Mark Curdo

Mark Curdo

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 

Joe Royland: Death of a Music Salesman

Earlier this week, Transworld (the music and DVD retail company that owned Tape World, Record Town, Coconuts and Strawberries) closed its FYE location in the Maine Mall after 34 years of business. The big “SALE” signs, the pop culture toys and the “Ask Me About Pre-Ordering The Fast and the Furious 27 dvd” name tag buttons are all packed up for good.

The only thing that remains is the ghostly cries of a former customer, “Eighteen dollars for the new Metallica CD? What?!”


That FYE (For Your Entertainment) location in the Maine Mall was originally a Record Town upon its opening in 1983. Then it expanded to Record Town/Saturday Matinee from 1993-2007, which would give way to FYE until it’s close just hours ago.
Years ago, before Bull Moose covered so much ground, there were some individual mom and pop shops and the big chain stores. You went to the mom and pop shop for The Undertones, Venom and John Zorn records and when you wanted the new Madonna record or cassingle, you went to the mall stores.


Say what you will today, but mall locations back then were crucial. A happening place for younger folks. Yes, believe it or not, kiddos, back in the day the mall was... well, like Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s is to you today. Social city. But with better parking spaces! As a kid, you’d walk through the mall and maybe grab some cookies at Mrs. Fields, laugh at the T-shirts with boobs on them at Spencer's gifts and pop into Record Town for the new Motley Crue tape. Malls gathered us. It was safe turf, a playground for teens.  


Today, life is so different. Yet through phases, cultures, sounds, influences; Record Town/FYE somehow stood its ground. Amazingly really. The rent to set up shop in the mall? Yikes! No wonder they had to charge an arm and a leg for that stuff. Yet through so much change, Transworld’s Maine stores have weathered the storm. Until now.


With the loss of FYE, comes the loss of one of the greatest locals ever in music retail. Joe Royland started working for Transworld in the mall in 1985 via Tape World. A couple years later, they sent him across the hall to Record Town. Just this week Royland gave up his locker after 32 years of commitment to the mall music customer. He was hope that those stores could still sell decent music and turn younger folks onto quality artists they’d listen to forever. Joe is a fan, in and out of his store. Matter of fact, I see Joe more at Bull Moose and record conventions than anywhere. FYE was lucky to have him. Professional defined. A high-quality human on either side of the counter.


On the eve of his final price scan, I caught up with Joe to hear about what that store meant to him. In doing so, possibly making mall store haters step back a bit and realize we can’t be picky about music stores anymore while they’re washing away quickly with the times.


Do you remember when you started working for Transworld?


October of 1985 I started out part time. I was friendly with the manager the time, Rick Vaznis, from shopping in the store a lot. One day I saw someone new working there and I said "Why didn't you tell me you were hiring?" He said, "You want to work here?" Funny thing, his son has been working for us a couple of years now. Great kid.


What could Transworld have done in your opinion to better business?


I think we did a lot of things right, but one easy answer could be pricing. Being in a mall, your pricing is offset by very high rent. Our online presence dragged a bit. The renaming of the brand could have maybe been handled better. For Your Entertainment was always shown and spoken of with the acronym FYE. The problem with that is that a lot of people have no idea what kind of a place a store named FYE is!


What kept the fire burning for you to work there all these years?


Mainly, my undying passion for music. It's something that's been a part of me all my life. I love being connected to music on as many levels as possible. In the pre-internet days, having the inside scoop on what was coming out was a big plus. I also like being around like-minded people who shared my passion. My direct boss and I have worked together for so long that we truly have become more like family.


Were they open to your input?


Very much so. I was very much responsible for a lot of the product we carried in not just our store, but for others in our region as well.


What are your greatest memories from your years at the store?


We get a lot of famous folks who have done in-store appearances or shopped there over the years. Alice Cooper always stops by to shop when he's in town. We even had Robert Plant in the store just a few or so years back.


Are you done with music/entertainment retail now?


I think so, or at least I hope so. If the right situation came along, I might think differently. For now, though, I truly think it's time for something else. Plus, I have a new baby at home that I'd like to be able to spend more quality time with than retail often allows. I'm looking forward to not necessarily having to work every weekend, holiday and things like Black Friday and Christmas.


As we approach Record Store Day and your store closing its doors; what's your take on the future of physical music?


I think that places that understand not only their business and customer base, but their reasons for being in that business to begin with will continue to thrive. Media will always be changing, but our desire to consume and collect it, I don't think that's ever going to go away. Record Store Day as a good thing. Anything that helps get people into music stores, and gets them to reconnect with that music community experience is great. I hope that the "Record/Music Store" as I've come to know and enjoy it in my lifetime is still going to be there in the future for my son to enjoy the experience of as much as I have.  


Follow Joe on Facebook at “Sit and Spin with Joe” for his music reviews and videos. 

Would there be rock 'n' roll without Chuck Berry?

Here's a story on possibly the biggest regret of my life in the music industry.


A few years back, I read some wonderful news. I read that Chuck Berry still maintained a performance residency at Blueberry Hill, one of his favorite nightclubs in St. Louis. Since 1996, Chuck played there once a month, every single month. For almost two decades, the man most people credit with being the father of rock ‘n’ roll was right there at that club playing music for people. Imagine being able to stroll into a club and seeing Chuck Berry play, “Roll Over Beethoven” or “No Particular Place to Go."


Anyone could walk into a club once a month and watch Chuck Berry play “Johnny B. Goode!” Doesn’t that blow your mind just a little bit?
Well, it blew my mind. I sat back and thought about Chuck. This guy, along with a few others, started it all. They started everything. If Chuck Berry never existed there wouldn't be a Beatles or a Rolling Stones. The fact that he, at the time, was still with us alongside Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and Fats Domino was crazy to think about. To be alive the same time as them has been a special thing. Well, most of their years.
His impact on guitar playing and performance is bigger than anyone else’s. He was the first true, up front guitar player. He had the sass and the strut and the cheekiness like those before him (Louis Prima and Louis Jordan). Berry took inspiration to another level and created something brand new. Although he was influenced by Jordan’s music, especially his guitarist Carl Hogan, Berry broke out from the shadows of a big band setting. He was the center of attraction. He was the show, up front and for all to see. The songs, the often overlooked fantastic lyrics, his vocal tempo, the rumbling sound, the moves on stage, those devious wandering eyes as he played his songs; how could all of this talent be contained within one person back in the early ‘50s? He rattled the cage and let the animal out, and we’re all the better for it.   


So, after reading about this great access to Chuck Berry, I told myself surely I'd go and see him. I would fly to St. Louis, stay in town for a couple of days, see Chuck Berry play music and just maybe be able to wave to him or even yell out, “thank you” from a distance. As I was feeling more and more confident about my decision I realized, I’ll probably never see a more important music performance the rest of my life. I had the fire in my belly to make the journey.  


But as with too many things in my life, I dragged on my plans. Some months slipped by, and the next thing I knew Chuck wasn’t feeling well. Then for the first time in almost two decades, he stepped away from his monthly residency. I hoped he might return, but at that time — at 87 years old — it wasn't likely. Soon all hope to see him was lost. Every concert I’ve been to since then just hasn’t been good enough, you know? Knowing what I could have seen if I picked out a seat on Jet Blue quicker; I’m at a loss forever now and it’s only my fault.


When the world lost Chuck last week, it made me think that we should honor these few creators of rock ‘n’ roll while they’re still alive. I’ve mentioned it to friends before; how do the Grammys, The RnR Hall of Fame or the music industry as a whole not have an event to let these people shine on all they’ve created, one last time. Sure, we’ll make plenty of space to honor people who’ve been in the game for five minutes though and give Bruno Mars a lifetime achievement award, but what about the pioneers who crafted the modern music scene? Thanks to their work they also brought a divided country together under the airwaves and concert venues. The social ramifications of what they did changed life forever. They created the blueprint for rock ‘n’ roll while easing racial tensions; probably something worth celebrating, all the time.  

 
We should let these folks enjoy the warmth of more focused beams of adoring light onto them, their accomplishments and the chances they took. I think of the generation of music now and I wonder what will we celebrate and honor in 60 years? Twerking? A lack of true instrumentation? A trending post from Snapchat? We’re getting farther and farther away from music and the good things about music these days. Losing Chuck Berry and watching those other folks reach their finish line in life is a wake-up call in many ways.  


I had a couple friends from the rockabilly and old school rock ‘n’ roll world share their thoughts on Chuck and the lasting impression he left on the world.


Sean Mencher (musician)


Chuck Berry's guitar playing/singing/songwriting and duckwalking established rock n'roll music! Chuck with the Chess Records band featuring Willie Dixon (bass), Johnnie Johnson (piano) and Fred Below (drums), defined the big beat sound of rock 'n' roll music! Give yourself a gift and go listen to Chuck Berry: The Great Twenty-Eight! There are two types of music, BCB (Before Chuck Berry) and ACB (After Chuck Berry)!  
Thank you, Chuck Berry!


Bill O’Neil (Bill O’Neil’s House of Rock and Roll and radio DJ)


Numerous people tried to emulate Elvis, but nobody could really copy Chuck. Over the years you would hear knock-offs of who was popular at the time. Many would cover Chuck Berry songs. They were incredible timeless songs, but no one did them like him.


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.

I Still Don’t Leave Home Without It

Membership cards always have a place in my heart and wallet.

I’ve said it here plenty times before; I’m not anti-technology or against trends towards modernity, but I do like to stay close to the way things used to be when it feels right. 

I own iPhones, pods, and pads, so I’m not really in the dark. I mostly like that stuff just for the convenience of it all. I hate the cold, empty feeling of relying too much on technology, but it’s a necessary one to endure. I can’t carry hundreds of CD’s and records with me everywhere go. So, the convenience allows me to easily zip out tunes by The Dickies, The Spinners or The Godfathers, and enjoy them quickly on-the-go. 

A lot of people seem OK with the transition of not owning much “stuff” anymore. I understand that. Space becomes a problem. Married folks especially know what I'm talking about. Some people get older and just don’t give a shit about what the album cover looks like anymore. So, the album jacket or CD sleeve becomes expendable. Most people don’t want stuff. I get it. They just want what’s at the center of the Tootsie Roll Pop. Hey, I dig the Tootsie candy inside too, but I’m more of a fan of the candy around it too. 

We’re a society, a world that’s downsizing, depleting, and detaching from “stuff"; a world which seems beyond ready for flying cars and more Jetson family contraptions (they had a clean, stuff-less house by the way). Remember the Jetson's home? Did you ever see anything laying around their crib? Nothing! Not a newspaper or a walkman, a backpack, a stapler, or even spare clothes. 

But at my place, space is valuable. I have a lot of “stuff” and I’m not ashamed of it. It’s part of who I am. I’m guilty of sentimentality. I embrace the days long gone and former ways no longer followed. I guess that explains why I still have what's featured in the photograph. To some, they're relics of a bygone era. 

Do they look familiar? I hope so, since we’re not too far removed from the days of needing those to secure entertainment for the evening. Younger people and fellow Videoport friends might only remember needing their phone number to gain access to movie rentals, but in the early days you needed these cards.  

In the first days of VHS tapes, prior to easy manufacturing, those tapes cost an arm and a leg. You needed proof of who you were before they’d let you walk out with that VHS tape. Those things cost rental stores like $60-80 each. I’m talking back in the mid 80s, the breakthrough days of the VHS. I knew a friend who lost a VHS tape once and it cost his folks like $65 or something. Eventually, their value dipped to $25 each, and VHS tapes were produced by the millions, but originally, they were gold. You needed the membership card to get the gold. Sometimes, early on, you had to even pay for the membership.

I don’t know, those cards were kinda neat way back. A sign you were in a club. A cool club sharing movies and entertainment. With a zap of the laser gun your info popped up on an old school computer screen and you were officially allowed to rent freely. You might have even had credit for half off some Twizzlers too! Having a card for video rentals meant you were onto something. Like being on the guest list of sorts. The card was part of the process.

The card also brings us to a time where there was interaction. Remember actually talking to people live, face to face? That was really cool! You might have handed over your card and a copy of “Revenge of the Nerds” and said to the guy or girl behind the counter, “I love the guy who plays Booger.” To which the employee rebuts with, “Oh well have you seen Better Off Dead? Or One Crazy Summer? Or Risky Business?” That card could get you a caring suggestion without even asking for one.    

It had its downfalls too, though. The card also highlighted when you were a bit too, overlooking of your obligations as a video renter. Late fees! Damn, that’s one thing I certainly don’t miss. I could have bought a house with the late fees I gathered in my younger, foolish years. Of course, that’s why it was imperative you had your own card. I know if I had $14 hanging over my head for keeping that friggin copy of “Porky’s” too long (for whatever reason), I’d have to sneak my dad’s membership card so I could rent something without adding those fourteen bucks to my bill.  

The method is mostly gone today. Well, pharmacies use them so they can track our lives and decisions and you can save ten cents on a pack of travel size tissues next October. Again, it’s clutter to people. Wallets and pocketbooks are so jammed with gift cards and other items that we can’t make space for any other type of recognition proof.

Wait, actually Bull Moose still does! God bless ‘em too! I know when I step to the counter (just about every week) someone will ask me, “Do you have a Bull Moose card?” Proudly I dig in my wallet and say, “I sure do pal!” To which they reply, “You can just give me your phone number” as I flip through cards confidently knowing it’s there and wanting to complete the process. I could easily fire off my number to them, but I have this card you see! I have this physical confirmation that I’m a loyal shopper and believer in Bull Moose dammit and I’m gonna flash that baby to be scanned proper like!

Is the end result any different? No, of course not. With or without the card I’ll walk out of that store with a bag full of more music for my collection. Having that card though and going through a process, it keeps life from being entirely stuck in a “cloud”. The swiping, the screen pinching, the scrolling; it gets a bit too cutesy for me. 

Having the card says to me, "I’ll not let this ever changing world dictate the course of life to me. I’ll choose how I do things! I’ll enjoy the process and keep my stuff thank you very much!"

Oh, and hopefully that card says I’ve earned enough points to get this new record half-off.   

Supporting Portland's live music scene is weather proof

Winter, huh? In just one week in February we got the crap kicked out of us with a handful of snowstorms. The rest of the month, we’re practically short sleevin’ it. People were super happy for the unseasonable temperatures there for a little while. I even saw some folks wearing crocs! Unfortunately! (Sorry, it’s part of my Jimmy Buffett allergy).


Plenty of concerns race through our minds during winter storms: school cancellations, road closures, power outages, plowing, etc. Living in Portland and being so involved with life downtown, I tend to think of all the trouble bad weather causes our clubs, restaurants, and business between the East and West Proms.


If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s that you can’t stop Mother Nature. Living here, we know what we’ve gotten ourselves into and we can’t complain.  


But when the snow fills the streets each year, I think of the live music scene and ponder, “I wonder if that band is actually going to play tonight?” Sadly, we have the quickest hands in the east on the trigger making decisions on parking bans in downtown Portland, so the answer is usually no. That band isn’t going to play, and the venue might as well close for the night if people can’t park in town. Sometimes the bans are justified, most times not.


Wouldn’t even midnight bans help out a bit? It’s not too early, not too late. Venues can squeeze in shows, and restaurants can keep their doors open for some late night food business.


Regardless of Mother Nature or parking bans, there’s one thing you’ll notice living around here; people still come out for their live music and events even in rain, sleet, or snow. They find a way to make it there: cross-country skis, husky sleds or brave/crazy taxis and Ubers. People find a way.  
I’ll admit, as I get older I want to go out less in inclement weather. Yet I find myself thinking good and hard when it comes to live music. In my foolish years, I skipped plenty of shows that turned out to be classic. Those still scar me to this day. The warmth of your home and the proper placement of your ass on the couch is an evil lure. I know this. Add to this kick-ass documentaries on Netflix and Hulu at your fingertips? That’s a big win for you!


Readers, I offer you this: If the sexy allure of doing nothing has a firm grip on you the next time the snow messes with a show you planned on going to – GO TO THE SHOW INSTEAD. The couch will always be there. The warm comforter will always be there. That documentary on Nina Simone will always be … well, hopefully they keep that on for a bit. I mean, they change out those movies too quick lately, don’t they? Sorry, I digress.
A few years ago during a horrible winter night, Toronto indie punk band Fucked Up played at the SPACE Gallery. My driveway had been plowed in with snow easily four feet high. So driving to this gig was out of the question for me. However, I really wanted to see this band. They’re loud and their shows are raw and honest. They might never play here again. After half a day of contemplating, I gave in, laced up and put on a helmet.   
I called for a cab, scaled over Mount Portland (the blocked access to the sidewalk) and stumbled onto the street. The cab picked me up and dumped me off at SPACE. As I entered the room, I was proud and excited to still see about 40 or 50 people there on such a dastardly night! The band kicked in and it was like a house party. Everyone gravitated to the front and we were one. The show was sensational and I vowed to not second guess going to shows during bad weather again.


In recent times around here, people haven’t let the cold or snow stop them from getting to the shows they had marked on their calendars (modernism update: “shows they had put in their phones”).


Ken Bell, co-owner and manager of Portland House of Music & Events mentioned he’s had four sell-out shows in the last three weeks. “As much as we love tourists,” Bell states, “it’s the locals, the regulars, the hospitality workers and other musicians who keep the doors open in the winter.” Last week during that cold, windy freeze-out people packed the venue two nights in a row for great local string band The Ghost of Paul Revere.
Back in December, I put together a holiday concert for the company I work for, Shipyard Brewing, with the Fogcutters (a modern big band). It was the week before Christmas. We had a major snowstorm that day and there was a parking ban. Lots of factors played against us finding any success in turnout, but on that stormy night over 1,000 people still came out to the State Theatre for a special performance. For 90 minutes, no one remembered what was going on outside. Music is supposed to do that. Theater and comedy acts as well. They make you forget things for a bit. To bring you to a place where you’re free and unconcerned with parking bans, baby sitters or jobs in the morning. For a moment.


As we press through whatever’s left of this season and we most likely deal with some type of wintery messy somethin’ somethin’ at least once more; don’t forget there’s a chance to break away. We can, in the deep cavern of this bitterly cold season still celebrate life and temporary freedom of the everyday with musicians that live here and some who travel here.


Be safe travelling of course, but don’t let the weather keep you home too much. Portland is ours! These venues, these restaurants and bands are ours! We need to brave the cold and the bans to support our own. I can tell you there is something unspokenly magical when you walk into a club on a lousy weather night and a musician on stage sees you there supporting them – it powers them up greatly. It keeps them doing what they do when they doubt everything. Freezing for music and entertainment, freezing for good local food … warm bellies, warm hearts and warm souls.


Mark Curdo is the director of lifestyle and 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.

The King of Rock Delivers Again

There are a few hip folks out there that know this, but for those unaware, Danko Jones is the king of rock. It’s true. He has been for quite some time. Since his emergence in the club scene in Toronto in the mid ’90s, Danko, bassist “JC” John Calabrese and whoever's been playing drums for them (there have been six) have been at least one constant in the world of rock we can count on as most of the industry has deteriorated over the years.

Danko Jones is the name of the man and the band. He is one part David Lee Roth, one part Gene Simmons, one part Angus Young, one part Jimi Hendrix mixed with the heart, passion and chest pounding of Henry Rollins. Danko is everything we love about the best rock music. It’s badass, careless, loud, and in your face. Girls who see him live want to look for him after the show while their boyfriends are at the merchandise table buying all of his records. His music is meat and potatoes. It’s cut and dry. Get that friggin’ synth out of here! Three guys, black buttoned-up dress shirts/black dress pants; no ties, and just four-on-the-floor rock n’ roll music.
His record label based in Sweden has kept Danko mostly working overseas. And the work is good. The name he’s established over there and his success rivals a lot of big bands here in the states. He headlines sold-out shows and plays all the huge festivals. You won’t see him sitting on a stool with an acoustic guitar, but they have opened for the Rolling Stones, Guns 'n’ Roses and have toured with Motorhead. “Rock” might not be succeeding these days as a genre, but Danko Jones the rock band is doing just fine, and we’re lucky because of it.   
On the eve of his eighth studio album release, Wild Cat (out on March 3 on Bad Taste Records), I caught up with Danko on the phone for a chat. I haven’t talked to him in a few years so we had a lot to catch up on. Unfortunately, you know I wouldn't be able to fit everything here. So, here’s a ridiculously brief version of the chat that can be heard in its entirety on the radio with me Sunday night on 94.3 WCYY Spinout (7-10 p.m.).

Curdo: I’ve been lucky to have known you, listened to and supported your music for 15 years now. I’ve followed it all along the way, seen you half a dozen times live and I’ve finally realized the word the best describes you guys is consistency. Like AC/DC and Motorhead, bands you admire and are influenced by, your band is consistent in the best way possible. You’re not out to make the next Dark Side of the Moon or OK Computer. You are making great rock music every time. You are a success story my friend, and the consistency continues with the new album, Wild Cat.

Jones: On this album, we tried a few new things, but new to us only within the realm of rock, nothing outside that realm. We’re not going to drag anyone through some experimental phase of ours and expect people to still hang on. I like bands who stick to the script and know who they are, who are consistent and reliable. I love to be one of those kinds of bands. One of the hardest things for a band to achieve is a signature sound and that’s the thing we’ve been trying to do all this time. We don’t want to draw outside of the box. People don’t think that’s creative or artistic or challenging, but I think it’s more challenging. I find it more artistic to refashion the same four chords and make it sound fresh without retreading.

Curdo: One thing I think is great about you is that you absorb everything. You’re still a passionate fan of music and everything about it. You’re observant. You drink it all in and you process what’s what, what’s up, and what’s going on. I absorb as well and I know I’m connected, but I also feel that no one really knows what’s going on in the music world in 2017. So many non-stop changes, so much technology affecting it all. Loaded question here, but do you have a better read on things? Do you even care? What’s your take on rock music today with how things are going in sales, on radio, on stage, etc.?

Jones: Well first of all … I don’t (care). Second of all, I tried to tackle this similar topic on my podcast recently. I didn’t have a guest. I focused on ten new rock bands I think people should hear. I went that route to help push the scene. I get asked a lot lately, “what’s the status of rock? Everyone’s dying, what’s going on? What’s the future?” The truth is for the last twenty years, it hasn’t been that popular.  You still have Guns 'n’ Roses and AC/DC headlining shows, but their fan base has already been laid out. The reason why no new rock bands are succeeding is because the music wasn’t as popular as it was before. There’s no “scene.” There is for metal and EDM and indie rock and punk. I view rock in 2017 as going the way of jazz; a once popular form of music that’s not as popular anymore that’s suddenly become outsider music. To me, as a music fan, that appeals to me very much! I like that kind of designation. Unfortunately, I don’t believe rock’ n’ roll will be as big as it once was. I make my living playing in a rock band, and I’m ok with that. I don’t want everyone to like it.
Visit dankojones.com, facebook.com/dankojones and check out “The Official Danko Jones Podcast."  

The Music Lives On With Me: Honoring a friend’s parents and their record collection

Hard times fell on one of my oldest friends in New Hampshire last year. In seven months he lost both his mother and father. His father died unexpectedly in May, then on Christmas Eve his mother passed after a quick returning illness. 

I can’t imagine what he’s going through and I don’t know how he’s holding it together. No brother, no sister. Any other relatives turned out to be estranged jerks over the years. Oh and his girlfriend, who wasn’t the best to him, left him a few days after his mother died. What a sweetheart!

He essentially has no one now. He’s not married. No kids. The friends he does have moved away and/or have families now. I’ve stayed close over the years because we go way back and I know he needs some good people in his life. People who’ll keep an eye out for him. After all the lousy relationships and buddies who just liked to party with him; he needs some real friends.

Last week he started to clean his parent’s house because he plans to sell it by summer. It's a house I used to hang out at a lot as a kid. We’d watch Celtics games, talk about the girls at the all-girls catholic high school a block away and we’d listen to tons of records as it was hip hop’s glory years; the late 80s (De La Soul, Run DMC, Beastie Boys, Ultramagnetic MCs, Eric B & Rakim, Special Ed, Public Enemy, Kool G Rap & Polo, NWA, Big Daddy Kane, Stetsasonic, etc.). His parents were also big into music so they loved our passion for music. The door was always open there.

So last week, he asked if I could help him out. He needed to move some things, figure out what to sell, what to trash and what to hold on to. Not a fun time for him, so I said, "of course I’ll be there."

Walking up that creaking, faded green staircase, memories were hitting me left and right. I had flashbacks of make out sessions in his room with old girlfriends listening to Janet Jackson and U2 records. I remembered when he bought a tape by MC 900 Foot Jesus and we listened to it there confused as all hell as to what it was. It was a bummer knowing his mom wasn’t around the corner cooking something Polish and enjoying her white wine.

We looked at things and sorted out the good, the meaningful and the worthless. Once we hit the parlor room area there were books and a stash of records down below. I thought, "OK I can help figure out what’s of value here."

My friend is a record guy too, only of sorts. He’s been close to the hip hop world since 1987. He still promotes music in New England. So his record collection (possibly 25,000+) is mostly rap records and singles. Promos from years of radio and working in the industry. He doesn’t know that Get The Knack by The Knack is not a valuable record. It’s a mega awesome record, but it’s not valuable or sought after. It’s common. So very common. He has records but he’s not a “record person."

So I said, "I’ll go through these and tell you what’s good, what’s just ok and what’s garbage." I was cut and dry. I brought them all out and as usual, after I flipped through a few the dust punched me in the face like a son of a bitch. Sneezy, runny nose in two minutes flat? I must be fingers deep into some records.

His parents loved disco, folk, and easy listening. I skimmed through countless Donna Summer records, Joan Baez, Carly Simon, Donovan and Love Unlimited Orchestra. All kinds of common stuff. It’s always fun to flip though them. Every now and then I’d come across a worthless novelty nugget like, “The Soothing Sounds of Spain” or various belly dancing records with amazing album covers. (His parents had a friend who would come to the house to dance at their parties in the 70’s, which I heard were kick-ass parties.)

I found the soundtrack to Doctor Zhivago, Herb Albert & the Tijuana Brass, Lou Rawls and John Denver. I really wasn’t compiling any great news for him on the value front... then I hit a few. Neil Young, Bowie, The Zombies, George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass. Ok, we have some treats now. Something that might fetch a dollar or two. Nothing major, but something to help him out.

He needs some financial relief. His parents left him with credit card debt to deal with and an unpaid mortgage. He hoped for some ringers, but no go. He was psyched because his mom had Meet The Beatles, but it looked like it had been run over by an 18-wheeler. I felt bad, but I had to tell him that particular lottery ticket was a couple numbers off.

As the “kind of ok” pile grew, I felt a little better for him. In the end, I told him 70% was garbage value wise, but I made a stack he should sell as a bundle. I told him the stack would fetch maybe $50-60. It was a stack of about 75-80 records. Unfortunately selling to record shops who are just looking to flip records to customers; you’re not going to get much for them. If you single out some real gems, then you can work out better things.

Although, he needs money and these records don’t mean anything to him. They meant something to his folks though and records mean something to me. I don’t see them as an investment. In this case, they were history owned by folks I knew well. This is music that should be enjoyed, not just bid upon.

So I set aside about eight records. I told him I’d give him $40 for the small stack. His eyes lit up. He said, “Sure, thanks!” None of the records were “lost ark” type of finds. Just some decent records I’d enjoy. This was a way to help him and keep that music spinning. I scored some Neil Young I didn’t have, Sergio Mendes & Brazil ’66, Paul Butterfield Blues Band and Bowie’s Space Oddity album. I already have the Bowie, but this was in better shape and hey, it’s going to help a friend. I bought them for him, for them.

I sometimes look at my collection and I think of the people it came from and realize they’re always going to be with me, listening to this stuff with me. I explained that to my friend and recommended he keep some of the records so he’ll never be alone.

Kim Warnick's Backstage Encounter

It’s satisfying to reflect on how Portland has been home to some great musicians over the years. Some that we know of; Ben Deily of the Lemonheads, Adam Gardner of Guster, Hutch and Kathy from The Thermals and the legendary BeBe Buell (rock n’ roll mother/sister/friend/singer/muse). This city has been a choice spot for many to hang their hats for some years now. Music, food, art, beer, the coast, good people, we pretty much have it all. I mean, you know, we could use some more parking spots, but that’s a rant for another time.

 

There’s more rock royalty living here in Portland than one might think. Kim Warnick of the Fastbacks (and eventually Visqueen) loves living in Portland.

 

“I’m grateful to live in such a stunning city”, Warnick told me before the stunning city was blasted by Snowplooza this past week. According to Kim, her former home and music launch pad of Seattle has gotten too big and she's not sure she belongs there anymore. She moved to Portland in 2012 and has found a new home here. You can see her almost postcard love for the city through some of the pictures she posts on social media from time to time.

  

If you go to the Fastbacks starting days of the late 70s, Kim built something special (along with Lulu Gargiulo and Kurt Bloch) that would certainly sound familiar in future bands. Like one of their biggest influences The Ramones, the ‘Backs were fueled by pop music and rock n roll. Yet with Kim and Lulu, the dual female vocals would add a signature touch to the band’s pop punk sound. Their sound has influenced many other bands. Take Veruca Salt, Shonen Knife, and Sleater-Kinney, for example.  

 

Through a handful of records, live records, many singles, EPs and compilation appearances, the Fastback’s helped pioneer a sound as well as a movement of new music from the Pacific Northwest that would gain some serious traction a decade later as we all know. Warnick was there and doing it prior to grunge, prior to Sub Pop Records, prior to the movie Singles, prior to the Riot grrrl scene. She and The Fastbacks were trailblazers for sure.

 

Warnick claims that Patti Smith, Dee Dee Ramone and Joan Jett are her holy trilogy of rock gods. Great three pack if you ask me and I can totally feel all three in her music. It was Joan Jett who provided one of Warnick’s greatest music memories though. In my ongoing series still stuck between the titles of, “I Once Caught a Fish This Big..” or “Oh My, Have I Got a Story for You..”; Seattle’s loss/Portland Maine’s gain explains that time she got to open live for Joan Jett and the revealing meeting that was held after the show backstage.  

Kim Warnick:

Throughout the decades my band was fortunate to be able to open for a lot of my heroes and idols. We were lucky. Just a few of them; Ramones, Buzzcocks, Cheap Trick, GnR (before they really broke), and Joan Jett, not once, but twice. That was the biggest one for me as she is one of the main reasons I even tried to play rock n roll in the first place. The Runaways were doing what I wanted to do, but I was still stuck in high school while they were touring Japan. Sadly, they never made it to Seattle but Joan did finally in 1981 when her first record Bad Reputation was released.

I remember hearing about this show and begging the promoter to "please, please, please let us open." He knew he couldn't say no because I would just keep bugging him. It happened! This was before "I Love Rock N Roll" was everywhere on the radio, which is probably why there were only about 100 people there, but that didn't matter to me. I finally got to see her in person in a tiny club in Seattle and finally got to actually meet her (she's short!). They say don't meet your idols and I say, "bullshit."

We were both pretty wasted that night, but she sat me down next to her and instantly ripped open her jeans. Um, it was surreal, but she wanted to show me her tattoo of a jet. That jet is on the back of the import version of that first record. I think I might've blushed, but I was just so excited to ask her some Runaways questions. She passed out on my shoulder before that happened. Oh well.

The point of this story is that I was one of those record collectors that had to make sure all my LP's were in those plastic slip covers to keep 'em all MINT. On the back of that first record there is a pic of that same jet tattoo. I would always try and brush off this stray tiny hair that I just assumed was on the outside of the plastic cover. Once I saw where her tattoo was when I finally realized it was the same one on the back cover of the record… and it was a pubic hair! Like they say, "the more you know."

Really it just shows you that I was and am still a giant nerd when it comes to fandom and I love her to this day. Hero. We got to open for her again in 2002 which was amazing. So killer to know your idol. She is a gem. The real deal. I love rock n roll!

The Same Old Song and Dance Out of Boston

Like many of you, I was watching that remarkable football game last Sunday. I’m not a big fan of the pre-hype and hoopla myself. I understand this particular game is on a bigger worldwide stage and that there’s more to it, but I just want to watch the game itself. No eight-hour pregame shows. No celebrity picks or foolish videos. Just the game please and damn, what a game it was!
I timed my Sunday poorly though. As it would turn out, I sunk into the couch a bit too early. After watching the Celtics’ game, I recognized I had enough time for an early dinner with my folks just before things got going in Houston. Perfect timing, I thought.  


I forgot that even after that eight-hour pre-game lead in, there’s still the “we’re now officially underway with this final preview show, show” for another hour or so. I couldn’t move though. My backside was committed to my seat and really, where was I going? What other chore or errand could I sneak in with that short amount of time left? I was locked at that point, cringing at the non-stop loudmouth commentators trying to sound intelligent re-explaining the same prediction crap they’ve been saying for the previous two weeks!   


As I was knuckles deep in a bowl of pretzels and popcorn, I gave in and sat back for the ride. In and out of commercials and during special reports, these TV stations try to get cute with the music. Since you’re featuring two teams from major American cities, most likely with well-known music acts that come from them, they always blend in some “popular” jams to accompany the localized piece. Like after the video of some small diner in Peabody, Mass., filled with New England fans, here comes music from Beantown. What you have in the end is classic rock radio on repeat. Game after game after game …
I say this with all the respect for the band and their first three records, but for the love of all we hold dearly if I hear “Rock n’ Roll Band” or “More Than a Feeling” by Boston during another Pats game, I’m going to fall apart! Add “Walk This Way” and “Sweet Emotion” by Aerosmith in there too. Oh, and The Standells “Dirty Water!" It’s 2017, we know Boston is your home by now, damn.  


I get it. There's a big audience, huge viewership; they’re going to play the most popular and recognizable regional tunes possible. It’s just … it’s. I mean, come on! Get a bit creative folks. The predictability of these songs being played every game is sickening and a bit embarrassing now. There are more than two bands who’ve come from the Commonwealth. We might be in need of a new musical advisor to keep it fresh.
I’m not trying to be a music nut here. I don’t expect them to play something awesome from Morphine, Mission Of Burma, Stompbox, Letters to Cleo, the Del Fuegos, The Fools or Lyres. That just ain’t gonna happen and I know it. I’m sure even the Pixies are a stretch. (They’re heavily responsible for the past 30 years of alternative music, but whatever).


How about something deeper from J. Geils Band though? The ultimate house rockin’ party band! They’re pretty much Boston, defined. The Cars? The Cars, for crying out loud, barely get played. Play something like “Moving in Stereo!" Although, wait… that brings up thoughts of Pheobe Cates getting out of the pool and I’m not sure we want to mess around with that. Especially if you have family over. That would make bathroom breaks a bit awkward.    


There’s plenty others to dabble in though to help people realize Joe Perry and Tom Scholz aren’t the only musicians who made it from the Boston area. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones? Lemonheads? How about “Voices Carry” by Til’ Tuesday? Maybe sweeten it up with some “Cool It Now” by New Edition! Or show people you know something about bands today with some Guster perhaps? What about musicians people forget have Boston area backgrounds like Billy Squier?  


And don’t get me started on the Sox! Have you watched a Red Sox game on national TV in the last ten years? Heard that Dropkick Murphys tune once or twice? The Murphys are ace dudes and I’m sure the licensing money has been great to them, but even they have to be like, “enough is enough already."


I know 99% of people could care less, but when you love music like me and you hear those Boston songs or Aerosmith songs AGAIN coming out of every break on Fox or CBS, my music soul weeps a little. Again, I like Boston and Aerosmith. I think being a New England native you’re legally obligated to like them. I own most of their records (although I stopped mid 80’s with both bands), but I think of all the other great artists from Boston that people could hear for musical geographic identification. Yet, “people only want the hits” is what I know someone in their TV production truck is saying. While that might be the lazy and easy approach, there’s no way to create new hits and more classics if you don’t give them a chance. We can’t live out this life with just the “Same Old Song and Dance” can we? 

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