Live music is back in a big way, and I’ve been celebrating by seeing shows at Stone Mountain Arts Center, Vinegar Hill Music Theatre and Aura over the past few weeks. With each guitar strum, drum beat, piano note and vocal crescendo, I felt myself shedding nearly 18 months of angst, fear and, most of all, sadness about not being able to do my favorite thing.

Seeing live shows again has felt like the scene in “The Wizard of Oz” when Dorothy opens the door of her tornado-transported home, and the world is suddenly in brilliant Technicolor.

Before delving into the delightful details, let me say that I am fully vaccinated and the expectation at these places is that, if you’re not, you still need to wear a face covering. So, please, do the right thing and don’t take unnecessary risks.

Until last month, the last time I was inside a proper music venue was the middle of March of last year. It was for Gina & The Red Eye Flight Crew at Portland House of Music, and they were sensational. This is why, despite me being an early bird and it being a Monday night, I ventured out because I couldn’t stand the thought of not being at PHOM for its grand reopening with Gina Alibrio and her phenomenal crew of musicians.

The show was completely sold out. When I crossed the threshold and got inside, it felt immediately like the before times, before we knew what COVID-19 was. When the band took the stage, the reaction was momentous, and soon nearly 300 of us were swept up in the music, many dancing and everyone visibly elated, especially Alibrio.

Pianist George Winston at Vinegar Hill Music Theatre in Arundel on July 2. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

I celebrated my birthday by seeing pianist George Winston at Vinegar Hill Music Theatre in Arundel on July 2. It’s a renovated barn that holds about 200 people and is working toward opening at full capacity by the end of the summer. This meant that, although the show was technically sold out, there were some intentionally empty seats scattered strategically to allow for some social distancing. Winston held us in the palm of his hand while he played two sets of tunes in a space gorgeously lit by at least 100 electric marble looking candles that lined the walls.

On the Friday of Memorial Day weekend, I met a friend at Stone Mountain Arts Center in Brownfield. In Nashville, the historic Ryman Auditorium is referred to as the Mother Church. SMAC is my version of that, and I was overwhelmed with happiness to be back inside the barn seeing live music. But it wasn’t just any show; this one featured the venue owner herself, Carol Noonan, who was accompanied by guitarists Kevin Barry and Duke Levine. I’ve been there so many times, everyone there pretty much feels like family, making this visit feel like a homecoming. I hugged everyone who would let me and was enraptured for the entire performance.

Gina & The Red Eye Flight Crew performing at Portland House of Music on July 5. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

The last show I’ll talk about is the one that literally made me cry. It was Love By Numb3rs at Aura on June 18. The opening act was Sara Hallie Richardson with the Amarantos Quartet. Love By Numb3rs’ three core members are Anna Lombard, Jon Roods and Dan Connor.

On the afternoon of the show, I was out for my daily walk and a thought occurred to me. I reached out to Lombard to tell her I was coming to the show and would she and the band consider letting me introduce them because I thought it was important for everyone to take a moment to recognize and honor that live shows are back, especially since this was the first one at Aura since last March. Her response was instantaneous: Absolutely yes.

A few hours later, I arrived at Aura and, at every turn, ran into someone I knew, many of whom I hadn’t seen in more than a year. One conversation revealed the wonderful news of a pregnancy. I hugged, high-fived, waved and nodded my way through the space and made my way up to the balcony to watch Richardson and Amarantos Quartet perform their riveting set.

Then I was escorted backstage and waited in the wings with the band and their special guests: Zach Jones, Emma Stanley, Bri Fisher, Josh Dyum and Gary Gemmiti.

The house music was turned off, I was told which microphone to use, and I walked out onto that stage and stood in front of that huge, excited crowd. I told them that although I was a writer for the Portland Press Herald and local music host at WCLZ, I was standing there before them 100 percent as a fan. I explained how I had reached out to Lombard and how significant this moment was because of how much we all had missed live music. Then I burst into tears and had to take a step back from the microphone for a moment. I owe a debt of gratitude to everyone who clapped while I collected myself, and I know they were feeling exactly the same thing I was.

It was time for me to leave the stage, so I wiped away my tears as a gigantic smile spread across my face. This was the first indoor live show by Love by Numb3rs, and they were as pumped up as any band I’d ever seen. I retreated to my spot with friends upstairs and, like everyone else at Aura that night, loved every millisecond of the band’s performance. They sounded superb, and I don’t think anyone there that night will ever forget it. Like a phoenix from the ashes, live music was back in Maine. There aren’t enough hallelujahs out there to express how good this feels.

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