Viva is one of six artists performing during the Save Maine Stages concert on Saturday. Photo by Eric Maine Photography

“If we don’t have independent venues then our independent careers are going to stop,” said Portland-based, Latin- and jazz-influenced singer-songwriter Viva.

That’s why she is one of the six artists performing in a show livestreaming Saturday from Portland’s State Theatre, to raise money for the Maine Music Alliance. Viva, who will accompany herself on ukulele, will be joined that night by vocalists Brit Martin, Suzie Assam, Sydney, Hannah Harleen and S6ef in two hours of soul, rock, R&B and singer-songwriter tunes from the Maine artists. DJ/emcee/producer Graphic Melee, known for being master of the beats at the Monday of the Minds series at Flask Lounge, prepandemic, will be on stage pumping out backing tracks for Harleen, Martin and Sydney.

The Save Maine Stages weekend officially kicks off Friday night with a screening of the Save Maine Stages fundraising film. Both it and the live show can be seen, for free, on the State Theatre Facebook page.

All proceeds from donations made during the film and concert this weekend will go into the Maine Music Alliance coffers and will be dispersed as needed to help venues cover rent and other expenses. Current beneficiaries are the Portland venues Blue, Sun Tiki Studios, Geno’s Rock Club, The Apohadion, Flask Lounge and St. Lawrence Arts. Other venues, including State Theatre, Space Gallery, One Longfellow Square and Mayo Street Arts, are participating by helping spread the word, and in the case of the State Theatre, providing space for the Saturday night show.

Maine Music Alliance executive director Scott Mohler. Photo by Kelsey Cosby

The Maine Music Alliance formed in September in response to the pandemic, which brought the live music scene to a halt and put venues into survival mode. Some, like Port City Music Hall, didn’t make it.

Although there have been limited-capacity indoor shows as well as outdoor ones since then, the situation remains dire as winter looms. Streaming shows have been fairly consistent during the pandemic, but they only pull in a tiny fraction of what regular ticketed shows do and financial relief has been hard to come by. The national Save Our Stages Act was introduced in July with the hopes of providing six months of financial support to music venues and theaters, but like other pandemic-related bills, it hasn’t gone anywhere yet.

The mission of the alliance is “to increase the awareness around the extraordinary live music venues in Portland and the tremendous impact their presence have in our local economy.” Scott Mohler is the executive director and most of the oversight is handled by him and Lauren Wayne, manager of the State Theatre. So far, just under $50,000 has been raised and has been used to help venues pay their rent.

The alliance also has matched fundraising that venues have done on their own and put money toward helping them purchase streaming equipment to host performers and put on virtual shows. “We really feel that we are going to be coming into some of the scariest times for venues, as potential donors are financially, emotionally and empathetically exhausted,” said Mohler.

Mohler said that the primary goals of this weekend’s events are two-fold. There’s the fundraising element, but Mohler said it’s equally important for the Maine Music Alliance to show the camaraderie that exists between Portland’s musicians and its venues. “There is a very symbiotic relationship that exists here in a way that I haven’t necessarily seen anywhere other than Austin. Our local musicians need our venues, and our venues need our local musicians,” he said.

The idea for the film came about a month ago, said Mohler, and they’re just about done putting the finishing touches on it. The hourlong film features several Maine acts, some playing songs and some speaking, including Ghost of Paul Revere, Lady Lamb, The Mallett Brothers Band, Rustic Overtones, Bell Systems, Kenya Hall and Oshima Brothers, among others. There will also be interviews with venue owners and operators who will talk about what they’ve been doing while their doors have been shuttered.

One of the bands interviewed for the film is rock trio Weakened Friends, a nationally touring act based in Portland that was in Lincoln, Nebraska, at the tail end of a three-week cross-country tour, when things came to a head in March. Lead singer and guitarist Sonia Sturino said they had to make a bee-line for home when it became apparent things were quickly shutting down. And while they’ve been working on a new album that they plan to release in the spring, the pandemic has been a gut-punch to Sturino’s creativity.

“I’ve actually had an incredibly hard time writing,” she said. “It’s weird because I’ve had a lot of time, but it’s just been almost like a creative void for me, and it sucks.”

Sturino said she’s the type of musician who hones her craft during live shows. “I’m not a technically great musician, that’s not where my forte is, my forte lies in performing.” Typically, she likes to try out new material and see how it translates live, which isn’t an option right now. “I think not having an endgame with any of this and a time when that will happen again has been really hard to create or to write.”

Weakened Friends did, however, join the fan-funded platform Patreon in September, and Sturino appreciates the opportunity to share content beyond social media platforms.

The members of Weakened Friends were happy to take part in the Maine Music Alliance film. Sturino said their contribution is a conversation about why Maine music venues are important to them as a band and why music fans and people in the community should do what they can to help protect stages and venues. “Hopefully people who are within our little fan base will see that and chip in and do what they can right now because, obviously, it’s pretty awful at the moment,” she said.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: