As you may have heard, Ghost of Paul Revere, one of Maine’s true music success stories, has decided to call it quits.
Their Ghostland Festival, happening over Labor Day weekend at Thompson’s Point and other more intimate locations, will serve as their fond farewell, celebrating a career that many musicians would envy, even if it was relatively short-lived.
Before that, however, they’ll travel north to New Sweden, population 577 (as of the 2020 census), to play a tiny “Concert in the Park” on July 9 along with seven other bands from all over Maine.
Why? It’s surely not for the paycheck. Rather, it’s because Travis Cyr asked.
The event formerly known as Arootsakoostik Music Festival – now calling itself Aroots Presents a Concert in the Park – is his brainchild and it has developed something of a cult status since Cyr started putting it together in 2006. It attracts some of Portland’s finest bands 4 1/2 hours up Interstate 95 and then Route 1 each year to play for all-ages crowds that would probably fit comfortably in Portland House of Music & Events or One Longfellow.
“Arootsakoostik is just good vibes,” said Jed Bressette, who’s been up there nearly every year as bass player for bluegrass outfit Tricky Britches and this year doubles and triples up by bringing his very large band Bad Combo for a taste and backing Cyr on bass for his Thunderheart Lion trio. “There’s an energy in the air of overall excitement and gratitude.”
Gratitude is something Cyr seems to cultivate, probably because he refuses to let geography be a barrier.
He’s a County boy by birth, but like many before him left to go exploring after high school, then moved back in 2000 “because I felt like it was one of the last wild frontiers left,” he said, on the phone from the five-acre lot he has slowly turned into a homestead that doubles as a venue he calls the Spruce & Pines.
At the time, he wasn’t a performer.
“I kind of stumbled into that when I moved back up here,” Cyr said. “I saw an ad for a local bar looking for a guy and a guitar for $100 a night. I was doing odd jobs, never had any aspirations of playing publicly. I just thought it would be fun and I’d enjoy doing it. But then you get a small taste and I got $100 and a pizza for free and I just started running with it. Now I’ve kind of put all my eggs in that basket and I really had to honor it.”
In the process, he’s become one of Maine’s more prolific songwriters and performers, with 15 albums to his name, including five released during the pandemic. His pieces tend to be warm and expansive, folk music infused with humanism and wonderful storytelling. Maybe a bit of irony or cynicism. This summer he’s got 25 gigs booked all across the state before landing at One Longfellow on Sept. 29 to celebrate all of his pandemic releases.
That street cred certainly helps. It helps, too, having Frank Hopkins, a County boy now ubiquitous in Portland as a sound guy, running the board and making sure everything sounds mint. But what musicians love about it seems a bit more ephemeral than talent and production details.
Dominic Lavoie, who grew up nearby in Madawaska and plays again this year with his Junction Butte Pack, calls Aroots “organic,” “free from any corporate influence,” and “family friendly,” and points to the wooden clamshell stage that anchors Thomas Park, where the festival is held: “A gem of a spot.”
It’s certainly a spiritual cousin to the Common Ground Fair, where Cyr got his inspiration back in 2003, following a gig where he played sandwiched between Toughcats and Tree By Leaf.
“I was humbled and blown away by all the talent I got to see that day,” he said. “I have a love for the place I live, but it was lacking originality. It was all karaoke or AC/DC cover bands, and there was so much good being created here in Maine. So I thought, ‘Let’s share that and celebrate that.’
“It was a really slow organic build, but after seven or eight years it dawned on me at one of those events that we’d really built and cultivated a sense of community up here, and ever since it’s just been trying to honor that each year.”
Of course, the pandemic put a kibosh on things for a couple of years, and Cyr filled the gaps with small events at his place, where he could control health protocols a little more, but this concert in the park is back on the second Saturday in July.
People who find their way there will likely consider themselves lucky it’s back – and have themselves a beautiful view of the rolling hills along the way.
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at [email protected].
2 weeks, 5 songs
• Oshima Brothers, “Goldmine” — The first single off their new full-length “Dark Night Golden Days” delivers all the lush harmony and tight guitar work you’ve come to know from the Brothers. If you’re into summer nights watching fireflies, these are your dudes.
• Borderlines, “Innocence Thrives” — A punk lament from these vets of the Leftovers and Steiner Street that’s easy to sing along to, with a whoah-oh finish and a slick guitar solo. Proceeds from this one go to Everytown for Gun Safety to advocate for common-sense gun laws: “There’s too much laughter after these mass killings.” Look for a full-length relatively soon.
• Will Dailey, “Easy To Be Around” — Quiet and sultry, this is a shuffling piece that gets ’70s funky from one of New England’s longtime vets. Look for the cool “credits” b-side to this single, where the instrumental bed supports Dailey discussing the song’s players.
• Bait Bag, “Entropy” — In the second single from their upcoming full-length, the guitar sneers as much as the lead vocals, and may actually be mixed higher. But stay for the chorus: It’s downright gentle before the verse returns to get in your face.
• Peter Gallway and the Real Band, “It’s Deliberate” — The title track off Gallway’s 30th album, this is veteran big-band rock, full of organ vibes, backing vocals, and fedora strut. He likes “the way you work that polka-dot dress,” so show up for the St. Lawrence Arts release party on June 25.
— Sam Pfeifle