The closing of Port City Music Hall at 504 Congress St. leaves a gaping hole in Portland's music scene and the downtown Arts District. (Portland Phoenix/Sam Pfeifle)
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As will (unfortunately) become commonplace, another music venue in Maine has hosted its last show, thanks to COVID-19 and the inability to host crowds: Port City Music Hall.

This one in particular stings. 

Portland has considered itself a “music town” for some time now, but it was anything but that in the mid-to-late-2000s before there was Port City Music Hall on Congress Street.

The State Theatre was closed. The Skinny closed. Stone Coast Brewery closed. Empire didn’t open until late 2007 and took a while to get on its feet. The Better End closed. The Basement turned into Club SubTerra and then closed. The Alehouse closed. Geno’s had to move into the Skinny’s old spot. 

It was rough out there. There weren’t a lot of options to see touring bands; it was the Big Easy and the Asylum and that’s it for a while.

A notice taped to the Port City Music Hall box office window tells patrons “It’s with a heavy heart that we announce the permanent closure of Port City Music Hall. … We will miss you and the time we share in this room, but look forward to celebrating with you once again when we can reopen the State Theatre. Together we will rise again.” (Portland Phoenix/Sam Pfeifle)

But then Rob Evon opened PCMH in January 2009 (remember all that drama about not getting the 18+ liquor license?) and things just seemed to pick up. OK Go and Coheed and Cambria played in March. We got They Might Be Giants in June. Sufjan Stevens came through in October. Minus the Bear played in November. 

PCMH became a hotbed for great sound engineers (soon Adam Jackson was touring the planet with SIA). Local bands had an awesome place to grow into, and the Mallett Brothers Band, Spose, and Ghost of Paul Revere were boosted to the next level by being able to play to a sold-out local show of 600 people. For many musicians, PCMH was their first time playing a “real” club gig, with decent sound and lights and a VIP section. 

Soon, the State Theatre was open again, and then Thompson’s Point, and all of a sudden, Portland was a true hot spot for touring bands. We got everyone.

Like Lake Street Dive, who got booked into PCMH right when “Bad Self Portraits” was hitting and got so popular they had to be moved to the State. Of course, this was only possible because Evon got busted selling 78 kilograms of cocaine, eventually went to prison for seven years, and the State Theatre was able to take over operation of Port City. 

(What’s a music city without a little nefarious underground activity?) 

But now it’s over. For PCMH and essentially all indoor shows in Portland. Against Me! played the last show at PCMH on March 12.

“We had no idea it would be the last show ever for the venue,” Laura Jane Grace tweeted. “This is breaking my heart.” Portland musicians and fans flooded social media last week with similar sentiments.

For music fans — for this music fan, anyway — it is a very helpless feeling. What can we do?

Three weeks ago, in writing about the demise of Big Babe’s Tavern in South Portland, we noted the RESTART Act, sponsored by Maine 2nd District U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, among others, is one federal intervention that might keep venues like PCMH afloat.

Last week, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, who knows well the importance of the music scene to her home turf of Minneapolis, introduced the Save Our Stages Act, which is targeted more directly at the arts industry and would create a $10 billion grant fund for venues just like PCMH, infusing them with up to six months worth of revenue. 

So call your legislators. Send them emails through www.SaveOurStages.com. If you love music, do whatever you must to get Congress to take action. Because before PCMH, 504 Congress St. was the Keystone Theater, where you could watch movies and eat dinner. And it was Binga’s restaurant. And maybe an indoor golf place?

Anyway, these spaces won’t just come back to life. They’ll be renovated. Leased. Reopened as whatever it is that can survive a pandemic. Maybe an Applebee’s? 

And the next Lake Street Dive ain’t playing Applebee’s. 

Sam Pfeifle can be reached at sam@westgraycreative.com.