One of the most painful parts of this pandemic, from the vantage point of a live music lover like me, has been the long closure of One Longfellow Square.

Now, one of the most joyful pieces of news of late is that the intimate, nonprofit venue in downtown Portland is reopening with a trio of weekend shows starting on Oct. 8.

Jonathan Edwards show that day is sold out, but you can still grab tickets to see singer-songwriters Patty Larkin on Oct. 9 and Jonatha Brooke on Oct. 10. The venue’s schedule is already stacked with shows throughout the rest of the year, but for now, it’s Brooke’s show that I’m most looking forward to.

Interim executive director/programming director/venue manager Jeff Beam said that the last show at One Longfellow Square was on March 12 of last year when Robbie Fulks performed.

“It was an ominous evening, but Robbie delivered a great performance,” Beam said. Within a day or two, live music as we knew it came to a grinding halt.

Beam said that the goal was always to reopen as soon as it was economically feasible and safe enough to do so. The date to do that was chosen last spring to give the venue enough time to flesh out its COVID policy, hire some new staff and give the place an aesthetic overhaul, including a repainting and a new mural in the lobby.

Beam said they also added several COVID-related safety components, like air ionizers in the HVAC system. Additionally, in order to see a show there, you must show proof of vaccination. One Longfellow Square, unlike most other venues, is not accepting recent COVID test results. And if you’re not actively eating, drinking or performing, a mask is required. The venue is small and only holds about 185 seated attendees, hence the tight restrictions.

I asked Beam how tickets sales have been since announcing the reopening plans in June. His one word response said it all: “Phenomenal.”

Beam said he can’t imagine Portland without One Longfellow Square, and I completely agree. “This venue has been such an important community space for so many years, so we felt a responsibility of sorts to keep OLS alive,” he said.

Jonatha Brooke performs at One Longfellow Square on Oct. 10. Photo by Erick Anderson

Minneapolis based singer-songwriter Jonatha Brooke was scheduled to perform at One Longfellow Square on March 21 of last year. I remember interviewing her for a story about the show and how we both wondered if it would even happen. I rang up Brooke again all these months later, with her Maine show finally rescheduled.

Beginning in late March of last year, Brooke took to Facebook live on Monday afternoons for what she called the Kitchen Covid Series. And she kept right on doing it every week, 58 times total. Viewers were able to donate tips to Brooke if they felt inclined, and she said this income kept her afloat.

Brooke said the early days of the online pivot were stressful at first because she didn’t know how she sounded or if anyone would care enough to watch. “It was the weirdest thing and then you get this strange OK-ness with it.”

Brooke said the pandemic has impacted her in a range of ways.

“On the dark side, I’ve learned that there’s some really crazy people out there and some really, sadly, manipulatable people out there, and I’ve realized that I don’t know this country the way I thought I did,” she said.

Despite this acute sense of disappointment, Brooke said she’s buoyed by the community that rose to the occasion, for her and her friends.

“So many musicians I know were sustained by the support of their fans and that was the bright light and that was the thing that counter-balanced the craziness of witnessing the continuing demise of our democracy,” she said. “There is this community out there that believes in goodness and truth and community and has a moral compass, so I’m gonna just stick with those people.”

Over the past year and a half, Brooke said, she hit a wall in terms of the joy of creating, though she is thrilled with the song she wrote with British songwriter Kathryn Williams during a Zoom songwriting retreat held by Chris Difford from the band Squeeze.

Brooke is also in the midst of co-writing a musical with playwright Jaclyn Backhaus, and the pair has penned 20 songs. The show has a shot of winding up somewhere on or, at the very least, near Broadway. Brooke said it’s called “Tempus” and is about a fictional Antarctic expeditionist named Annie Lawson. A table read is scheduled to take place in New York City in November.

As for her own live shows, the first of a handful will be at City Winery in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 4. Brooke said she’s terrified but also knows she’ll be OK. “I think I’ll probably fall apart for the first two songs, then I’ll be fine. It’s wild to not have done this in so long.”

Brooke is on my short list of favorite artists. Since the early days of her duo The Story in the early ’90s to the many solo albums that have followed, her songwriting and vocals have captivated me, as have her live performances. For a quick primer I suggest you seek out and listen to the tracks “So Much Mine,” “Annie,” “Westpoint,” “New Dress,” “Hashtag Lullaby” and “Prodigal Daughter.”

Jonatha Brooke
8 p.m. Oct. 10. One Longfellow Square, 181 State St., Portland, $25 in advance, $30 day of show. onelongfellowsquare.com


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.