PORTLAND – When trying to land the hot British folk act Mumford & Sons for a Portland concert, promoter Lauren Wayne found herself sitting at her desk trying to write a thoughtful essay about Portland.
She had heard that Mumford & Sons were planning to do only four U.S. shows this summer, and that they were looking for interesting, artsy, quintessentially American cities to play.
Wayne — who is the manager of Portland’s State Theatre but books shows all around the city — did a little research for her proposal.
She found that Mumford & Sons are big fans of literature as well as the arts, so she mentioned Portland poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, as well as Portland’s vibrant arts scene, art galleries and art school. She also knew the band members were into all things nautical, so she played up Portland’s history as a seaport.
“I basically wrote up a narrative about Portland, trying to convince them why it would be a great place to play,” said Wayne, 38, sitting in a room backstage in the State Theatre. “We heard they got hundreds of proposals.”
But they accepted four. And Wayne’s proposal, for an Aug. 4 show on Portland’s Eastern Promenade, was one of them.
In more than 10 years working as a concert promoter in Portland, Wayne has helped bring hundreds if not thousands of concerts to town. But in the past two years, as manager of the reopened State Theatre on Congress Street, she’s had an even bigger impact on the area’s concert scene, helping to make it more visible and vibrant than it has been in decades.
Besides bringing some 80 shows to the State Theatre last year, Wayne has had a wider impact by booking shows at other city venues, big and small. She’s helped bring a wide range of pop music talent to the area, from former Grateful Dead members and hot folk-rockers like the Avett Brothers, to rap legend Snoop Dogg and veteran alt-rockers The Pixies.
She brought the super-hot rock band The Black Keys to the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland earlier this year, even though the civic center is more than 30 years old, badly in need of renovation and the smallest venue The Black Keys played on their tour. On the same tour, the band played two sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
“With The Black Keys, I had been trying for a long time to get them, but it didn’t work out,” said Wayne. “But sometimes when you have a relationship with an agent, and you keep yourself on their radar, it works out eventually.”
The relationship between agent and promoter works both ways, says Seth Seigle, a New York-based agent with WME Entertainment, which represents both Snoop Dogg and The Pixies, among many others. Seigle says he and his agency have confidence that when they book a show through Wayne — and the State Theatre’s management — their clients will be treated well and fans will get their money’s worth.
“We know when we work with them we can count on good people presenting the show,” said Seigle. “When clients ask what else they should be doing, we can talk about the State Theatre and Portland, and all the other shows that have played there. To Lauren’s credit, she works with good people and we trust them.”
Wayne has been able to make a success of the State Theatre — so far — even though the 1929 former movie palace has seen several failed attempts by managers since it was reopened as a concert hall in 1993. It had been closed since 2006, and in disrepair, when new management took over in 2010 and brought in Wayne.
The primary partners in the current State management are Alex Crothers of Crothers Entertainment & Productions in Vermont and Jim Glancy of Bowery Presents in New York.
As a New England promoter, Crothers knew Wayne from her 10 years or more booking shows in Portland, when she worked for legendary Boston promoter Don Law, and for mega-promotions company Live Nation. Wayne grew up around the country — her father worked for Pillsbury at several locations — and went to college in Richmond, Va. After college, she went to stay for a while at a house a friend owned in New Hampshire. While there, she drove to Portland, fell in love with the city, and moved here. She took various office jobs to pay the bills, then landed a job working in the office of Jim Ahearne, who was booking shows for Don Law and then Live Nation. She worked with Ahearne, and later booked shows and did marketing for Live Nation.
Wayne — who gives a lot of credit for the State’s success to her co-workers there — brings shows to other venues in town for a couple of reasons, she says. One is to build up the city’s music scene. If Portland gets a reputation among agents as a place that hot bands play, or where bands get treated really well, other bands will play here. Or even more simply, the more shows Portland gets, the more it is seen by agents as a music town.
Bringing shows to other venues in town — sometimes small clubs, sometimes big venues like the civic center — helps Wayne maintain a good relationship with agents. They know she will find them the best venue for their band, whether that be bigger than the State or smaller than the State, which has an 1,800-seat capacity.
Sometimes Wayne rents other venues for shows under the banner “State Theatre Presents,” and sometimes she simply steers an agent to another Portland venue. Portland’s music venues work together more than people might think, and managers of competing venues have good things to say about Wayne.
Steve Crane, longtime manager of the civic center, called Wayne “one of the most knowledgeable talent buyers in the U.S.” and said that “music fans in Maine are lucky” she’s working here.
Rob Evon, owner of Port City Music Hall on Congress Street, said that when Wayne was working for Live Nation she was “instrumental” in helping get his venue started about three years ago. He says the fact that she sometimes steers acts to him shows Wayne’s “commitment to getting music booked in Portland.”
For Wayne, a fan of all kinds of music, bringing shows to town is fulfilling in several ways. She enjoys the fact that she’s contributing to the city’s music scene.
And on a more personal level, she enjoys seeing close up what that means to individual fans.
“I love being able to experience live music while I’m working,” said Wayne. “It’s great to know you’ve brought someone’s favorite band to town.”
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: