The current message, taken from the Joni Mitchell song “Big Yellow Taxi,” on the State Theatre marquee in downtown Portland. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

March 12 is the one-year anniversary of the first confirmed COVID-19 case in Maine. We all knew it was coming, it was just a matter of when. A few days before that, I had been in Walmart and Target getting quotes from shoppers about the toilet paper shortage for a news story. The next day, I was told to pack up my things from the office to start working from home on Monday. It all happened so fast.

In the days leading up the dramatic shutdown, music venues started posting on their websites and social media pages that shows were being postponed or canceled. Bands followed suit. For a few days, we were sharing this information, piece by piece, with readers, but it soon became clear that wasn’t necessary; everything was canceled.

Entire tours were scrapped, or stopped midway, as a national blackout of live music began, and the thing that makes me feel most alive and most present was taken away from me, and all of us. As it’s been said many times over the past year, live music was among the first things to shut down and will be one of the last to return.

The empty bulletin board outside Geno’s Rock Club in downtown Portland on March 6 is a sobering reminder about the lack of live music. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

I had a trip to New York City planned for about a week later to finally see “Hamilton” and an all-star Carly Simon tribute show at Carnegie Hall. I had tickets to see three different Sinead O’Connor shows in Boston in April, as well as to Stereolab at the State Theatre, Squeeze at Aura and Adrianne Lenker at One Longfellow Square. All became obsolete.

Then came the weird, uncomfortable feeling of berating myself for being sad about the lack of live music when lives, jobs and so much more had been lost. It took a while for me to understand that the two are not mutually exclusive, and the complicated tangle of emotions continues to swirl, carving out a sinkhole in my heart.

A few weeks ago, I completed a wonderful virtual comedy workshop with a dozen other people that was led by local comic Tim Ferrell. One of the “bits” I developed was around how much I miss going to concerts, particularly ones at the State Theatre.

It begins with missing the ritual of leaving early to get a good parking space and how I head up High Street full of hope and how that hope starts to dissipate after I bang a left onto Congress and places like Walgreens and then Maine Med come into view, without a spot in sight. Frustrated, yet unwilling as always to pay for parking, I wind up parked down on Commercial Street by Becky’s Diner. This is followed by the long slog up High Street during which I flirt with hypothermia because, despite it being 9 degrees out, I’m wearing my favorite Chuck Taylors, a trucker cap, sleeveless shirt and patch-covered denim jacket because fashion first, right?

After the long wait outside, the doors open and mere moments after hearing the satisfying beep of the ticket scanner (though I still miss the good old days of the tear), I part ways with about 40 bucks for the T-shirt I simply can’t live without and which I will absolutely never wear.

From there, it’s to the bar where I order my traditional single concert beverage: A Jameson on the rocks, which, without fail, comes with a free raging headache. But I enjoy every slow sip.

I make my way down to near the front of the stage, maybe the righthand side, and before too long, the opening act has come and gone and the headliner takes the stage. Moments into their first song, I realize I am standing next to Mr. Over-Informed who can’t help but share facts with his unsuspecting girlfriend. This is the guy who says, “Just so you know, that’s not their original bass player,” and “Actually, that song is a b-side from the colored vinyl import EP.” Dude. Whatever.

A few songs later, I realize that standing on the other side of me is Miss Hysterical Scream Singer who can’t seem to read the room and yells the lyrics along with every song, even the ballads.

But you know what? I miss ALL OF THESE concert quirks so very much. I miss seeing my music-loving friends, I miss waving hello to people like promoter Lauren Wayne. I miss the thrill of the unexpected cover song or the debut of new material. I miss getting a poster signed by the band after the show and pouring out onto Congress Street in droves, all of us collectively feeling the afterglow of a great show.

Musicians need their jobs back and so does everyone related to the machinery of touring, from the bus drivers to the sound people, local promoters, bartenders, photographers, roadies, guitar techs, tour managers, merch sellers and everyone else who plays a role in keeping the live music world spinning.

Vaccines are rolling out more steadily now, but I am not hopeful about getting to attend my beloved Newport Folk Festival or shows at Portland’s Thompson’s Point, let alone all of the indoor venues, for the next several months. Perhaps the fall?

Until then, I will wait and will continue to support bands and venues as best I can with merch purchases and livestream donations.

I’ll end with a look at the tattoo on my left arm with a favorite Shawn Colvin lyric: “But if there were no music, then I would not get through.”

I never knew we’d have to worry about live music. I can’t wait for its return. We will get through.


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