Just a few years ago, if you wanted to see major music acts on their summer tours, you’d have to travel out of Maine.
The closest major outdoor concert venues were out of state: Comcast Center in Mansfield, Mass.; Bank of America Pavilion in Boston; and Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion at Meadowbrook, in Gilford, N.H.
But four years ago, an outdoor summer concert series started on city park land in Bangor, at a temporary venue called Bangor Waterfront Pavilion. Over this past winter, the city of Bangor and the concert series’ promoter spent at least $2 million to create a permanent, updated outdoor venue intended to attract the biggest names on the summer concert circuit.
It seems that the plan is working: The renovated and renamed Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion already has 16 shows booked for the summer, starting with the heavy metal band Motley Crue on Thursday. Other highlights of the renovated venue’s season schedule include such heavy-hitters as Sting on June 20, Phish on July 3, Daughtry on July 10, Lil Wayne on July 23, Kenny Chesney on Aug. 7, Ke$ha on Aug. 30 and Toby Keith on Sept. 2.
There’s no major outdoor concert venue with regular shows in southern Maine, so the Bangor venue has already been drawing fans from Greater Portland. Bangor is two hours from Portland — as is Boston and Mansfield — but it’s a much easier drive with much fewer traffic headaches.
Darling’s has a maximum capacity of 16,000, with a mix of lawn seating and some portable seating. By comparison, the state’s largest indoor concert venues, with mostly fixed seating, are the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland and the new Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, both big enough for about 8,000 people.
“We told the city that if they helped us with this, we’d be able to bring in the best shows, and we think this schedule is as high-end as it gets,” said Alex Gray of Waterfront Concerts, who runs the venue.
The improvements to the Bangor venue that concert goers will most notice include:
• More elevation on the lawn seating area, so people in the back are some 20 feet above the front row instead of just 8 feet like before.
• A permanent stage more than 60 feet wide, with a roof suspended more than 60 feet in the air over the stage.
• More and permanent concession areas.
• More VIP parking areas.
• New stage “video bays” to hold the giant video screens often used by major acts.
The improvements also include a “state-of-the-art” backstage area and dressing room for performers, along with room for catering and other arts amenities.
The city spent about $700,000 on the permanent stage, said Tracy Willette, Bangor’s director of parks and recreation.
Gray, who leases the venue, said his company spent more than that, though he wouldn’t say exactly how much. He did say the total amount spent on renovations was in the “millions.”
Willette said the city wanted to invest in the stage and venue because the concert series has helped the economy of both the city and the region during the time it’s been running.
The venue is on city-owned park land near the Penobscot River that had been under-utilized before the concert venue began operating there, Willette said.
“These concert events have been an economic driver for the region, and so the city wanted to help that to continue,” he said.
Along with the renovations, the venue has taken on several new sponsors, including the Bangor-area car dealership Darling’s, which bought the naming rights.
Gray hopes the major renovations, which occurred over the winter, aren’t the last. He hopes that eventually the site will include permanent bathrooms (portable ones are in place this year) and a covering for at least part of the audience. Right now, only the stage is covered.
Gray plans to announce at least two more shows for this year, including one he described as “one of the biggest shows in the world right now.”
“North of Comcast Center and Bank of America Pavilion, this now is one of the premiere outdoor venues,” said Gray.
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: