PORTLAND — A quick glance at the November schedule for One Longfellow Square tells you all you need to know about the mission of this dynamic arts venue.
On Thursday, it hosts the Portland Jazz Orchestra, comprised of professional jazz musicians in southern Maine.
Friday, it’s Primo Cubano, a Maine-based five-piece that plays authentic Cuban music.
On Saturday, acoustic blues giant John Hammond returns.
“We do things different here,” said Kippy Rudy, the newly installed executive director of One Longfellow. “I describe One Longfellow Square as a 21st-century urban Grange hall. We are a performing arts cultural melting pot. We’re not an auditorium, and we’re not a bar. That allows us to be a little more diverse than most music venues.”
As a longtime fan of live music, Rudy had a hard time finding a reason to say no when she was offered the chance to serve as director of OLS. She began her duties in mid-October.
Rudy lives in Bath, so the daily commute to Portland was not convenient. But she believes in the mission of OLS, and was eager to return to her roots in the heart of Portland’s Arts District. Over the years, Rudy has worked for PORTopera, Portland Stage Company and the Portland Museum of Art.
Her background in fundraising made her a good candidate to assume director duties when OLS became a nonprofit arts institution last year, said the organization’s board president, Jonathan Cooper.
Her job is to manage the 225-seat venue, which has an annual budget of about $500,000, as vibrantly as possible. She sees the place as a community resource, a neighborhood gathering spot and a destination for music lovers of all kinds.
Not to mention an anchor of the upper end of the Arts District and the center of cultural activities and nightlife in the burgeoning Longfellow Square neighborhood.
A number of restaurants and bars have opened around the square in recent years. One Longfellow Square is an important economic driver for those establishments, she said, and will become more important as time goes on.
Because of the size of the hall, it lends itself to acoustic music, but Rudy is keen on all kinds of music, and does not intend to limit OLS’ future based on its past reputation.
She wants fans of all kinds of music to pay attention. Most weeks, One Longfellow Square has four or five concerts on the schedule.
A few upcoming shows illustrate her musical goals:
• The Portland Jazz Orchestra, which performs at 8 p.m. Thursday, plays monthly. It’s fronted by the University of Southern Maine’s Chris Oberholtzer, and includes up to 18 musicians. At a typical show, the audiences include fans from their teens into their 80s. “You don’t see that mix of people in almost anything,” Rudy said. ‘But you get that one Thursday every month here.”
• On Dec. 1, The Bob Band – a Portland-based group dedicated to the music of Bob Dylan – presents a live run-through of Dylan’s studio album “John Wesley Harding.” December marks the 45th anniversary of the release of the album.
• Tom Rush performs on Dec. 7. Rush is an old-time folk musician who achieved mainstream success in the ’60s and ’70s and remains active today.
“That’s the kind of mix we really want to achieve – jazz, rock and folk, in the course of just a couple of weeks. And we do a lot of blues, as well,” Rudy said.
One Longfellow Square also hosts chamber music, and in October welcomed Portland Symphony Orchestra director Robert Moody for an evening of nightclub songs.
As a nonprofit, OLS can engage in fundraising, which is one of Rudy’s strong suits. She wants the concerts to pay for themselves, but as the operator of a nonprofit, she is in a different position than someone who runs a commercial enterprise when it comes to taking risks.
There is more margin for error, which “opens the door for some different things, such as the Portland Jazz Orchestra,” she said. “We can do sold-out shows by Cheryl Wheeler one night and then take risks with things on the edge, like classical, jazz, young artists and events for kids. We want to do more community outreach, and we’re talking to Reiche (Elementary School, in the neighborhood) about an after-school music program.”
For Rudy, her work at OLS reminds her of her college days at Drew University in Madison, N.J. She was active in a campus venue that offered live music four or five nights a week.
“Live music has always been a big part of my life personally,” she said. “To say that a lot of this is comfortable to me is an understatement. I’m having a great time.”
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or: