Mark Curdo

Mark Curdo

Release It Already: Local Albums Dropping This Summer

Myles BullenWake Up Century (out this week)

Myles BullenAlbum

Cover art by Anna Welch. 

I came up with “Hippie Hop” a while back to describe all that is Myles Bullen. He’s a peaceful lad roaming around with a heart full of love spitting positive and encouraging rhymes to anyone who will stop and listen. I predict more people will listen to his latest record recorded with producer/vocalist, Earth Person. Even with one full length, some previous singles and EP’s under his belt; Bullen seems to really have it together this time for a proper introduction to a bigger audience. The title track and video for it are the gateway, Want more? You couldn’t dodge him if you wanted to. He’s all over this town like a parking meter maid. Between nights at Flask, WMPG, “Rap Night” at Aura, The Telling Room, Congress Street or a backyard open mic party down the street from you; Myles Bullen is out there in the world spreading positivity and can’t be stopped. And that's a good thing for the world.  

     

BeautifulWeirdRetrospect (out now, proper release soon)

BeautifulWeirdalbumcover

Photo By J Roberts. 

This is a band still way under the radar and for obvious reasons; they haven’t fully released their debut EP yet nor have they played in town. I have the debut release though and I have seen them play and they are going to be a super good thing. I was impressed upon a first listen a few months ago. Maybe think of a shy Paramore or a more mainstream Weakened Friends possibly. It’s alternative pop rock fronted by a confident and cool vocalist, Kelly Huston. The band also includes two former members of local metal band, Absence of the Sun. Trading in death growls and ripping shreds for sweet licks with some echo on them and an 80s influenced feel; BeautifulWeird won’t be under the radar for much longer.   

 

An Overnight Low - Waverley (June 30)

AnOvernightLow

Waverely is the third and final release in the British travel trilogy inspired by band member Chad Wall’s time in England while studying in Manchester. The three albums, named after train stations he frequented Euston, Pickadilly and now Waverley wrap up the package with more clever songs that will please anyone who loved that amazing college rock we got from the later 80s into the early 90s (REM, The Posies, Blur). Fans of Big Star, The Kinks and the Beatles will find a warm place here as well. Mature, yet carefully playful and cheeky Brit-inspired pop rock is my best way to describe An Overnight Low for those who haven’t visited either train stop yet. Get on board this time around though if you have the taste for their flavor. Next stop, happiness.   

 

Sygnal To Noise - Horns High (July 1

SygnalToNoise HornsHigh

Certainly the most masked band around, Sygnal To Noise returns with their 3rd release in just about five years. Fronted by long-running vocalist Mark Cooper (David’s Playground, Boomslang, Hours Past), Sygnal To Noise release another collection for the rock fans who still save room to put Godsmack, Shinedown, Papa Roach and Stone Sour CDs in their racks. Coop still remains one of local hard rock’s strongest singers. His son Austin, unfortunately, had to give up his seat behind the drums due to personal reasons, but his replacement will do I suppose. Enter the one and only Sonny Robinson of local rock godfathers, Twisted Roots. Not a bad pick up. Coop and Sonny make for a heck of a rock battery.   

 

Jeremiah FreedCompanion Pt. 1 (July 11)

JeremiahFreedCompanion

I doubt anyone saw this coming. Why would you?! These 70s rock influenced cats from York took the local music scene by storm and stormed onto Universal Republic Records in the early 00s. After a brief run due to the typical lack of artist development from record labels, Freed freed up and tried a couple of final moves. Most went to LA for a run at it, but would eventually go their own ways. One to Nashville, some stayed around here playing music some stayed out West. Years passed. People change. Vows exchanged and hopes and dreams are altered. The music never goes away though, does it? That's what’s happened here. The original line up, sans drummer Kerry Ryan, is about to serve up their most mature and rich collection yet. Fifteen years after their major label deal was signed and lost, Jeremiah Freed does it all for the right reasons like back when they started and were unable to buy beer. They’re doing it now because there is great music still in them that needs to be released and given to the world.    

 

Kris Rodgers and the Dirty Gems - Losing the Frequency (July 28)

KrisRodger

Rodgers is back with another blast of piano/pop rock that can’t be confused for anyone else around. Rodgers music is always gutsy and pushy as it is soulful and thoughtful. He also remains one of the strongest singers around in my book. His growth in this scene has not gone overlooked. This album, his third proper release takes a chance or two. Check out the album closer, “Who’s Gonna Save You Now”. It’s an epic, pop-rock gem that makes you realize Rodgers has become much more than just a piano man. 

  

 

Tired Mosh Pits: Should punk bands keep playing 40 years later?

I made it out to Aura last Saturday for one of the coolest lineups I’ve seen in a while: Flat Duo Jets, punk legends Agent Orange, and the always rockin’ headliners, Reverend Horton Heat. What a three-pack!

As I walked in it was clear to see this wasn’t a 21+ crowd. It was more like a 31+ crowd. It was so refreshing to see more folks swearing off Netflix and couches for the night. Cool sexy gals with Social Distortion t-shirts on and hair all done up in bandanas with their jeans rolled up high. A lot of the fellas looking like they came from a hot rod expo. This lineup was sure to bring out the wonderful crossover crowd of punk rock/rockabilly fans. None of the bands disappointed. 

The two-man punch of the Flat Duo Jets slugged away as frontman Dexter Romweber laid out their brand of psychobilly/rockin’ bluegrass to a cheering crowd. It was easy to tell why — since the late '80s — the North Carolina act was a major influence on people like Jack White.        

Orange County punk act Agent Orange (featuring only remaining original member Mike Palm) ripped through a solid hour set of originals and covers that shook the room up a bit. Well, as much as that older crowd could shake. A small, four-man mosh pit formed only to cave in due to the boredom and exhaustion of its participants. Yet there was some slight pogo action by fans going on closer to the stage. When the band blasted into the classic “Bloodstains”, the dust shook off a few more people. 

The Reverend played the same as always, absolutely fantastic. Rock 'n’ roll origins. With the recent passing of Chuck Berry and the current state of dog shit the music industry is in, watching the Reverend was like charging a battery. Time has only made this band better, the music richer, the presentation more striking. Jim Heath prowled the stage with that comic book bad guy grin and managed to lay out some of the most faith-restoring guitar sounds anyone ever heard. They ended paying tribute to Lemmy with a nice story and then diving into Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades.” I say this with all respect folks, all respect; the Reverend owns that song now. Really. If there was ever a perfect fit and someone to carry on such a tradition, it’s them and this song. It was everything the song is supposed to be: Heath’s screeching vocals, ear-ripping Gretsch's guitar-playing and Jimbo Wallace’s manic stand-up bass-slapping. Lemmy was smirking on the Rev from wherever he’s drinking these days. 

As I watched this whole show from start to finish, I think about these cats and what they’ve been through. I watched Agent Orange who started in 1979 in California and thought to myself, kindly, should a punk rock band be playing almost 40 years later? 

Punk rock is an immediate thing. It’s hasty and impatient. It happens because it has to happen, right then and there. It explodes onto all of us and what's to follow is of no one’s concern. It’s do or die music. Punk bands who played years ago, like Agent Orange, did it to live. Not to be able to make a career, but because it was their only way to exist in this world. Those bands weren’t filled with great musicians. They weren’t looking for the golden ring as they circled around the country time and again in busted-up vans littered with taco wrappers and dirty socks. They didn’t do it for record deals or money. It just had to be done, and they'd be fooling themselves if they didn’t deliver it, usually on their own dime and sleeping on someone else’s living room floor. 

I then saw Agent Orange that night and thought ... why do it now? I’m not complaining. I’m psyched to be able to see them, but why do they need to do this? I can imagine there’s more pressure on them now more than ever. Now they need the money, they need to pay bills, they need to feed others. It’s weird to think, but now these older bands, punk bands specifically, are doing it to make a living. How ironic to see a band decide in their later years to make a go of it. 

Reality set in though when Dexter from Flat Duo Jets mentioned on stage that their check from the previous night’s gig bounced and they had $300 between the two of them. Yet there they were, still playing. It's what you have to do, right? Try to get paid, sell shirts, and put gas in the tank to make it to the next city to do the same thing. They play to get paid to play again. Amazing. Even 30 or 40 years later, some of these acts are still living the right way.  

Mark Curdo is the director of lifestyle & entertainment branding for Shipyard Brewing Company and longtime host of the Spinout radio show now on Sunday nights from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. on 94.3 WCYY.

Your ultimate summer music playlist

A few months ago the weather was pretty decent, at least for the end of winter. I remember thinking, I hope that’s it. I hope we’re in the clear now. I’m not normally an anti-winter or snow person. Just last year. Last year I wasn’t feeling the winter one bit. I do love to see my friends having fun hitting the slopes and enjoying mountain area activities. It’s been a bumpy few years for our winter business, so you like to see them have it go their way a little bit each year. Last year, I was not in winter wonderland mode at all.   

As the weather stayed, decent, for most of March and April; I also remember thinking that we’re gonna pay for this. Easy winter must make lame start to the summer. We can’t have it all, right? And so it is. The weather has sucked recently! I’m not expecting 85 degree days every single day, nor do I really want that ever, but I’ve had a friggin’ jacket on most of the last two weeks.  

Well, one thing is for sure, we can’t do nothin’ about the weather. Mother Nature isn’t taking requests. We can, however, build a little fire of inspiration and anticipation for the good stuff that should be happening with more consistency. I asked a few local music friends to shoot me a summer kick off playlist. Ten songs you’d put on a mixtape/playlist to fire up some spirit of summer! Which will be coming soon, I think.

I’ll start off things with this blend. 

Jr. Walker & The All-stars “Shotgun”

Cheap Trick “California Man” 

The Blueskins “Stupid Ones” 

The Clash “Clampdown”

Otis Redding “Satisfaction” 

The Strangeloves “I Want Candy”

Lou Reed “I Love You, Suzanne” 

The Who “Run Run Run”

J. Geils Band “Night Time”

Curtis Mayfield “Move On Up”

The Smiths “Panic” (bonus track)

Kris Rodgers (musician, Kris Rodgers and the Dirty Gems)

The Role Models - “Radio”

The Beach Boys - “Girl From New York City”

Corin Ashley - “Little Crumbles”

The Casanovas - “Born To Run”

Jeremiah Freed - “Don’t Go Hungry”

Holy Boys Danger Club - “City Kid Town”

Biters - “Hang Around”

Bullet Proof Lovers - “I Am My Radio”

The Wildhearts - “I Want To Go Where The People Go”

The Hellacopters - “Before The Fall”

Bri Lane (musician, singer/songwriter) 

Arcade Fire - “Everything Now”

The Shelters - “Rebel Heart”

Roosevelt - “Fever” 

Alt-J - “Left Hand Free”

Aurora - ”Running With the Wolves”

Sigma feat. Birdy - “Find Me”

Lorde - “Green Light”

Pacific Air - “Float”

Coldplay - “Strawberry Swing”

Broken Bells - “The High Road”

Jeff Beam (musician, singer/songwriter) 

Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti - “Farewell American Primitive”

Mac Demarco - “Freaking Out the Neighborhood”

Jaw Gems - “Graymalkin”

Deerhoof - “Scream Team”

Broadcast - “Pendulum”

Chris Cohen - “As If Apart”

Shuggie Otis - “Strawberry Letter 23”

Grizzly Bear - “Southern Point”

Big Thief - “Masterpiece”

Ruth Garbus - “Certain Kind”

Tom Long (owner, Long’s Board Shop) 

Mariachi El Bronx - “48 Roses”

NERD - “Rock Star”

Warpaint - “Disco//Very”

Operation Ivy - “Soundsystem”

Box Car Racer - “I Feel So”

Beastie Boys - “Flute Loop”

311 - “Stealing Happy Hours”

Walking Concert - “Animals”

Transplants - “California Babylon”

Jane's Addiction - “Summertime Rolls”

 

Nick Lavallee (comedian, musician “Donaher”)

Theo Katzman - "As The Romans Do"

Spose - "King Of Maine"

Big Grams - "Fell In The Sun"

Mighty Mighty Bosstones - "Noise Brigade"

The Menzingers - "Your Wild Years"

The Hold Steady - "Constructive Summer"

A Tribe Called Quest - "Can I Kick It?"

Fountains of Wayne - "Radiation Vibe"

Weezer - "Holiday"

Donaher - “Heather”

Myles Bullen (hip hop artist, teacher, motivator, peace maker)

Earth Person - “Flower Honey Bee”

Ayla Nereo - “It's Okay” 

Erykah Badu - “Honey”

Watsky - “Strong As An Oak”

Anderson Paak - “The Bird”

Kendrick Lamar - “I” (music video version)

Chance The Rapper - “Blessings”

Shane Reis - “Smile”

Robert Glasper - “Thinkin ‘Bout You”

Janelle Monae - “Q.U.E.E.N”

Tim Patrick Emery (musician, genius at Buckdancers Choice)

The Beatles - “Here Comes the Sun”

Eddie Cochran - “Summertime Blues”

The Ramones - “Rockaway Beach”

The Trashment - “Surfin' Bird”

Mungo Jerry - “In the Summertime”

Desmond Decker and the Aces - “The Israelites”

The Beach Boys - “Fun Fun Fun”

Kiss - “Shout it Out Loud”

Edgar Winter Group - “Frankenstein”

The Beach Boys - “Sail On Sailor”

Radio Loses a Legend: Rodney Bingenheimer, after four decades on air, hosts his last show

Unless you’re deeply involved in the music world, and even then it might be a stretch, you probably wouldn’t know much about radio DJ’s from around the country.

There's one you should know about though. I mean, when you’re the first DJ in the country to break artists like The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, David Bowie, Blondie, Nirvana, Van Halen, The Clash, Green Day, Oasis, Devo, Cheap Trick, X, Duran Duran, The Smiths and tens of thousands of others; you deserve some recognition. 

For 41 years, Rodney Bingenheimer has hosted a radio show, “Rodney on the ROQ” on LA’s KROQ-FM. First cracking the airwaves in 1976, Bingenheimer has been the most important channel for breaking new artists in the world. No one in radio, media in general, or the music industry has done more to expose and suggest more important new artists like Rodney has during his time on air. 

Prior to all the radio and industry involvement, he was just a passionate fan. He grew up a pop music fan in the 50‘s and 60‘s, collecting magazines with his favorite artists in them. He listened to a transistor radio at his home in Mountain View, California. When he was old enough to get out of the house, he sought out the artists he followed, wanting to be close to all that was going on. He became friends with many of his favorites and even doubled as Davey Jones in a Monkees movie. 

Some felt the young Bingenheimer was nothing more than a groupie, but what people don’t understand is that this was a person overtaken spiritually, emotionally and physically by all the excitement and appeal of pop rock music and Hollywood. He was drawn into it all. 

As the 60’s gave way to the 70’s, Bingenheimer’s involvement and contributions went beyond the fan clubs and became more substantial. With stints at records labels, working press and promotions for artists like Linda Ronstadt and Rod Stewart to name a few, Rodney’s contacts were growing and his ears were resolutely pointed toward the LA music scene. 

After a trip to England (where David Bowie’s manager stole Rodney’s girlfriend) our radio titan would head home alone with his head hung low, but with an arm full of new records from overseas. Love works in mysterious ways. Upon his return, he would open the legendary music venue, “The English Disco” which introduced the LA Sunset Strip to the world of glitter and glam rock. Artists like Sweet, Bowie, T-Rex, NY Dolls and Iggy Pop played weekly at the club. It was the place to be. 

In the mid 70’s, Bingenheimer found an open slot on the radio at the LA rock station KROQ. His show couldn’t have debuted at a better time. Between punk, glam, power pop and new wave in his first four years on air, Bingenheimer became the gateway to all that’s cool and all that you would soon bow to in the world of music. 

He gave a shot to unknowns and local acts too. During the show, he fed listeners what they weren’t getting. He debuted Oasis off a demo cassette sent to him. Now and then, David Bowie might call up the show. Brian Wilson recorded the theme to Rodney’s show! There’s simply no one in radio since 1976 more important. When we include those before him into the conversation like Wolfman Jack, Alan Freed, Cousin Brucie, Murray the K and others; Rodney is still in the top bunch. 

Bingenheimer’s handprints are all over each of us in terms of the music and culture that has shaped the last four-plus decades. 

Last week new management at KROQ announced changes were being made to its lineup and Rodney would no longer be needed to host his show after 41 years. Was the show by the now 69 yr. old really in the way? His show started off in primetime but has resided at the disrespectful time slot of midnight to 3 am on Sundays for a while now. According to a post on Bingenheimer’s Facebook page, he said “I didn’t leave KROQ, in fact, KROQ is really leaving me. I may be done with KROQ, but I am not retiring.” 

I’ve been lucky to have Rodney as a guest on the phone for my show, Spinout on WCYY. I gave him a full hour on the show in which we played some artists like the Ramones, Devo and Cheap Trick. He still remains my favorite guest to this day. At the end of every show, I thank him. I was planning to have him back on again soon, then the news broke that radio lost again. 

There’s a terrific documentary about Rodney you can find on Netflix called, “The Mayor of Sunset Strip”. I’ve watched it easily 15 times, but fair warning it’s as heartbreaking as it is mind blowing and inspiring. 

In the film, KROQ DJ, Jed The Fish (no longer on air) gave a quote that always burned my ass. He says, “It’s unbelievable that someone could be in the music business this long and help so many people... and just be in it because they love the music.”

That is why you are in it, because you love the music! You’re on a boat because you love the sea and fishing. Your arms are elbow deep in malts and grains because you love making beer. You have a massive collection of first editions because you love to read or write books. This world needs to stop questioning those who are passionate about things and start embracing them instead. Because passion nurtures creativity. 

Rodney’s last show is this coming Sunday night from midnight to 3 am. You can listen live at kroq.com

Looking back on a special recording time with Spencer Albee

Listening to Relentlessly Yours the latest album from Spencer Albee, I hit a moment here and there when I was thrown back to a prior memory of one of his other projects. I have to think it’s impossible for someone who’s been along for the ride as a fan not to think about his previous doings at some point of enjoying the new record. This guy has been busy alongside us for over two decades.

As I traveled through clever new songs laced with all kinds of keyboard and organ sounds, playful timing, sweet background vocals and always in season sleigh bells, I was thrown back to all the great work this guy has done. The Rustic Overtones stuff alone is enough to hang your hat on. That wasn’t going to happen though. If anything, that was the launch pad for Spencer to truly fly his way.

His own way has come in various ways. The first was the fun, all over the place project, “The Popsicko”, which allowed him to shake a bunch of styles at people. That lead to the pop rock, suit & tie offerings of Rocktopus, which a couple of years later molded into As Fast As and scored Spencer another record deal and another chance at the big time. Of course, we all know around that time, in 2003-2004 the music industry was becoming... well, something else. I’ll refrain from my accurate and passionate description of what the industry became and just say that due to a changing world of music and the state of the world at his record label, Spencer and As Fast As wouldn’t get the full shot they deserved. They would shift to operate out of home base here in Portland and continue to put out records maintaining the fanbase they worked hard for and earned from around the country.

AFA eventually called it a day, but Spencer was just getting warmed up. Adventurously, he would pull together ten wonderful musicians and friends to form Spencer and the School Spirit Mafia, a fine blend of influences from the Beatles, middle-era Kinks, Johnny Cash, and your high school marching band after a few drinks.

After a year plus with the Mafia came Space Vs. Speed, a slightly newer alternative rock approach for Spencer. SvS included other local music legends Walt Craven (6Gig, Lost on Liftoff) and Neil Collins (Twisted Roots, Murcielago), but that wasn’t meant to be either unfortunately. What would follow that band would be a string of solo releases as Spencer and Spencer Albee, which is where we’re at now with this popular, new release. Spencer Albee, Relentlessly Yours.

I’m not sure there’s a more appropriately titled local album in history that this one. The guy has never stopped working at his craft or eased up on his production of albums for us to have.

Spencer has once again compiled a great mix of talented folk to help bring his music alive: Renee Coolbrith, McCrae Hathaway, Scott Mohler, Blythe Armitage and his former As Fast As drummer Andrew Hodgkins are all on board for the latest journey with Spencer. It's a journey I hope will stay the course for a little while as he once again has an amazing set of musicians on his side and a terrific record to support. Better judgment tells me though that he probably already has his next album started and well underway. If so, we won’t be surprised. With a now remarkable 20 studio releases under his belt, the one thing Spencer Albee will never be is idle. That relentlessness has aways been there, lucky for us.

In my ongoing, STILL un-named series (I Once Caught a Fish This Big or Have I Got a Story For You), Spencer took a break from rehearsing with his band for next week's album release show to share a memory of recording in a busy place with As Fast As a few years back.

Spencer Albee:

In 2004, As Fast As had the pleasure of working with producer Matt Wallace (Faith No More, Replacements, Maroon 5) at the legendary and recently cinematically memorialized Sound City studios in Van Nuys, CA. Throughout the two-plus months of recording there and Matt's studio which shared a courtyard with Sound City, we were treated to an audience with a cavalcade of influential luminaries.

Jermaine Jackson took an interest in us and even brought his family over for a listen to what we were up to one day. I crushed a week's worth of coffee and cigarettes in 2 or 3 days with Chad Smith. Hell, Zach Jones was even mistaken for Tom Morello by his guitar tech and was nearly handed Tom's iconic guitar.

My most fond memory was sharing a lobby/kitchenette with Josh Homme, who was in Studio B cutting an Eagles of Death Metal record while we were recording basic tracks in Studio A. We chummed around a lot and were even invited (through sheer necessity of hands) to provide some claps for one of their songs.

We hoped that Josh would play some guitar on one of our songs, but that never came to fruition on account of who the fuck were we? AND they were in the middle of making a record. I still wonder what that would have sounded like, though. He's the one that got away.

Check out Spencer’s album release show June 2 at Port City Music Hall and visit him online at spenceralbee.com or on Facebook at Spence Albee Official. 

Chris Gervais enters the local scene like a bat out of hell

I love it when family members show up to a party and shake things up. 

I’ve always been intrigued by bands with family members in them; Van Halen, Kings of Leon, The Kinks and CCR, etc. More times than not, drama comes along for the ride. It can fuel the writing and the music or it can kill everything dead in the studio and backstage. Brotherly love doesn’t always belong in rock n roll. 

Locally we’ve seen some family affairs over the years. There’s been Twisted Roots, The Wrecking, Spencer and the School Spirit Mafia, Mallett Brothers Band and Sygnal to Noise to name a few. With the Gervais brothers, Kyle and Chris; what was once some dabbling in music together thirteen years ago (on Kyle’s first EP for his band, Cosades) has now led them to become full on bandmates. 

Chris, the younger Gervais, recently took the drum seat for older brother Kyle’s pop rock/hip hop/pop/r&b/alt rock/electronic get up known as, KGFREEZE. What’s to come from that? Who the hell knows. If you know Kyle, anything is possible and mostly likely will happen. And more. 

Keeping busy, Chris is breaking into the scene in various ways. With former band Cool Tara helping to introduce himself to local crowds, Chris Gervais is moving towards a busy sophomore stage.

Besides drumming for KGFREEZE, Chris is also a part of the band, Wedding Camp, he’s started a cassette-only record label and he’s fired up a new music series at Geno’s aimed to shine a light on local upstarts. A light that’s been too dim in recent years. Or maybe it's been accidentally unplugged. New bands, new label, new local club night... this guy's got his work cut out for him!   

You're finally fully in a band with your brother now playing drums in KGFREEZE. Being brothers, is it just smart to take it all day by day and see what happens? Because with brothers in bands, you just never know what’s going to happen.

I think being older and having our own families definitely makes a difference. We don't get to spend as much time together as we used to, so we channel all of that into the band. Plus Nate Carll is back on guitar (from the Cosades days with Kyle) and having my good friend Jason Engler (and co-creator of the tape label with me) on bass has definitely created a familiar, close, fun environment, too.

A few years back you became a lot more active in the music scene stepping out with Cool Tara and releasing a couple of EPs. For someone so close to music for so long, why did it take you so long to become more active in the local music scene? 

To be honest, I'm not sure how to answer that. I was at a pretty weird point in life and was struggling with a lot of issues and decided I needed an outlet. I chose music and during a very weird time in the Portland scene, too. It took me a while to find the right people to seriously start a band with, and by the time it all came to fruition, I was already 25. I think a big factor of Cool Tara being so successful was the fact that nobody knew us and we were fresh, different and unknown. That's unheard of now.

With the music industry being a total mess, you up and start a record label called, "Are You Kidding Me?" that only releases cassettes. The vinyl resurgence has been stronger than ANYONE expected, but cassettes seems to be hurtling along in its big comeback. I've seen them popping up a bit more over recent years, but what was your gut telling you when you started that operation? To put music out only on tapes in 2017.  

I just started to see that CD's are a dying outlet and vinyl is too expensive. So why not tapes? That's when Jason Engler and I decided to start “Are You Kidding Me?” In the past couple years, the resurgence of tapes has been overwhelming, to the point that now big artists are releasing tapes themselves. So we decided to help bands out. Allow them to get their music out there and onto a format that isn't going to cost an arm and a leg. 

Do you sit there at a dual cassette deck and reel off those puppies? 

Jason does a lot of the dealings with artwork and finances and I find the bands and organize the releases. We have a couple of different people locally who duplicate the tapes for us. Other times we do it by ourselves.

The live scene is stronger than it's ever been in Portland in terms of activity. A major portion of that activity is from national touring acts, which is great, but too many people forget about the super music we already have right here in town. Talk about the new evening of local music at Geno’s to help spotlight that local need. 

There's a number of incredible local bands in Portland that are busting their asses and don't get the recognition they deserve. So I decided, why not showcase these bands? And make the shows free? Get people out. Discover new stuff. Kaitlyn Tierney and Brooke Binion and everyone else at Geno's has been nothing but incredible with being behind me on this idea.

These days, what's the biggest problem stopping the progress of our scene in your opinion? 

Nobody wants to pay $10 for a show. $10 cover, plus drinks, plus any merch you plan on buying...that's an expensive fucking evening. More DIY spaces, more house shows, any sort of place where a show can be held and people can feel safe and have a good time.

Visit Chris (and Kyle) and Facebook.com/kgfreezemusic and check out the cassette label at Facebook.com/AYTKtapes

 

What you should know about this week in local music

Jeremiah Freed fully let the cat out of the bag last week. After years of inactivity on a collective level, the band (with replacement drummer Andy Cosby) have a new EP of music on the way and now a show to celebrate that new music. It’s been 10 years since the band played live together — longer than that for any release of music — so this is a big return year for the fellas. Tickets are on sale now for their album release show, Aug 19 at Portland House of Music and Events.

 

Biddeford rockers Sygnal To Noise have unfortunately lost their drummer Austin Cooper to upcoming family life and other interests. They found quite the replacement, though — our good friend Sonny Robinson (Twisted Roots) will fill the drum seat going forward for the band as they get set to release a new album called, Horns High on July 1. (At print time, we couldn’t confirm if Sonny needed to borrow Austin’s drum set or not. We’ll keep you posted ... in case you might have a kit to lend Sonny.) 

 

Fans of Dominic and the Lucid will be happy to know that although the band is no longer, the members are all steady busy. Drummer Chuck Gagne is rocking the sticks and brushes for the Mallett Brothers Band. Keyboardist/guitarist/producer/multi-tasker Scott Mohler is playing with Spencer Albee’s new outfit as well as with Lucid frontman and main man Dominic Lavoie on Dom’s new solo EP Mariposa will be out towards the end of the summer and will feature both Lucid guys as well as John Nels, Pete Genova, Mike Chasse, and Justin Wily. Dominic released one tune already, “Midnight Wind” on cassette for Record Store Day at Bull Moose. You might be able to still find some out there. The tape that is. Cassette decks? Check out Electric Buddhas or Flea-For-All for that action! You can hear more of Dominic’s new stuff live at Bayside Bowl on May 27.  

 

About a month ago, Spose released his phone app/video game, “The King of Maine." The app took much time and much money to make, but the votes are in: it’s a smash hit. It was the #2 music app the day it was released. Pretty damn impressive. Not #2 in Maine, #2 overall on iTunes! That’s some crazy stuff folks. The #2 selling music app, overall. Crazy! The more points you pile up playing the game the more free songs you can unlock from his latest album, Good Luck With Your Life. If you could care less about playing the game or battling Maine’s Governor in his office in the final round, you can go and pick up the CD (produced by God.Damn.Chan) as it was just released physically at Bull Moose last Friday.

 

Kevin Oates and his sensational Maine Youth Rock Orchestra just released a fully recorded/produced and mastered track called, “Love Me Again." A total of 23 high school students (all 17 or younger) recorded the song with Kevin Billingslea at Halo Studios. The song was written and mapped out by their 17-year-old pianist and vocalist, Sophia James. One listen and you’ll be absolutely blown away at what Sophia and MYRO made there. Listen for yourself. It’s on local radio all over this week and rightfully so. If we have talent like this to look out for in the years to come from MYRO and other outfits, music in Maine does luckily have a wonderful future.

 

The hardest working man in local show business, Brzowski recently dropped a new single, “To The Fellow Travellers”, produced by Milled Pavement label mate C Money Burns. For now, you can find it on his Bandcamp page. Hurry though, it sounds like the single might go away soon. The full album comes out the end of summer with a release show slated for SPACE Gallery. Until then, surely Brzo will tour the country about nineteen more times. It’s what he does.

 

The All Roads Music Festival is set to kick in for a third year next week, May 20 in Belfast. In a town beloved for its Curling rink, some of the best acts in the northeast pile into town to bring music to a spot that doesn’t get it as easily as we do down here. Great intentions Meg! Meg Shorette who also runs the show at Port City Music Hall has brought together about three dozen acts including the legendary Dave Mallett, Spose, Weakened Friends, Kenya Hall, Spencer Albee, Paranoid Social Club, The Mallett Brothers Band, Jeff Beam, Dan Blakeslee and much more. Jump over to the festival’s FB page for the full schedule and details.

 

If you can’t make it up to Belfast for All Roads, maybe hit a show in town that will support a family in need. An awful car accident in Gorham just before Christmas took the lives of two members of the Piawlock family; the father and one of their young daughters. Join the sensational Anna Lombard and ska-rockers El Grande at Port City Music for a show to raise funds and support for a family in our community hurting in the worst way possible. A Night of Love, Light and Peace for the Piawlocks starts at 7 pm. Silent auction and raffle also to take place.   

 

Pop singer/songwriter Amy Allen has just released her fifth EP, titled Get Me Outta Here, exclusively to Bull Moose for the first month. So grab your copy and look for Amy on the WCLZ stage at the Old Port Fest next month.  

 

New records on the way from Sarah Violette (formerly "Lady Essence") by late June produced by God.Damn.Chan, “Scapegoat” the album from KGFREEZE releases in June (featuring a slight return to the sound of Kyle Gervais' earlier band Cosades and the return of Cosades guitarist Nate Carl), the new Kris Rodgers and the Dirty Gems full album will come out by mid-July and Acadia will have a new EP by August.   

The Subtraction of Music Plus In Biddeford

It has the things you want when you go into a record shop. Slight organization, newer and older stuff, below shelf stuff, a musty intake, various formats and all of it un-kept in the highest degree.

Wedged tightly into the old Main Street shops in downtown Biddeford is Music Plus, owned for 27 years by Henry Vigue, the last 17 years at 140 Main Street in Biddeford. 

I heard from another record store owner earlier this year that Henry was contemplating closing. He was tired, and the reality of the decline in music sales had gotten to him. Eventually, some Biddo-area friends confirmed the news — Music Plus would be closing. The signs were up on the windows. The 10 percent off sale had begun. Upon hearing the news, I made a mad dash to the store. Not really to take advantage of the discount (even though I did, of course), but I felt I needed to be there at least once more. Something extra was calling me to Henry’s shop. 

music biddeford

Although I didn’t grow up in Biddeford, a closing record store still hits me. That shop is any shop. It’s one less place I can find these things that fill my life and my home. I’ve only known of Music Plus for a few years, but in that short time, I’ve made a point to re-visit a few times a year.

I made my way to Henry’s shop last week with a heavy heart. He was nestled in the cluttered back room on his computer most likely posting new items on his eBay store, which will continue his business after he closes the doors to his brick-and-mortar shop.

Upon entry, the store looks the same. (It always does, really.) Nothing is ever obvious or sticking out waiting to be bought. That’s just fine, because it’s under the covers where you must always look. Lazy window-shopping isn’t the way of true record digging. Some Cream and Byrds on the stereo as the creaking of the shelves and floor adds to the choir.  

I had a hard time going through the “A” section, as it seemed to be picked clean. Nothing but skin and bones left. I’m already well stocked in ABC and AC/DC anyways. As I started to flip into “B,” with Bowie, Beatle and Black Flag optimism, I hear from the back room. “How goes it?” Henry started walking my way, and all of a sudden my search became less important.

“So that it, huh,” I asked Henry. “Yup, it’s time,” he replied. His realization affirms for me that we’re probably going to be hearing more of this in the years to come, locally. (I have to think Mike in Sanford, Bob in Waterville and Bob in Portland are getting a bit tired as well. Surely, swiping for your music has hit them where it hurts too.)

Henry went on to say he was actually doing great with sales online and that’s helping to weaken the blow of closing the store. He remembered times when he could sell 400/500/600 singles in one day of a hit song. He cherished the times when his family was in the shop with him — working, learning and having fun.

We talked about the good and the bad of today’s music world and pinpointed when things started to go wrong for everyone. We talked about vinyl’s resurgence and its staying power. As we chatted, various types of people came in there for various types of records, DVDs and CDs. Adults, adults with kids, hipsters, and friends of Henry’s scattered around the shop.

Derek Mills, drummer for local band Gunther Brown, popped by while I was there. A frequent shopper, Mills was also bummed about the news. He stopped by to find something one last time. “I was always able to come across a couple of random finds,” reminisced Mills. “Downtown Biddeford is growing, which is great, but we’re also losing the staples that drew some of us locals there in the first place.” We shared our misery for Henry’s closing. (We also talked some Celtics, ‘cause that’s something else I do.) Derek eventually made his way out of the store with a copy of “Thriller” on wax, some cassettes and a vintage Cheap Trick shirt.

As the store got busier, I gave Henry his space and ventured towards the black hole of 45's he keeps in the back. He’s got a nice pool of singles. I made my own stack of about 50 to bring home. That jukebox I eventually buy someday will be sensationally filled!    

A couple hours went by, and the cakey build-up on my fingers from the must and dust of the old albums was getting to me. I shuffled through soundtracks, easy listening, the posters, books, CDs, one-dollar CDs, his Beatles 45’s and the entire vinyl section A-Z. I almost even pulled the trigger on an autographed Dick Curless 45, but it was made out to someone named Richard I think. Or Reginald. Regina maybe.

Henry sells album sleeves behind the counter so I asked for a couple dozen of those. I found myself wanting to pick up a few more things. Not necessarily because I needed them, but because I wanted to give back. Back to Henry, back to this shop which again to me, was any shop.

Record stores have done so much for me in life. They've been a place to find my music, to find new music and to learn about music. A place to meet new friends. A place to see culture and style, attitude and personality. A place to find some sense of calm. I’m off the grid, off the radar and out to lunch there. I’m in my element. For that, I feel grateful to record stores. I’m not foolish enough to overlook the business done there, but to me, it’s beyond business.

The aisles you walk down are filled with potential. The potential on those shelves can inspire you, comfort you, empower you, motivate you, sedate you. It can create love or set the table for it. It can be recycled for future music use made by other musicians. It can drive someone to pen and paper, guitar or piano, to make their own piece of potential. Record stores are life. That’s not a t-shirt slogan. That’s something I truly believe. 

Although the rental life in Music Plus is going soon (you have until the end of May to visit Music Plus), what it’s given me and anyone else reading this who’s bought music from there will never go away. The music is with us and in us now. It moves on with us. That being said, record stores will never truly go away. They’re part of our lives. Much more than whatever a $1.29 click gives us.  

 

Music Plus | 140 Main St., Biddeford | www.henrymusicplus.com       

 

Munjoy Hill is changing. Single-family homes that have stood for generations are being demolished and replaced with condos. Historically cheap rents and regional dialects are being replaced with nearly inaccessibly expensive housing and a vernacular of American English with much less distinction. In the midst of all of the new development, there is a structure as much a part of the city’s landscape and culture as the grueling incline of the hill itself.

The Abyssinian Meeting House is that place. As Pamela Cummings, President of the Board of Directors at the Abyssinian tells us, the group is looking to raise $67,000 to complement a grant from the state of Maine to restore the building. To raise awareness of the project, and the Abyssinian's role in supporting and preserving African-American art and culture in Maine and New England, the non-profit has brought in a signature artist to help with their mission.

That person is Daniel Minter. For Daniel, a painter and Maine transplant, the seeming impracticality of art and artistry is being used for practical means. For the month of May, Minter will show an installation of paintings and illustrations, work he's made over the last 10 years collected in a show titled A Distant Holla. Along with other local artists in an affiliated Black Artists Forum, Minter's work will be shown in Munjoy Hill's historic building as part of a month-long series of events meant to bring together artists of color from all over the area, and raise awareness for the importance of maintaining culturally-significant landmarks like the Abyssinian.

Mr. Minter and I shared a park bench on a picturesque Saturday morning in late April to discuss the event at the Abyssinian, and his role in helping to develop a sense of community in Portland for other artists of color.

Jason Cunningham: ​I appreciate you offering up your time for this interview, Daniel. I was doing some research on you, and noticed that in a TEDxDirigo talk [from 2012] you say you’re from “... a place where nothing new ever happens…” Can you tell me more about that?

Daniel Minter: I say nothing new ever happens because everything that ever happens there [in the South] has clearly happened before — in the ways families interact, in the ways the culture is structured. It may happen to a generation and then not happen to the next generation and then happen to the generation after that. So there’s a timelessness about it.

JC: ​What brought you to Portland and how does it feel being a black man “from away” in the whitest state in the country?

DM: Well, I came to Portland indirectly. I didn’t come straight from Georgia to Portland. I moved around a bit. And once you leave your community — whether you are black, white or what — you begin to try to reform community wherever you go. And the people who you choose to form community, it really doesn’t matter the color of those people.

But when there is no black community it can be much more difficult, because all of the rules are different. It’s a learning of new rules for building community, and for building relationships. That’s the difference.

JC: ​What specifically led you to this city?

DM: I moved here from Chicago with my wife 14 years ago. She got recruited to [work at] L.L.Bean and we picked up and moved here.

JC:​ Excellent! So there’s a month of events coming up at the Abyssinian that feature your work. Can you talk about that a little bit and why you are so involved with the Abyssinian?

DM: The Abyssinian has been under restoration since I moved here—

JC: —since I was a kid—

DM: —yeah, and it’s always been a really powerful symbol of the African-American community in Maine. Now it’s mostly the effort of artists that I feel are needed to bring a sense of functionality to the building so that it’s not just being restored because it is old, because it's historic. It has a function. It has a purpose. I wanted desperately to demonstrate that it doesn’t have to be pristine and perfect and finished in order for it to function for the community. That’s the idea behind wanting to get artists involved inside that building.

JC: ​Why “A Distant Holla?”

DM: “A Distant Holla” is a very loose term. I’m sure it will mean different things to different people, but for me, it’s one call that I’ve always been listening out for and listening to and trying to respond to and react to in a positive way. It is also my call, my ask of the universe, of the world. And I wonder if anyone hears it. I feel like now everyone is listening and that distant holla is louder than ever. I mean that for all of the country. It can’t be ignored. How can you ignore a cry for help? How can you ignore a beautiful song that you hear? It’s responding to your environment, your situation. The situation with the Abyssinian, and with the artists of color here, is that we need to combine our efforts. We need to create things together. We need to exchange ideas. We need to build on each other’s ideas.

JC: ​Do you think that there’s a considerable level of fragmentation to the community of artists of color in this city? Do you think people work well together?

DM: Artists will work on their own no matter what. It’s what we will do. But we’re stronger when we have an environment of artists. In Maine, it’s difficult to get that environment of artists of color. It’s difficult for us to bounce ideas off of each other because there’s so little contact, and there’s no place or no given time for that. That’s why over 10 years ago we formed the Black Artist Forum. It’s to share ideas and grow our craft and our skill in art. Our creative practice was in an environment that understood the context in which we’re working. Not working toward the art world’s goals, but working toward our goals.

JC: ​I’ve seen some of your work and one of the things that struck me the most is that there’s a very high level of organization to what you do. Everything is very intentional. There seems to be very little you do in the way of going off the cuff. It’s like you have a vision when you sit down to do something and you work toward creating that vision. Has your work always been like that or is that something you’ve consciously tried to work toward?

DM: It’s always been that way because I’m always searching for something. When I start these, I have an idea of what I’m searching for. I don’t know where I’m necessarily going to end up with it, but I do know what I’m searching for and I’m trying my best to get there. Sometimes I end up saying less than I want to and sometimes I say more. I also never forget that I am not speaking only for myself when I create artwork. I’m speaking for my sisters and brothers. My mother and father. My grandparents. My ancestors. I’m speaking for them too. I’m speaking for the community.

I’m not saying that because I’m making a really conscious effort to speak for the community. It’s just that we are judged, black people. We are all judged by each other’s deeds. Say for instance, you hear that some crime happens on the news. You hope he wasn’t black, because we are judged by every deed. And I don’t forget that when I’m creating work. It is just a condition of where we are. It doesn’t annoy me anymore. I just realize the world is a little different when people think they can create artwork just for them.

JC:​ How did you first hear about Malaga Island and do you know any of the descendants?

DM: Oh yeah! I’m friends with some of the descendants. I found out about Malaga upon moving here. There was not very much information about it. Then [when I was] working on the Portland Freedom Trail, I found out more about Malaga Island working with the Maine Historical Society, John Mosher’s pieces he wrote a long time ago [Ed: See "No Greater Abomination: Ethnicity, Class, and Power Relations on Malaga Island, Maine 1880-1912" by John P. Mosher, 1991 Masters Thesis, University of Southern Maine].

There were a couple people, distant relatives, who had done research on that, but it still seemed like a story that was not being told. So we decided to have a small convention of people who have interest in Malaga Island here, and talk about it and give presentations. Different people gathering different information doing different projects who would share that information with each other, so we had a good body of knowledge and could destroy all of the myths and propaganda that had been built up over a hundred years. It culminated in the Maine Coast Heritage Trust puting somewhat of a walking trail around the edge of the island and adding an information kiosk and making it a Malaga Island preserve. Also, Governor Baldacci gave a formal apology out on the island.

JC:​ Aside from being surrounded by people who likely can’t understand your personal struggles, what would you say is the biggest hurdle for an artist in this area?

DM: A lot of artists struggle with trying to make a living. It’s really difficult to make a living as an artist. You have to make some decisions. 'Okay, do I do artwork to sell when tourist season comes to make some money? Do I [make] what they expect to see?' I feel like there’s a place for that and it should be done, definitely. I enjoy that there are images that conjure Maine that artists can create and manipulate. That builds the Maine identity.

But artists don’t want to feel like they have to do that. There aren’t a lot of options outside of that for artists to do. Also, the arts community is difficult to navigate in this country and the world because artists are generally underappreciated. It’s just not valued; it's the types of things artists do. The fact that artists are expected to give their work away or do things for free, and only have their work valued if it has been declared valuable by someone else. That’s difficult for artists to handle.

JC:​ I’m a member of the Theater Ensemble of Color...

DM: TEoC (TEE-ock)!

JC:​ Yeah, TEoC! What was it about our organization that first drew your attention?

DM: Youth. Youth and a strong sense of identity. The sense of teamwork. Those kinds of things are necessary if you’re going to create any kind of artist community. You need young people involved. You need people who are willing to make mistakes, who are willing to do things wrong. Who don’t know how to do things. Who are finding out and discovering how to do things. That kind of energy to me is very inspiring. Very encouraging. It helps me, too. It affirms to me that young people understand my world. That’s important to me. It gives me gratification if young people can build off of my work.

JC: ​What do you see in the future for people of color in Portland insofar as life and art? What do you think the future’s gonna hold?

DM: I really think that because it is a small community, the energy that we can generate, I think it will be notable around the country. I think that people all around the country will begin to recognize the artists of color in Portland just like they recognize that Portland is an art-friendly city. I think it can be even more so. As it becomes more of an art-friendly city, I think that artists of color can become stronger and be viewed in a more active light. And [it will help] to be seen as a place where a young artist of color can find a community of other creative people that will collaborate and not be [like] the bizarre struggle of New York.

I see only positive things for artists of color in Portland. For instance: David Driskell, a premier African-American artist and scholar in the country, has been living here for years. He is a resource. And he has always offered himself as a resource, but there has been no way for the community of artists of color to take advantage of that resource.

JC: ​Do you think that with the Abyssinian being highlighted like it is this month could help to work toward having that place where artists of color can come together and really find those resources that maybe they didn’t know were there? Like mentorship and access to a facility where they can work?

DM: That kind of place can’t be the Abyssinian. But by helping the Abyssinian, it becomes clear that we can work collaboratively from lots of different disciplines.

JC:​ It’s seems to me that the history of the struggle of black people in this country has really been one of people coming together to produce great change. Do you feel like Portland is a great place to begin to implement that sort of collaborative community group effort and just push?

DM: I don’t know about it being a great place, but it’s the kind of place where it’s necessary. It’s necessary to our survival to do that and I think we all know that. So that’s why I’m positive about it. We know it’s necessary. It’s do this or disappear.

A Distant Holla, paintings, illustrations, and assemblages by Daniel Minter | Through May 31 | Abyssinian Meeting House, 75 Newbury St., Portland | www.abyme.org | 207.828.4995

 


 

Black Artists Forum at the Abyssinian Meeting House | May 

May 5:
"Opening Night," with artists Daniel Minter, Keita A. Whitten, Rafael Clariot, Titi de Baccarat, Derek Jackson, Elizabeth A. Jabar, Delaney Tucker, and students of color from Wayeflete and Roots and Fruits Preschool | 5 pm | Musicians Micheal Wingfield, Keita Whitten, Rodney Mashia, Samuel James, and Ahmad Kafari | 5:30 pm | Speech by Mr. Cummings | 6 pm | Theater Ensemble of Color | 6:15 pm | More Music | 7-8 pm
 
May 6
"Rise and Shine Youth Retreat," open mic with youth performances, performances by Theater Ensemble of Color, Zaya HMobb, and more | 6:30-9 pm 
 
May 13
Performance workshop with Rene Johnson | 10 am-12:30 pm  
Children's storytelling with Linda Ford | 1-3 pm
Printmaking workshop with Daniel Minter | 1-3 pm
 
May 17:
"Storytelling and Body Movement Workshop For Adults," with Nicole Mokeme | 6:30-8:30 pm 
 
May 19:
"Amazing Grace: The American Spiritual," performance by the Oratorio Chorale; with soloists Reginald Mobley and Mary Sullivan | St. Mary's Episcopal Church, 43 Foreside Rd., Falmouth | 7:30 pm | http://oratoriochorale.org/
 
May 20;
"Amazing Grace: The American Spiritual," performance by the Oratorio Chorale; with soloists Reginald Mobley and Mary Sullivan | St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 27 Pleasant St., Brunswick | 2 & 4 pm | http://oratoriochorale.org/
Performances by David Thete and Kesho Wazo | 6-9 pm
 
May 21: 
"Performance Festival," with Said Anwar Cato-King, Zaya HMobb, Hi Tiger, Patrick Jones, Super Dread, and Eric Simido | noon to 5 pm 
"Malaga Island Play Reading," with Christina W. Richardson and Jason Cunningham of Theater Ensemble of Color | 7-9 pm
 
May 25
"Bloodletting: A Night of Poetic Realness Dreamed by LaLa Drew" | 7-9 pm
 
May 28
"Theater Ensemble of Color Showcase," performance by Bridgette Kelly; film by Danie Kayamba 1-4 pm
 
All events at 75 Newbury St., Portland | Open daily noon-5 pm
 
 

It's Showtime For Aura!

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. 

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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.    

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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.

Matt Cosby and Jeremiah Freed’s Light Flickering Life Change

Just prior to the starting collapse of the music industry as we know it about 15 years ago or so, our music community got to sneak a few acts in the door before all hell broke loose. 

As some of you may remember, toward the end of the '90s we had a couple of shots. Unfortunately, the lack of follow through on some of those shots (Rustic Overtones, As Fast As, 6Gig) was no fault of their own. After these bands got signed and found a groove, their record labels started changing and folding left and right, keeping our boys and girls from making a big deserving dent in the music world. Our bands got themselves there with great records and fantastic music only to see the entire music game change thanks to fiber optic network wires and clouds. Oh, and people starting to de-value music. Can’t forget that.  

Into the 2000s, as the world started to download like their life depended on it, one more gang of young musicians from York got a quick go at it: Jeremiah Freed, a five-man rock band who played like they just rolled out of a studio in Muscle Shoals 45 years ago. This is a band who might have dared you on any given night to yell “Freebird” at a show of theirs and then would wipe that fake-ass smile off your face by blowing you away with their rendition. So much that you’d actually come to like the song and not use it to heckle anyone with again. 

Signing a classic rock-inspired band of 19- and 20-year-olds from Maine to a major record label in 2001 (minutes prior to the time of the emo and Warped Tour-ish phase) might still seem like a chancy move. But a label heard great songs, a supremely gifted guitar player and recognized the favorable response to this band’s regional success. That label bit down, breathed in the weed off the band’s clothes, and took a shot.         

Even though they made a go at it, played all around this great country of ours and laid out a big-time debut record, the Jeremiah Freed shot unfortunately didn’t last very long. Major labels aren’t ones to cuddle afterward. They hump and then throw on their black t-shirt and walk out the door if something’s not succeeding quick enough. They didn’t give Freed the proper development time, but that’s really been the way for too long with most big labels. Unfortunate for them, too, because just after their departure with the Universal Republic in 2002, Jeremiah Freed made their best music. Well, to date, back then.  

I’ve been catching up a lot lately with an ace of a human being and the bassist from Jeremiah Freed, Matt Cosby. Now a super talented photographer clicking wonderful sights and people from coast to coast, Matt had something to play me toward the end of last Summer. It was the rough demos of new music from Jeremiah Freed. It was damn tasty too. Even in rough demo form. Seems the fellas are ready for a 2017 return of sorts.  

This summer, the band (with Andy Cosby on drums, replacing original drummer Kerry Ryan) will release a collection of brand new music. Regardless of the state of the industry, Freed just wanted to make and release new music. They aren’t doing it with silly expectations or specific goals. It’s just a band getting back together to make great music again, at this particular stage in their lives. As years matured and strengthened these guys as people, surely the sweet soulfulness of their brand of rock has ripened as well.  

In my own ongoing series, stuck between the titles of, “I Once Caught A Fish This Big...”  Or “Have I Got a Story For You”; Matt Cosby remembers a crazy moment (and the three days that followed) when the head of one of the biggest record labels in the world called during band practice.  

Matt Cosby: 

This past March marks the 15th anniversary of our major label debut. With new music coming out this summer, it's fun to think back to the time when things really started to really pick up for us. 

We used to practice in our singer Joe Smith's mom's basement. She would always flick the lights on and off if we were playing too loud or if she had extra food in her fridge that she needed us to eat before it went bad

So it's a Friday afternoon and we're rehearsing and the lights flick on and off. We ask if we should turn down our amps and she yells down to us. "Ummm, there's this guy on the phone and he says he's the president of Universal Records, he wants to talk with all of you." We run up and it's Monte Lipman, President of Universal Republic Records. He tells us he's been listening to our music all week and he thinks we have a hit record. He requests we drive to NYC on Monday morning to sign a deal. "Bring five pens, our lawyers are already drawing up the contract," he said.

By the time Monday rolled around, pretty much every major label had heard that the president of Universal had called these five kids in York, Maine, and offered them a deal without even a showcase. So our manager lined up meetings with all the big labels and a bidding war broke out that day. 

After much deliberation, we ended up signing with Monte and Universal! We went from practicing in a basement in Maine on Friday to signing a big deal and discussing who would produce and mix our record in a high rise in Manhattan on Monday. 

Follow Matt’s photography at mattcosby.com and Jeremiah Freed as they gear up for their new release. www.facebook.com/jeremiahfreedofficial 

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