PORTLAND — The city’s newest music venue has scheduled a soft opening this weekend in the old Keystone Theater at 504 Congress St., to give music lovers a taste of things to come.
The Port City Music Hall on Saturday night will host Portland-based Sidecar Radio and the Fear Nuttin Band, a national group that mixes hip hop, Jamaican dance-hall and metal.
Owner Rob Evons, 30, said crews will be working overtime, two shifts a day to make sure the venue is ready for the show.
“It’s do-or-die time,” Evons said. “It’s getting to the point where we really need to get the doors opened.”
The big kickoff event will take place on Feb. 6, when the Derek Trucks Band performs. Evons said more than 350 tickets have already been sold and he anticipates the venue will reach its 650-person capacity for the show. Other February shows include Johnny Winter on Feb. 15 and Jazz Mandolin Project on Feb. 19.
All shows will be open to patrons 18 or older.
As of Monday, however, there was still no house sound equipment or stage lights, but Evons said those systems are scheduled to be installed Thursday. There will be bottled beer and other spirits available on Saturday, but draft beer by this weekend is still a toss-up.
“I’m hoping to be serving draft beer by Saturday,” he said.
Once complete, the Music Hall will join other venues in the city – One Longfellow Square, The Asylum, Space and Geno’s – that have tried to fill a void created when the State Theater closed nearly two years ago, leaving no medium-sized halls suitable for national touring acts.
Even unfinished, the transformation of the former Keystone Theater, which more recently housed the hip hop club Havana, is remarkable. New wooden floors sparkle from a fresh coat of finish. The ceilings have been renovated to include K-13 acoustic insulating foam. New oak bars have also been installed.
The work of local hands can be found throughout the long and narrow, yet spacious hall, which was designed by architect Michael Sengelmann, interior designer Joshua Bergey and Lapchick Creative.
Evons said Port City Music Hall will eventually offer a variety of shows, from stand-up comedy to cabaret-style shows.
For an additional surcharge, patrons will be able to enjoy an elevated “VIP” seating area, which will feature table service and a private bar for about 50 people.
The basement will feature pool tables, while the second floor will offer so-called Green Rooms for performers, along with administrative offices. In the summer, artists will be able to unwind on a rooftop patio.
Evons said his live music recording company, Champion Soundworks, will record shows through a direct feed from the stage to a second-floor studio.
Evons said crews have been scrambling to catch up after two, two-week delays from contractors put him behind schedule.
Bergey, the interior designer who served as a dean at the Maine College of Art, said indoor decor is inspired by new modernism. Many of designs have been inspired by a recent trip to Japan, he said, and the screen-print design of the music hall wall is an original piece that was applied by local artist Kate Hirsch.
“I really wanted this place to be filled with warmth and texture,” Bergey said, noting that the entryway will have a “starry night feel.”
In the coming weeks, Evons said crews will install a marquee and 15-foot, piano-shaped overhang, which will shelter crowds anticipated to form on the Congress Street sidewalk, where there are two box office windows.
Evons said he initially wanted to reopen the Three Sisters bar on Danforth Street, but decided against it because the space wasn’t big enough to justify the investment. He would not disclose how much he has spent on renovating the Congress Street space, which has been under construction since October.
Evons said the Port City Music Halll will also allow him to feature smaller jazz performances, spoken word and comedy in the front lounge of the club, where performers and DJs will set up on a stage above and behind the bar.
“I’m really excited about the potential of the Arts District,” he said. “With some extra effort, Portland can overcome the difficulties of being a secondary market. I know from experience that if we give the artists and their management a memorable, professional experience, they’ll be back.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or [email protected]

FYI: More information about the Port City Music Hall is online at PortCityMusicHall.com.

p-portcitymusic-011409.JPGRob Evons outside the Port City Music Hall, which will have a soft opening Saturday at 504 Congress St.

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