Promoter Lauren Wayne doesn’t see Port City Music Hall as simply a smaller venue than the State Theatre.
She sees it as a place where she can take more chances with edgier, hipper and even experimental acts.
“The State Theatre, because of its size (1,800 capacity), has to have more mainstream acts to make it work,” said Wayne, general manager of the State. “But at Port City (529 capacity), we can try different things, so that’s exciting to us. We can make a show with 200 people work here. “
The owners of the State Theatre bought the smaller Port City Music Hall — located down the street from the State Theatre in Portland — in May, then closed it for refurbishing, including painting, stage renovations and plaster repairs.
The venue reopened for shows about a month ago, but Wayne is planning a massive free show on Friday to allow people to see the possibilities for themselves.
The open house-style event features at least seven mostly local acts playing from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m., and coincides with Portland’s monthly First Friday Art Walk, so people strolling alomg Congress Street for art can pop in to Port City for some music.
Local musicians and music fans alike are excited about the State Theatre’s management of Port City, given the volume and variety of shows Wayne has brought to the State since she became general manager of that venue about three years ago.
“She has a very keen sense of what room is appropriate for each band she books,” said Casey McCurry, lead singer of the local dance-rock/synth-pop band Sunset Hearts, “and she has a habit of booking my favorite bands.”
Sunset Hearts is scheduled to play Port City’s grand reopening on Friday along with Awaas (experimental), DJ Matty T. (dance), Foam Castles (rock), Hutch Heelan (alt-pop), Billy Libby (indie folk), Ian Hammond (DJ) and Soule Monde (members of The Trey Anastasio Band).
Wayne said about $25,000 has been spent so far on repairs and renovations at Port City, but stressed that it’s an ongoing process. Some of the money was spent on designing a new graphic black-and-white logo.
Holes in the walls were repaired, and the entire interior was repainted. The stage was torn down and rebuilt, and a new off-stage soundboard area was created. Previously, the soundboard was on the stage, which limited the space available to performers, Wayne said.
The venue’s lighting and sound system were also “tweaked” and reconfigured slightly to allow for better sound and more specific lighting. A VIP seating area with table service remains, but is now called “preferred seating,” and the bar in that area is now open to everyone.
The venue’s downstairs lounge area is also being rebuilt and repainted, and vintage tabletop video games and pinball machines will be installed. Wayne envisions the lounge as a quieter place for people to hang out if they don’t want to watch one of the bands or need a break from the action.
The State Theatre management bought the assets for Port City, and are leasing the space. So essentially for now, Wayne is running both venues, which gives her the flexibility to book shows where they make the most sense.
The State Theatre is a 1920s movie theater that had become a porn theater before being renovated into a performing arts venue in the early 1990s. But no management team had been able to make a go of it for very long as a concert hall until Bowery Presents and Crothers Entertainment took over the venue in 2010 and installed Wayne, a longtime talent booker in Portland and Boston, as general manager. The State had been closed for four years before the present management took over.
Port City Music Hall was started in 2009 by Rob Evon, who had been looking to sell the place for a while. Before Evon started the club, the space had been used as part of the Stadium Sports Bar & Restaurant.
Wayne said the State Theatre management did not consider buying Port City until recently because the State was still establishing itself as a venue.
Under the banner “State Theatre Presents,” Wayne has booked shows at other Portland venues when they don’t make sense size-wise to have at the State. She had been booking three or four shows a month at Port City before the sale.
Since its soft reopening, Port City has already hosted English folk/punk band Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls, and Alabama singer-songwriter Jason Isbell. Both are hot in their genres and have growing fanbases, but are not yet big enough to easily fill the 1,800-seat State Theatre.
Upcoming national performers at Port City include Chris Webby (rap), EOTO (electronic), The Mickey Hart Band (led by the former Grateful Dead drummer), mewithoutyou (rock) and Every Time I Die (metal).
Wayne said she’s also excited about having local bands headline shows at Port City. Anna Lombard (singer-songwriter) will have an album release party there in August, as will Jeff Beam’s Loudspeaker Wallpaper (experimental) and ShaShaSha (rock). Local rockers Too Late The Hero will also have their own show at Port City in August.
“This is a great development room for us, and will just help us bring in a lot of different kinds of shows,” said Wayne.
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: