I’m sure I’m one of many who drove down Free Street or up Center Street since last summer and started cursing after passing the Civic Center seeing all the road blocks and re-directions. At first, it was a barrage of loud unmentionables coming from my mouth. Then a nice peaceful realization crossed my mind as I saw the reason for the hold up. I stared up at a three story mountain of glass windows and thought of the joyous times to come! Good times would certainly be had in this decisivley modern looking building.
That building, formerly “Asylum” has been bringing concert and event goers together for almost two decades. Now after perhaps one of the speediest and most impressive make-overs in downtown Portland history, the venue renamed “Aura” is set to open its doors Thursday, April 27th to continue to bring party people together for hopefully decades more.
What you see is what you get folks and Aura's even more amazing inside. It’s bigger, it’s better, it’s newer, and it’s ready to do business, right in the exact same spot the might Asylum once was. Some extra breathing space was achieved as the owners were able to purchase and make use of the back-parking lot behind the former venue. Yes we lost Mike Rich’s legendary Portland postcard mural on that wall, but Mike’s work will continue on the other side of the new venue. He’ll also be doing his thing there on First Friday Art Walks.
Let's go over the club wonders Aura hides inside. The venue can accommodate 1,000 event goers with a balcony section that has nothing short of amazing views, and its own bar area. A digital video screen's mounted on stage that feels like it belongs in a stadium. An adjoining pre-function room/separate space for smaller and rental functions is there too. There's brand new backstage green rooms for the artists with kitchenettes, showers, lounge, wi-fi everywhere, offices for the tour managers, and a new “meet and greet” room for the artists, fans and contest winners. A proper ticket booth inside the venue opens to the public during regular business hours and there’s also an elevator that can help roadies load in gear from their trucks on Free Street right onto the stage.
Portland's Mayor Ethan Strimling checking out Aura on opening night with Kevin Oates from the Maine Youth Rock Orchestra.
The best things about Aura are its bigger space, intimacy, and overall vibe. Although the room has almost doubled Asylum’s size, the closeness and visibility to the acts on stage from anywhere in the house will make shows feel extra special. Won’t it be great to see and smell Eddie Money?
The rest of the compound got a nice makeover as well including new bathrooms, hallways, entrances, coat check room, lighting, fixtures and some huge improvements to the downstairs club, which now can house about 150 patrons for weekly music events and private functions.
Functions aside from concerts will be a major focus for Aura. With an improved kitchen area to cook for much bigger numbers (and to cater outside) and a concentration on private space for events, Aura plans to stay busy even on off days when the bands aren’t in town. From weddings, to business presentations, to bachelorette parties or any other private party needs, the venue will cater to folks wanting a special location and service to match.
From rock to pop, hip hop, jam bands, hair bands, alternative, comedy, country, reggae and dance; Aura plans to keep the varied beat Asylum maintained since the late 90s. The three owners, sisters Krista Newman, Laurie Willey and Valerie Levy are beyond words excited as you’d expect for Aura’s opening this week, but under that excitement and nervousness I also sense confidence in them. This confidence I think comes from knowing exactly what they want to provide people coming to their venue. The greater confidence I’m sure comes from now having the exact venue and opportunity to do that work.
The room FKA Asylum is ready to open its doors
Buried last minute under drink straws, menus, speaker cords, new seats and concert lights this week is the staff and owners of Aura. I was lucky to be able to excavate owner, Krista Newman to answer a few questions about opening another venue that starts with the letter A!
What are your fondest memories of Asylum?
So so many! My wedding reception! The space looked so so beautiful with red roses and white linens! Moby’s show and Jimmy Cliff, but I think probably the noontime show with Barenaked Ladies where the only way to get a ticket was to win one on WCYY. Fun!
What prompted the idea of the new venue?
Asylum was almost twenty years old. It was time for a change. All of us wanted a more versatile and upscale space for all to enjoy in comfort.
To say some work went into this venue would be the understatement of the year! The entire venue has been replaced from the underground up and up and up! What are the hopes for this venue from an ownership standpoint?
Well, we still have our star ceiling in pre-function space/area! Yay! Our subtle connection to Asylum! Our hopes are to create a special venue to be utilized for various types of events and business conferences as well as a variety of artists. We worked hard to make sure sight lines were spot on and comfort would be felt! It will look and sound better than anything in New England! There’s four smaller rooms besides the event space that will be utilized for baby/bridal showers, birthday parties, bachelor/bachelorette parties, business lunches and private meetings.
This whole place has come together in about 9 months! That’s remarkable. How did the process go and what were the biggest hold ups if any along the way?
The process was definitely completed quickly! We had few hiccups along the way. While doing the new foundation, Consigli unearthed another building under Asylum!
Another building? Some ancient Portland ruins?
It looked like another building was found under Asylum. We thought possibly remnants of a forgotten building from the big fire in Portland many years ago. It was materials from another foundation.
With the Asylum and now Aura, you’re entering your 20th year as venue owners. What’s been the most important lesson you’ve learned along the way?
Treating people as you'd like to be treated is most important. Team, trust and hard work are the foundation of our venue. Our team rocks!!
With different venues of every size in town, the live music scene continues to grow. What do you think Aura now brings to the table that makes it unique?
Our size allows us to do shows 100 to over 1,000 people while still holding other events in our multitude of spaces. Our sound and lights which include a 60 foot amazing screen is the best in the Northeast no lies!!!
Give us one thing that’s super special about the venue that people might not now about yet.
The intimacy the artists will feel while performing on our stage. The feeling you’ll get on our stage is indescribable! Safety features and amenities. Comfortable seating, cup holders and lighting on stairs are available as we want everyone to enjoy their evening(s) with us!
What has kept you and your sisters (the other two owners) continuing to do what you do with Asylum, now Aura?
Knowing people are enjoying their favorite show comfortably AND our awesome team makes it fun to continue evolving our vision together. It's nice to be able to offer events and artists that give people a memory.
For tickets, info and connection to Aura, vist www.auramaine.com or on Facebook at /Auramaine.
- Published in Curdo's Music & Stuff