Mark Curdo

Mark Curdo

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 

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.

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