Amy Ray playing with her band at One Longfellow Square in 2019. Photo by Christopher McClure

One Longfellow Square, the 185-seat listening room in Portland’s arts district that puts on about 200 shows annually, has been hit so hard by the pandemic, it launched a GoFundMe campaign on June 15 with the hopes of raising $100,000 over the next two months in order to stay afloat. Turns out, it only needed nine days.

At around noon on Tuesday, One Longfellow Square reached its goal with the help of donations by more than 1,200 contributors. I was glad to be one of them, as I’ve seen countless shows there and have deep appreciation for the venue, its staff and the tremendous variety of musical acts brought in over the years.

But this piece of good news could be followed by a lot more bad. The National Independent Venue Association released a survey recently that predicted 90 percent of independent music venues will close permanently within a few months without federal funding. Hearing the challenges that One Longfellow Square is facing, it isn’t hard to see why.

Programming director and venue manager Jeff Beam sits on the edge of the stage at One Longfellow Square in Portland. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Jeff Beam, One Longfellow Square’s programming director and venue manager, said they’re not sure when they’ll be able to have people inside because reduced capacity restrictions can’t work with their business model. “We’re a small venue with a large overhead, and we’re just slipping through the cracks with any federal or state relief programs.” Factoring in social distancing, One Longfellow Square can only fit 30 chairs in its seating area, and with current square footage restrictions, it can only have five people inside. The bare bones monthly operating expenses are $7,000.

One Longfellow Square has been operating as a nonprofit performance space since 2011 and board chair Linzee Weld said that, although they did receive more than $40,000 in a payroll protection program loan, those funds are about to run out. “We hope that there will be some additional relief or stabilization grants from the state and federal government for independent venues to help us bridge to the time when we can fully reopen,” she said. Weld also said that the venue’s landlord, Port Properties, has postponed an annual rent increase until the beginning of next year and is allowing the venue to pay half its monthly rent and defer the other half in coming months, though that eventually will have to be repaid.

As to why One Longfellow Square is a place so worth saving, Weld said, it’s a friendly, welcoming community hall and a highly respected performing venue where audiences can listen to legendary performers seeking a small club setting.

“Some of the best bluegrass, jazz and song-writing artists in the country return again and again to the OLS stage,” she said. Without the venue, Weld contends that many of these acts would perform much less frequently in Maine. The venue also provides a stage for up-and-coming local and national talent who Weld said are eager for the opportunity to play there.

Colin Smith outside One Longfellow Square in Portland. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

There’s likely no one else other there who is a bigger fan of One Longfellow Square than Portland resident and hardcore live music fan (and former Press Herald copy editor) Colin Smith. “One Longfellow Square is part of what makes Portland home for me. I moved recently and ‘will I still be able to walk to One Longfellow Square?’ was a legitimate factor in deciding where.”

Smith said he’s been to 130 shows over the past dozen years, and it’s where he saw his last show before things shut down. It was a tribute show to the late Texas songwriter Townes Van Zandt. “There just aren’t a lot of venues where you’re going to find a show like that, and that’s part of what makes OLS great — you can pop in just about any night of the week and find something different and amazing,” said Smith.

Smith also appreciates that One Longfellow Square is small enough that every show feels intimate yet it still manages to bring in some fairly big names. “I remember the thrill of sitting just feet away from R.E.M.’s Mike Mills, performing as part of The Baseball Project,” he said. Smith also fondly recalled seeing Anaïs Mitchell and her band perform her folk opera, “Hadestown,” at the venue. Almost a decade later, it’s a Tony Award-winning Broadway musical.

Smith also noted how essential the space is to rising star local acts. “I first saw The Ghost of Paul Revere at OLS as part of a triple bill of local artists, a few months before their first full-length came out (2012). Now they headline their own annual festival at Thompson’s Point.”

Here’s hoping that venues like One Longfellow Square will be able reopen their doors. I look forward to walking in, finding my favorite seat in the back corner and settling in for another fantastic show. Live music simply must survive.

This story was updated at 1:42 p.m. Tuesday to indicate the venue had reached its fundraising goal.


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