With every shipment of COVID-19 vaccines that comes into Maine, I get more and more excited about the reopening of so many long-closed indoor music venues. Until then, I continue to cling to my favorite concert memories tightly, and I asked a few venue owners and managers to share some of theirs.

A few places, including Stone Mountain Arts Center and Camden Opera House, are now starting to host limited-capacity shows, and I get the sense that this list will continue to grow in the coming weeks and months. But for now, I’m hopping, skipping and jumping down memory lane. Join me!

Tank and The Bangas performing at Port City Music Hall on June 7, 2019. Photo by Lauryn Hottinger

First off, I’m thinking about Port City Music Hall, which closed its doors permanently last summer. I will always cherish the experiences of having seen artists like Lucius, Amanda Palmer, Maggie Rogers and Tank and the Bangas. On the local front,  Kenya Hall’s Stevie Wonder tribute shows, Sean Slaughter’s Queen Tribute shows and Gypsy Tailwind’s 2010 album release show all were brilliant. Port City, you’ll never be forgotten …

I’m also thinking about The Chocolate Church Arts Center in Bath, where I’ve seen Paula Cole and Suzanne Vega. That big old brown church has solid bones and great sound and always welcomes a variety of musicians and theatrical performances to their stage.

Amy Ray at One Longfellow Square on May 29, 2019. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Then, of course, there’s one One Longfellow Square. I often sit in the far back right-hand corner but make the occasional exception, like when Amy Ray of Indigo Girls played there in 2019, and I sat right the heck up front. With impeccable sound and seating for about 175 fans, One Longfellow Square is a true listening room that in non-pandemic times hosts multiple shows, week in and week out.

Nigel Hall sings during a show at Portland House of Music in 2016.

Portland House of Music opened in 2015, and I’ve seen a bunch of shows there. In fact, PHOM is where I saw my last show before lockdown, and it was a red-hot one from local funk act Gina & The Red Eye Flight Crew. Owner Ken Bell said that one of the national acts that he remembers best was Pigeons Playing Ping Pong who sold out the place in 2015. He also shined a light on the Marcus King/Eric Krasno co-bill of 2016. But what Bell loves most of all are the annual local shows, including Thanksgiving weekend with Model Airplane, Valentine’s shows with Gina and the Red Eye Flight Crew and Maine Dead Project’s winter residencies. “When you work so often with people it becomes more than business and is really a beautiful friendship, said Bell.

Aura on Center Street in Portland. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

Aura in Portland is where I finally got to see The B-52’s in 2018. They tore through songs I’ve loved for decades including “Mesopotamia,” “Private Idaho,” “Party Out of Bounds” and “Dance This Mess Around.” The show ended with perhaps their best known song, “Rock Lobster.” I was ecstatic. We all were, including Aura’s general manager Mark Curdo. “It was so much fun seeing parents with their funky dressed kids hoping around to ‘Rock Lobster.’ ”  Curdo also said that seeing old school fans of The Smiths (present company included!) singing along with former guitarist Johnny Marr in 2019 was great. In 2019, The Lemonheads had to cancel their show at the 11th hour because of food poisoning. Undeterred, opener Tommy Stinson (from The Replacements) played a solo set and sang happy birthday to Curdo. “That ruled!” he recalled. Curdo also rattled off some fantastic shows at Aura from Joyous Wolf, ’68, Cheap Trick, King’s X, Spose, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Crystal Canyon and Ann Wilson of Heart.

Fiona Apple performs at the State Theatre in Portland on July 1, 2012. Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

Thinking about the State Theatre always knocks the wind out of me for a few moments because I long ago lost track of how many incredible experiences I’ve had there seeing shows. One of the ones that always jumps out was the concert by Icelandic band Sigur Rós who played the State in 2006. I stood there transfixed for the entire evening as did just about everyone else in that room.

The State’s manager, Lauren Wayne, said some of her favorite ones there were St. Vincent, Lucius, Queens of the Stone Age, Emmy Lou Harris and a comedy show from Tig Notaro.

Lastly, I’ll mention my personal mother church of Maine music venues, the Stone Mountain Arts Center. Opened in 2006, the renovated barn in Brownfield has become a destination venue for musicians and fans like. Owner (and musician) Carol Noonan and her crew have brought countless A-list performers to the 200-seat venue, and I still can’t believe I saw Brandi Carlile there in 2015, not to mention Patty Griffin a few times and so many other pinch-me-I’m-dreaming shows like Shawn Colvin and Indigo Girls.

Noonan was happy to chime in with a few choice memories, and she immediately mentioned Mavis Staples in either 2015 or 2016. “She is always amazing but this night she called me up on stage to sing ‘Will the Circle Be Unbroken’  with her. She is so tiny and leaned her head on my shoulder while I sang and I almost lost it.  She is something, she is history.”

Noonan also shared my love for the Carlile show. “It was the most moving show I had ever seen. She and the twins (Phil and Tim Hanseroth) could not have been more warm and kind and they said great things about us. Just the fact that she came to such a weenie room in the middle of nowhere says a lot.”

Do yourself a favor and make sure you’re following all of your favorite music venues on social media platforms, are signed up for their mailing lists and are frequently checking their websites. Show news sometimes happens fast, and you’ll want to be in the know.

Let’s all proceed with dedicated pandemic awareness and safety measures and not let down our guard, not even for a moment. We’ve come this far and I am starting to actually feel hopeful about the return of indoor live music at the venues we all know and love and who will very much need our support. As I said earlier, some spots like Stone Mountain Arts Center and Camden Opera House have already announced a few indoor shows and, knock on wood, there will be plenty more for us all to look forward to.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.