspect of the community generated by the mass gatherings at concerts by these two bands (who have been known to draw 40,000 people to their shows) is that the spirit and atmosphere is able to be recreated on a smaller scale with identical results, all through the power of music. This community atmosphere will be present this New Year’s Eve weekend at the Portland House of Music and Events when Portland’s Phish Tribute band Pardon Me, Doug and Grateful Dead cover band The Maine Dead Project present “Hippies for Hunger,” where fans attending each show are asked to bring at least one canned good to be donated to Maine’s hungry.
Both bands will perform a full night of music with Pardon Me, Doug filling the New Year’s Eve slot and The Maine Dead Project covering “The Closing of Winterland,” which is a live album by the Grateful Dead that contains a complete concert performed by the band on Dec. 31, 1978. The latter will take place on Saturday, Jan. 2.
I had the opportunity to chat with Ben St. Clair of Pardon Me, Doug, and Tim Sullivan of The Maine Dead Project about the origin of the concept for the holiday shows and the music scene in Portland.
“Originally Tim and I had talked about doing some shows together, but the idea of Hippies for Hunger came from Greg Martens,” notes St. Clair. Martens has been a fixture on the local music scene for 30-plus years and has been heavily involved in raising funds for the Good Shepherd Food Bank of Maine. He has produced local shows that have raised approximately $120,000 to feed Maine’s hungry.
“What’s sad is that the hunger crisis in Maine has not been addressed to the necessary extent on an administrative level,” says Sullivan. “What is great though is that we’re able to make a difference at the community level by doing shows like these.”
In celebrating the collaboration of Trey Anastasio with the Grateful Dead this summer, as well as the continued community aspect established at Phish and Dead shows, St. Clair and Sullivan both reflected on the strong local support for live music as well as the network of musicians in the area.
“We’re very lucky to have the scene that we do in Portland,” says St. Clair. “There has always been a strong sense of community among the musicians and fans alike. With Dead cover bands like Lazy Lightning, A Band Beyond Description and the Maine Dead Project, it has been proven that the community aspect of the Grateful Dead is timeless and continues to be strong in this town.”
“With so many musicians into the music and the scene it’s great to be able to have all sorts of different collaborations among players,” adds Sullivan.
In choosing the venue to present Hippies For Hunger, both Sullivan and St. Clair agreed that Portland House of Music and Events was a no-brainer. The music club opened in spring 2015 and is the brainchild of former owner of The Big Easy, Ken Bell. “Ken has done so much to promote local music over the years,” says St. Clair. “We’re so excited for his new place and to be the first New Year’s Eve show there.”
Pardon Me, Doug takes the stage at Portland House of Music and Events at 9:00pm on New Year’s Eve. The Maine Dead Projects goes on at 9:00pm as well on Saturday, Jan. 2. Both bands are asking that all those in attendance donate at least one canned good to help fight hunger in Maine.
Pardon Me, Doug New Year's Eve in Portland | Portland House of Music and Events, 25 Temple St., Portland | Thursday, Dec. 31, doors 8:00pm, show 9:00pm | $15 | 207.805.0134
The Maine Dead Project: The Closing of Winterland in its entirety | Portland House of Music and Events, 25 Temple St., Portland | Saturday, Jan. 2, at 8:00pm | $8 advance, $10 at the door | $8 advance, $10 at the door | 207.805.0134
Both shows are “Hippies For Hunger" food drives. Please bring non-perishable or canned goods to help support those who need it this winter.