Tim Gillis

Tim Gillis

"Protecting the environment is not a partisan issue" Why Mainers resist Trump's EPA pick

Scott Pruitt was confirmed twice last week. First as the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency. The second confirmation was of his suspected ties to oil, gas, and coal companies after thousands of his emails to fossil fuel execs were leaked.


Environmental groups fear the worst, but there are specific steps you can take on an individual, local level to fight back.


Several area non-profits have teamed up to create “protester primers,” workshops on environmental crises and actionable ways to combat them.


“Resist: Skills to Fight Back for Maine's Environment: Portland” will be held on March 8 at the University of Southern Maine. While many attendees may be of a similar political persuasion, the intent is to avoid politics.


“We really want to highlight that this is not a partisan event,” said Sophie Halpin, communications and development coordinator at Maine Conservation Voters, the lead organizer. “We’re not talking about resisting Trump because he’s a Republican. It’s because of his statements and cabinet picks. We want everyone to come together to say that the environment is not a partisan issue; it’s a basic human right.”


The idea is to draw attention to President Trump’s policy proposals and cabinet picks.


“It’s not normal that Scott Pruitt is heading the EPA, which he has sued several times,” said Melissa Mann, advocacy coordinator. “We were thankful that (Senators Angus) King and (Susan) Collins voted against him, but he’s still in charge so we’re looking at what that means for the Clean Air and Water Acts.”


“There has been an outpouring of support,” Halpin said. “There’s a waitlist to get into training, so we’re looking to do more for staff members of organizations that want to expand what they do into advocacy work as well.”


For more than two years, the Maine Conservation Voters group has worked to increase the number of Mainers talking about climate change and taking on civic engagement around environmental issues around the state. As part of that foundational effort, she worked with community members and students from Unity College and the University of Maine to identify major areas of concern. Interest in organizing informational and action sessions peaked at the end of last year.


“After the election, there was fever pitch of people who wanted to do this work on a higher level,” Mann says. “We knew we needed to do more, to build on that activist energy. And to do that within our mission, we needed to give Mainers the means and method to respond. We also wanted to make sure it wasn’t a one-man show.”

news environment kids at solar hearing

Maine students advocating for renewable solar energy. 

Maine Conservation Voters worked with the Appalachian Mountain Club, the Maine Public Health Association, the Natural Resources Council of Maine, and the Wilderness Society to create the events. In addition, speakers and workshop leaders representing several other groups, including Revision Energy and Knack Factory, a multimedia production company based in Portland, will provide information about the current threats to national parks, how to grow solar power in Maine, and effective measures to defend the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts.


Once well armed with this environmental information, work-shoppers will get a quick lesson in Organizing 101.


Next, attendees will get busy with workshops on how to put all this info into action.


They’ll learn how to lobby legislators on issues that matter the most to them, how to make an impact with unique stories, and how to get messages out using social media and letters to the editor.


Maine Speaker of the House Sara Gideon (D-Freeport) will address Portlanders and lead the session on how to lobby legislators. Majority Leader Erin Herbig (D-Belfast) will speak at the Belfast workshop.


One of the most important issues to Mainers is arsenic in well water. According to Mann, York and Kennebec counties have some of the highest reported incidents of toxicity. In some counties, more than 20 percent of their wells are contaminated with arsenic above federal safety levels.


“We’re working to get increased testing,” she said. “There is arsenic in well-water across the state. Education is key. In Kennebec County, children with arsenic in their well water had lower average IQ scores than their peers. Arsenic is also linked to kidney failure, as well as skin, bladder, and lung cancer. Arsenic in water is a social justice issue.”


These specific examples from our state offer credible evidence of national concerns.


“On a bigger scale, it relates to why protecting water and air are so important,” Halpin said. “So we can make these environmental issues protect all families in Maine.”

  • Published in News

Bridging gaps through music with the Portland Culture Exchange

Protesters gathered on Monument Square Friday night, with sign-holders chanting to passing cars and each other that “Hey Ho! Donald Trump has got to go.” The woman on the bullhorn implored art walkers to come out each month in similar fashion.


Across the street, in the atrium of the Portland Public Library, critics of the current regime took another approach, gathering musicians from several immigrant communities for the Portland Culture Exchange’s music jam and dance party. They had “Mainer” shirts especially made for the day, crafted by Pigeon, the street name for artist Orson Horchler.


This first public event comes after a year of several impromptu house parties, introducing newcomers to the city to their neighbors and future friends. Lilly Pearlman anchors the group and plays fiddle and bass guitar. She grew up in Portland, went to college in New York, and then spent time in Brazil.  


“When I moved back, I wanted to know a Portland that wasn’t as homogenous as the one I grew up in. I thought ‘What stands in the way?’ I realized that we’re not homogenous, we’re segregated.”


She wanted a project that called upon peoples’ various skills and yet somehow united them. She started going to English classes, where she met new Mainers and talked about their interests. Almost everybody she met loved music; most played an instrument. Cuisine and culture quickly became two additional distinguished commonalities. They started holding monthly French-English discussions, and the group plans to add Spanish and Arabic exchanges to the mix. Despite national concerns with immigration policies and the swirling confusion of their effects on locals, the Portland Culture Exchange has remained intent on sharing traditions, food, and music.


“We are bridging the gaps between American-born and new Mainers through common passions to create the opportunity for building relationships, friendships between communities that are usually segregated,” she said. “Frequently, even when there’s interest between multiple groups to get together, it’s uncomfortable. There are cultural barriers. Sometimes people think the differences are greater than they are.”


The group started having informal parties that turned into Monument Square street jams. The library’s atrium was packed at Friday night’s event, and they’re considering moving to a bigger space the next time. But for the group, it’s not all song and dance.


They’re planning a big event called “We Sing for Peace,” using some of the Jewish traditions of Eastern Europe, especially the notion of a tisch – a joyous public celebration with a meal set up on a long table, often held on a Friday, “when Orthodox Jews aren’t supposed to play musical instruments, so they sing into the night,” Pearlman said. “Niggunim, or traditional melodies, for example. Based on that, we are going to have people lead easy songs in their languages that call for peace. We’ll probably need more space, perhaps the auditorium.”


“The notion of a tisch comes from my Jewish (Ashkenazi, Eastern European) heritage,” said Pearlman, who teaches ceilidh dances from her Scottish heritage at their jams. She says the project works to build a real multicultural view of what ‘Portland culture' is, based on Portland's residents and their multifaceted histories and traditions.

music KingbenMajojaNeilPearlmanandLillyPearlman


“We Sing for Peace” is modeled after a tisch because that, too, is part of Portland's traditions. “While the project is grounded in the sharing, appreciating, and exchanging of traditions and cultures, we put great value on the people who bring Portland's cultural richness,” she said.


“When Eric Simido sings an Angolan song, he makes his Angolan culture essential to Portland culture. When the folks at Chez Okapi — a Congolese restaurant on St. John Street where we host our French-English language exchanges — cook fufu and pundu in Portland, they bring their home with them, and they build Portland's culture. When any brilliant foreign-born Mainer uses their ingenuity to create a new business in Portland, their unique way of thinking and being makes its way into this community’s roots and foundation. So we see our exchange as part of an intertwining of long histories in the place where we all now share common space: Portland.”


The musical regulars include Pearlman and her brother Neil on the keyboard. Majoja, on the drums and guitar, and Eric Simido, vocals and guitar, are both from Angola. Ness Smith-Savedoff, who grew up in Portland and Switzerland, plays drums. The Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda are regularly represented. Everyone is invited to bring an instrument and come and dance. At “We Sing for Peace,” tentatively scheduled for April, they hope to have as many as ten countries joining voice.


Majoja is the nickname or artistic name for Kingebeni Kilaka Kelorde, who is originally from the north of Angola. “I had to go to DR Congo, the country where I lived for about two decades because my country was in civil war.”


He studied art in high school, and is now a painter and musician. “I have loved the music since my childhood because it has been part of my traditional culture,” he said.


“I have been in Portland since October 2015. It was not easy for me to be accustomed with the weather, oh nooo! So cold, the lifestyle is so fast and busy. When I met with Jenny van West, she connected me with Pigeon and he connected me with Lilly Pearlman. She talked to me about the Portland Culture Exchange. It seemed to be an interesting project and I promised her to give all my energies because I believe that everyone has something special to share to make Portland a better place for everyone. I live in the US , and I love this multicultural country. Culture is the identity of people. I'd like to see Portland growing up like all the metropolitan cities around the world. Portland Culture Exchange is our first step.”


For more information, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

  • Published in Music

The Ghosts of Johnson City revisits America's dark history with The Devil's Gold

Portland's Ghosts of Johnson City romp through town to kick off their new album, The Devil’s Gold, an epic collection of 15 songs that celebrates the near-forgotten lives of classic American archetypes.


The February 11 concert at the Portland House of Music and Events will showcase the band's rich, evocative music, with its stories populated with gold miners, settlers, sailors, and lumberjacks. Present in the album is tragedy and poignancy and a depth of personal insights into the rugged past.


Amos Libby — founder, lead vocalist, and guitar and banjo player — teaches Middle Eastern and Indian music at Bates, Bowdoin, and Colby colleges. He also plays in the Okbari Middle Eastern Ensemble, but is now steeped in headlining the Ghosts’ with Douglas Porter on guitar, banjo, and vocals; Erik Neilson on baritone ukulele and vocals; Erik Winter on pump organ; and Ian Riley on upright bass.


Recently, they added Sarah Mueller on violin and Bethany Winter on vocals, who “bring a different texture to everything we do,” Libby says. “They have really changed us a lot.”


The band’s second album is a follow-up to the critically acclaimed Am I Born to Die?, a collection of rare covers which were reconstructed and interpreted in a current vein. Libby rewrote the melodies for that album, but all the lyrics (and most of the music) were traditional. They formed the seed for the new record, for which he wrote all the music and lyrics, and the resulting effort is a full bloom of Appalachian music and the stories of oft-overlooked ancestors.


The material for the new work was mined from various archives, letters back and forth from men in search of gold and their hopeful wives and families back home. The album crosses the country, collecting musical gems along the way. One song dips into Winter’s family history and relates a tragic drowning.


“You can find historical letters that range ones written during the Gold Rush and the Civil War,” Libby said. “Some of the songs are based on actual events that occurred. Others are how I imagined these people as they struggled to survive early America.”


All 15 songs were recorded and mixed in two days at Acadia Recording Company in Portland. They intended the concentrated music marathon to give the new release an album concept and capture the essence of these myriad characters, and the result is an overwhelming success.


The album begins with the mournful and plaintive “Jordan’s Golden Shore,” which features a tinge of Irish harmonies. Next, comes the title track, based on letters written by doomed gold miners sending word to their loved ones about their prospects for fortune. It’s about greed and people losing their moral compass in the space of looking for profit.


“To Rest in California” is an answer to “Devil’s Gold,” inspired by letters written to the miners, imagined from the point-of-views of the wives, much more pragmatic and cautionary.


“I remember reading the miners’ letters (of which, many more are accessible) and wondering what the letters going to these miners were like,” Libby said.


All of the songs read like classic short stories of Americana, and listeners would do well to take their time with the album, reading along with the lyrics for a virtual history lesson.


“When we started this, I didn’t know what it would look like,” Libby said, “But telling stories in music is one of the oldest things people have done.”


One song is a powerful addition to Maine folklore, drawing on a band member’s personal family history. “A Drowning at the Stillwater” is about Nora “Mabel” Henderson Cole, drowned in the Stillwater River in Old Town in 1911, leaving behind her husband and young daughters, Flo and Frances. Cole was Winter’s great-grandmother. This song tells the story of that sad day and the mystery surrounding Cole’s death. “The portrait that graces the inside cover of this album is that of Mrs. Cole, and we hope that she rests in eternal peace wherever she may be,” the album’s liner notes read.


“He grew up in Old Town,” Libby said of Winter. “The photos in the center of the (album’s) booklet are at the spot at the Stillwater where she disappeared. Erik had a copy of his great-grandmother’s obituary and knew the family lore around that tragedy. It inspired me to write a song about it.”


“These Last Fond Words of Mine” is a sort of sea shanty in reverse, this time offering a landed man’s lament over his lost love in her watery grave. “The Northern Timber” is a wonderful anthem, conjuring The Mallett Brothers Band and their recent album of 20th-century Maine working songs, The Falling of the Pine. And “The Murder of the Pioneer Preacher of Deadwood” has all the visual elements of a great music video, something the band plans in the near future, depending on the album’s reception.


Getting the album down to 15 songs may have been Libby’s biggest challenge.


“In the last year, I’ve written about 50 of these songs,” he said. “It was difficult for us to decide how to populate this world, where all of these people are struggling through their own circumstances. The end for all of us is the same journey, and we all take that journey alone. It was tough to pare it down. I know it’s asking a lot of the listener to take such a long trip, but it made sense. It felt like the right world.”


The band’s name comes from Libby’s biological father, “a musician who was out of my life from a pretty young age,” he says. “In the summertime, after he left Maine, we would spend summers in Johnson City, Tennessee. He would play gigs there. A lot of my childhood memories are of him playing folk music. He died when I was 25. I flew down for the funeral. Since then it was in my mind, someday I would pick up the musical thread that he left.”


The Ghosts of Johnson City have done just that, and the resulting creation is an all-covering canvas of American lives, letters, and songs. To spend time in the album’s company is like getting the history lesson too many of us forgot.



The Ghosts of Johnson City

Sat. Feb 11 at 9 p.m.

Portland House of Music & Events

25 Temple St., Portland

with Dark Hollow Bottling Company

  • Published in Music

Scott Cairns on poetry, politics, and the possibility of peace

Scott Cairns was born in Tacoma, Washington. He earned a BA from Western Washington University, an MA from Hollins College, an MFA from Bowling Green State University, and a PhD from the University of Utah. This interview was conducted by Tim Gillis ahead of Cairns' reading in South Portland on Jan. 30.


TG: How does geography influence your poetry?


SC: I don’t know that I consciously am aware of how it might. I do know I’ve been in exile for 40 years, wandering in the wilderness, as it were. I grew up here in the Pacific Northwest, but left for grad school in ’77 and then didn’t really get back until just now. Despite having lived and taught all around the country, this landscape has always been the landscape of my imagination. Maine is similar, the evergreen trees that creep down to the shore, the low skies on a cloudy day — I found it analogous to the kind of quiet that one pursues when settling into writing a poem or saying a prayer.


Besides writing poetry, Cairns has also written a spiritual memoir, Short Trip to the Edge (2007), and the libretto for the oratorios “The Martyrdom of Saint Polycarp” and “A Melancholy Beauty.”


TG: Talk about the element of spirituality in your work.


SC: When I started out, I was like most of my American contemporaries, working off of my own experiences and trying to find something useful to talk about. I guess at some point, around my second book, I started writing to find out, instead of writing what I thought I knew, poring over the language on the page, and looking for a glimpse of something I hadn’t previously apprehended. Most of my career now has been comprised of composing that way. Not too far along that way, I started attending to my own personal obsessions with God — using that practice to lean into an understanding of the nearness of God, developing through the poems, meditations, through that contemplative compressing of language, to appreciate how I might thereby commune with God. Not every poem, but most in the past 30-plus years have commenced that way.


Cairns has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and was awarded the Denise Levertov Award in 2014. He has taught at numerous universities including University of North Texas, Old Dominion University, Seattle Pacific University, and the University of Missouri. He also directs a low-residency MFA program at Seattle Pacific University.


TG: Tell me a bit about the nitty-gritty of your writing process?


SC: I use a legal pad and a pencil, and am usually reading something. What I’m reading is varied — a great poem or some theological text — Patristic Greek texts, the fathers of the church, early saints, and their writings.


TG: Can you contrast the processes of writing poetry, memoir, and libretti?


SC: They require a different filter of the head. With poetry, my primary mode, I write to find things out. If I have an idea before I start, I wait for that idea to go away. I want the language to tell me something I don’t yet apprehend. With the memoir, one begins with a template of actual events that I allow into the text in a way I wouldn’t have done with a poem. I want the events to be recorded and re-examined. Memoir is a way to revisit those occasions and glean from them a more useful sense of what to make of them, these visits to holy places and discussions with holy men. The contents of the libretti were pretty much determined by historical occasions — e.g. the martyrdom of St. Polycarp of Symrna. I worked with a composer who did the music. I supplied verses for moments in the score, then the composer worked from those and deduced from that matter the musical phrases he then composed and arranged.


TG: You’re founding director of Writing Workshops in Greece, a program that brings writers to study and engage with literary life in modern Greece. How did that enterprise come about?


SC: In college, I started reading patristic texts in translation, which eventually led me to becoming an Orthodox Christian. I suppose that the most noticeable Orthodox Christians in America are Greek Orthodox. My developing understanding of the faith led me to pay more attention to these early writings — many of which were written in Greek. I started learning Greek and also going to Greece to visit the monastic enclave of Mount Athos. As you probably know, the Byzantine Empire covered much of the Mediterranean from Venice east, and subsequently succumbed to Islamic takeover. The peninsula of Mount Athos is the last vestige of the Byzantine Empire. That world continues to this day, a part of Greece but not exactly, sort of like the Vatican in terms of self-governance. I initially developed the writing program as an excuse to go to Greece more frequently. As of this past December, I have gone to the holy mountain 24 times.


TG: A sharp contrast to disturbing recent news of religiously motivated attacks and threats of violence nationally. In Portland last Thursday (Jan. 19), a bomb threat was called into a Jewish pre-school. You’re reading at Congregation Bet Ha’am, a Reform Jewish congregation in South Portland, at an event hosted by the BTS Center, a United Church of Christ affiliate that’s ecumenical in nature. Talk about these intersections of politics and religion, and the possibilities for peace. And how can contemporary poetry speak to that end?


SC: Orthodox Christianity is probably the most Jewish of Christian expressions. In Orthodoxy, that connection with the Jewish faith has been maintained, even in the way the priests dress. Our original liturgies were composed by men who were Jews, adapting preexisting Jewish practices. As for myself, I’ve studied a good many rabbinic texts — Talmud, midrashim — early writings that result from one’s poring over perplexing moments in scripture. One writes poems from a place of understanding words, understanding the power of words, and honoring the discoveries that this uncommon degree of attention can avail. If there is a relationship between the poet and the politician, I’d say the poet examines the language of the politician for veracity. Poets in our culture now are in a position to challenge careless or misleading uses of language in the political realm. We are obliged to call attention to such abuses. We have an obligation to share what we see, speaking and writing against euphemism or obfuscation.


Poetry Reading by Scott Cairns, hosted by the BTS Center | Congregation Bet Ha'am, 81 Westbrook St., South Portland | Monday, Jan. 30 7-8 pm

Cairns is the author of eight books of poetry, including The Theology of Doubt (1985), The Translation of Babel (1990), Philokalia (2002), Idiot Psalms (2014), and Slow Pilgrim: The Collected Poems (2015). His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, The Paris Review, The New Republic, Poetry, and elsewhere, and has been anthologized in Best Spiritual Writing and Best American Spiritual Writing.

  • Published in Arts

Forget about politics at the Wicked Good, Halfway Decent Un'naugural Ball

What better way to celebrate the inauguration than to skip it altogether and spend the evening laughing, dancing and raising money for a great cause?

The Mayo Street Arts Center is hosting the Wicked Good, Halfway Decent Un’naugural Ball on Friday, Jan. 20, to benefit Mayo Street Arts and the Maine Immigrant Musical Instrument Project, which helps new arrivals reconnect with their musical roots by finding them instruments and introducing them to local like-minded communities.

The Wicked Good Band will team up with the Half Moon Jug Band for the event. Troy R. Bennett, on guitar and banjo, says he is known as the Van Gogh of the banjo since “I only give the impression that I’m playing it.” He’s joined by “Frost” Steve Brewer on bass, kazoo, and sax and Jeff Hamm who plays a suitcase drum set made from old American Tourister luggage.

Bennett says the idea for the show came to him after the presidential election but stresses that it’s all about positive vibes, not protesting ones. 

“Everyone’s getting worked up over it,” he says of the election results. “They feel like they’ve lost control. We wanted to have a fun concert in town, where you aren’t spinning your wheels, to think about our own neighbors right here.”

That desire to help Portland’s new neighbors led him to Jenny Van West, the founder and director of the Maine Immigrant Musical Instrument Project. Bennett had written about her efforts for a local newspaper and quickly realized her story went on from where he’d left off.

“She had run into a new Mainer from Africa, who commented on the guitar she was carrying,” he says. “She found out that he’d fled Africa but was not able to bring his guitar. You know, while immigrants are waiting for a ruling on a work permit, they are barred from working, but it’s free to make music.”

After that initial chance encounter, Van West started work on the project, which is part of a larger effort called “Welcoming the New American Family,” orchestrated by Pastor Maurice Namwira. It brings together recent arrivals with folks who've been here longer, “making sure they are oriented, have household items, know what they need to do next for their asylum cases, and getting together to eat and play music and relax,” she said.

An early gathering at her house brought in “a mélange of people from 10 different African countries. We had all kinds of music - country, folk, traditional African music. Out of that, a grassroots network started to grow. There are a lot of them in Portland and they are starting to connect, moving into a more formal direction to tackle issues like housing and education since a lot of people are afraid to speak up. For now, we quietly see what can we do for someone to help them feel a little more integrated.”

She notes the various and deep psychological pressures on immigrants, based on what they've been through and how well they acclimate to their new surroundings.

“Music is a common thread. They could be from several different countries, but they all know all these songs,” she said. “Recently I delivered guitars to two people on the same night, men who are living in the same apartment. Typically, roommate situations for recent arrivals seeking asylum are not by choice - more like they are thrown in together because they all need a room and one is available in a particular apartment. One knew that I was coming; the other one did not. The one who knew I was coming is from DR Congo. There, when you receive a gift, the polite thing to do is to put it behind a closed door and open it later. To open it right then is considered rude. So that's what he did and quietly returned to talking with me. While my American self was disappointed that I would not see his reaction, I knew he was receiving this gift in absolutely the most respectful way possible, which made me feel great. The one who did not know I was coming is quite extroverted, and when he got the word I was there, came running out of his room so completely excited. He opened the thin case right up and pulled out the guitar. He sat right down, started playing and singing in a big gorgeous voice.”

Moving experiences like this one are not only felt when she delivers instruments to immigrants, but also when she receives a donation that has been played for generations.

“One of my African friends told me that giving instruments is an act of family,” she said. “If you’re here with no biological family, you feel like you’re at home.”

That sense of family pervades these organizations and is the driving force for the Un’naugural Ball.

“We’re totally into having a good time,” Bennett says. “Whatever happens with the new administration, people are going to need good times. We’re not against anybody. We’re just for stuff – for good times and making sure musicians get instruments in their hands.”

Wicked Good, Halfway Decent Un’naugural Ball | Friday, Jan. 20 at 7:30 p.m. | Mayo Street Arts, 10 Mayo Street, Portland | mayostreetarts.org |

Builder of the House release a gender-bending music video ahead of their first full length album

Local folk-pop duo Builder of the House is moving to the big time. Robert Cimitile (acoustic guitar, vocals) and Elliot Heeschen (drums and electric guitar) are set to release Ornaments, their first full-length work, with eight new tunes and a couple of reworked songs — “There Is No Hourglass, Only Sand” and “My New Eyes.”

An early peek at one of the new songs, “Look at the Man,” has been making rounds via YouTube, garnering widespread praise as a poignant look at former Maine celebrity Conor Leigh Tubbs (who recently moved to New York City). It’s a sublime video narrative, similar in tone to images by local photographer Smith Galtney, who captured Tubbs's vivid transformation to the drag artist Cherry Lemonade for a documentary film project for the Salt Institute.

The band’s music videos have always been their hallmark. “This Is No Hourglass,” directed by Cimitile and co-directed by Derek R. Brigham, won best video at the Idyllwild International Festival of Cinema and CutOut Fest. “A Plot in Falmouth” won best music video at the MOVE Music Festival and is based on the story of Cimitile's great-great grandparents, “on a ship that sailed from Liverpool to Maine” in 1895. He researched the history of it at the Portland Room of the Portland Public Library. The video plays like a silent film and is set in southern Maine.

“It’s super personal, and seemed like an excellent story to be a song,” he said. “Writing lyrics is a lot more challenging for me than the music. On that album, a lot of the songs were introspective. I was listening to a lot of Bright Eyes, mirroring that style. When we started writing tunes for the new album, we were trying to break away from that.”

So they moved from public research for private songs to domestic inspiration for more accessible hits. “When writing lyrics, I pace around my house thinking about a song. Then a phrase will come to me. I write it down, then keep pacing, over and over,” he said. “A lot of songs on the new album are based on sayings, for example ‘you are who you are when no one is looking’. Writing this way, I’m able to pull myself away from singing about myself; it’s not so personal.”

 music BuilderoftheHouse

For Ornaments, the duo worked with Todd Hutchisen at Acadia Recording Company. The Lucid’s Dominic Lavoie provides whistling for the new work. Colleen Clark, Clara Junken and Ashley Storrow add vocals. Bass duties were split between Andy Scherzer of Jaw Gems, and Drew Wyman, who also plays with Pete Witham.

Dan Capaldi helped them arrange the record. “On some songs he was super-involved,” Heeschen said. “Others not so much, but he listened to every track and throughout the album was able to come up with something we had not thought of that made the songs complete.

Forward to Go Back

Builder of the House may have expanded their repertoire, but their music has always retained that creative element. They both played in the Maine Marimba Ensemble — “a fun enterprise where there’s not as much pressure as playing your own stuff,” Heeschen says. When the two began playing with the MME, “Rob was already working on the first EP and he was looking for someone to drum live. He was playing with a lot of local musicians, and I seemed to be the common denominator. Then it became more like we were the band.”

Their name comes from a meditation retreat Cimitile once attended. A recorded recitation of Buddhist scripture was playing, and he was particularly moved by the story of Siddhartha sitting under the tree, awaiting divine revelation.

“He refuses to get up until he achieves enlightenment,” Cimitile recalls. “When he finally does, he opens his eyes and says ‘Ah, builder of the house, I have seen you and you can no longer build a house for me because I’ve taken all your mortar and smashed all your bricks.’ I was in a rough spot at the time, and whenever I thought of this phrase later, it reminded me of trying to be better.”

And the band is. A little bit Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits, a simmering blend of story and song. And a new album for the new year.


Watch "Look At The Man" here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EkdPkizADUk

  • Published in Music

Dave Gutter shares his year's high moments

Rustic Overtones open for Matisyahu at the State Theatre on New Year’s Eve in an all-ages show. For Dave Gutter, the band’s frontman, it has been a year of collaboration and fruition for projects that highlight his wordsmithing for others and influence on their musical careers.

“A lot of stuff I’d been writing the last three years culminated this year,” Gutter said in a recent interview with The Phoenix.

Aaron Neville released “Apache,” with lyrics Gutter co-wrote with Eric Krasno based on Neville’s poems.

“Working on the Neville record has been a dream gig,” Krasno said of the release. On it, he worked with Gutter, imagining Neville’s life through at least 50 poems he had sent them.

“The cool thing for me was laying down music and melodies, like painting a picture. We created the sketch and Aaron would add the color. He was very involved in the process, something he had not done on his records in a very long time,” Krasno said. “The excitement level between all of us was high.”

Gutter pushed Krasno, the songwriter, to move to the front of the stage and sing his own songs, which resulted in Krasno’s debut album, Blood from a Stone. Krasno credits Gutter and other Maine musicians with helping him make the jump, giving him the necessary confidence in his own voice.

Another high note, literally, for Gutter was his work on a single from GRiZ’s new album. In addition to the novel song, Grant Kwiecinski, who at 25 is already an electronic funk icon, also introduced GRiZ Kush, the artist’s own strain of weed that is sold legally in Denver, Co.

“With the writing thing, it’s been a busy year,” Gutter said, but added that the creative, collaborative process dates back even longer. “We started that four years ago. So sometimes after you write the songs, the bands tour and play them, record them. Now we’re at a place where it’s looping around and seems current.”

Over time, Gutter’s vocal range has moved from sandpaper scratchy rock anthems like Paranoid Social Club’s “We All Got Wasted” to hauntingly mellow love ballads, like those off his new album Armies, a duo endeavor with Anna Lombard.

His songwriting may have been overlooked comparatively, but industry insiders know he can crank out catchy bumper sticker lyrics and social commentary with music’s best. In a year that saw Bob Dylan win a Nobel Prize for Literature, the establishment types are starting to appreciate songwriting as a serious art form.

For Gutter, a low note this year was the death of David Bowie. The Maine minstrel joined up with other local legends in a tribute to Ziggy Stardust held at the State Theatre days after news came down. He played “Sector Z” with Jeff Beam, Dominic Lavoie, and Mat Zaro.

Another high point for Gutter — again, literally — was when he and fiancée Kaitlyn Gradie had their engagement photographs taken on the side of a cliff in the White Mountains.

“We went to the top in the early morning dark,” he said. “They dropped us down with harnesses, and as the sun came up, they took the pictures.” Philbrick Photography provided the aerial hijinks on Cathedral Ledge. The couple plans to get married, perhaps in the new year, but they are waiting to announce a date, “waiting to throw a crazy party."

More big news for the coming year: Rustic Overtones have begun work on a new album, one that will be a decidedly different product than in years past.

“It’s a collection of instrumentals I’m currently writing over,” Gutter said. “A world music vibe, heavily South American and Brazilian. I discovered some cool music from the late ’60s and ’70s, from Brazilian psychedelic rock bands. We love to make music like that, always trying to push forward.”

From the studio to the stage, the band continues to break barriers. “We resurrect all of our music when we play live,” he said of the upcoming State show, “and we’ll have fresh new versions with a different feel.”

Gutter has not played with Matisyahu before, but knows several of the guys from his band, having met them through Krasno. “I’ve never even seen Matis live, so I’m looking forward to do my set and then just chill, hang out with the drunk guys who know every word to your songs.”



Matisyahu w/ Rustic Overtones & Alec Benjamin

Doors: 8 pm / Show: 9 pm

$20 Early Bird / $30 Advance / $35 Day of Show

This event is ALL AGES

  • Published in Music

The Mallett Brothers will end a busy year at PHOME

Coming off a whirlwind tour of the United States this past year and playing as many as 190 shows, the Mallett Brothers say it will be “cool to cap it off at home,” on New Year’s Eve at the Portland House of Music and Events.

“In 2016, it turned into gigging harder than ever,” Luke Mallett said in a recent interview with The Phoenix, “playing five days a week throughout the summer. We’ve gone to Texas twice, and back and forth to Colorado.”

After several years as a tight, cohesive group, the band has been practicing overtime to fit in two new musicians — Adam Cogswell on drums who replaced Brian Higgins, and Andrew Martelle, formerly of North of Nashville, on fiddle and mandolin.

“In seven years, we’ve gone through more than one lineup change,” Luke said. “When we lost Brian and started with Adam, it took some adjusting. With these two new additions, we now have even more renewed energy when we play live. Martelle is a great element to add. Having a fiddle brings things to life.”

The band is based around Luke and Will Mallett, on vocals and guitar. Along with the new additions, Wally plays guitar and dobro and adds vocals. Nick Leen plays bass guitar. Their release last year, Lights Along the River, garnered widespread acclaim and raucous crowds.

What may surprise their loyal following is a secret work they’ve been honing for several years now. Expected to come out in February of 2017, The Falling of the Pine is a return to their musical roots with a typical added flourish. It is inspired in part by their time in the Maine woods while working on their last album and a book Will found on his parents’ bookshelf. The Falling of the Pine offers up ten tunes based on lyrics discovered in that book, Minstrelsy of Maine, a 1927 collection of folk songs and logging lyrics written by Fannie Hardy Eckstorm of Brewer. The band met each day for a few hours, delving into some of this rich Maine history for the new material.

“We’ve been working on it long enough. It took us quite some time,” Luke said of the upcoming LP, for which they added musical score to the words. “We picked at this in-between (live shows and other studio work). We’ve got the record finished, the artwork back, and we’re feeling close.”

The band plans a Maine theater tour for the spring, playing in some opera houses as well, a fitting backdrop for these traditional tunes. Acknowledging the value of the stories behind the songs, The Falling of the Pine is the band’s first record for which they will release a booklet of lyrics. “We’ve been asked for years to do that, and finally thought this is the one. It has the lyrics as well as quotes from the author,” Luke said.

The two Mallett brothers come from a family with a strong folk tradition. Their father Dave has churned out Maine folk songs and ballads for four decades and is featured on their last album. Their mother Jayne Lello worked with a University of Maine professor, Sandy Ives, back in the 1960s, collecting and archiving traditional songs when she first learned of Minstrelsy. Although the researching duo created some vinyl versions of the songs, the Mallett Brothers were keen to keep away from their influence and, in the folk tradition, rework the music.

“They were singing some of these songs in the traditional Irish folk way. Our mother has a copy. We heard it and knew about it, but we tried to avoid it,” Luke said. “We had a pretty good idea anyway, but we started from scratch. We wanted to match the feeling of the lyrics to the instruments we are playing now and the general feel of the whole thing. It is different, definitely not a traditional record. We did traditional songs in a non-traditional way.”

Excitement brims for the new work with the old songs, but the singer took a moment to reflect on the hubbub of the outgoing year. He said a high note was playing at Floydfest in July.

“It sets the bar for festivals,” he said. “It’s smaller than some, tucked in the mountains in Floyd, V, in Blueridge. It’s a real scene — a collection of music lovers like I’ve never seen. The people are cool, and the bands they brought in offer a lot to up-and-coming bands.”

Turning their sights on the year-ending show, the band is thrilled to be billed with Samuel James and his full band. They see the “grit and gravel” performer as a perfect fit for their folksy, countrified sound. “We have been trying to put a show together with him for five years, and it just finally worked out.”

Members of Jaw Gems reflect on the success of their latest album, Heatweaver

Get in shape for New Year’s Eve by grooving to local neolegends Jaw Gems, who open for Lettuce and Tauk at the State Theatre on December 30, a funky all-ages affair. We caught up with Andrew Scherzer, the band’s electric bass player to talk about their new album Heatweaver and its reception, their upgrade in venue size — hopping from a residency at Local 188 to Portland House of Music and Events to the State — and the band’s reaction to winning Deli Magazine’s New England Artist of the Month award this week.


Andrew Scherzer: The band hasn’t been together as much lately, each busy with individual works and Thanksgiving, but when [the album] came out, we were very excited. It’s cool and sort of surreal. Anytime we find out that people like the way we play — it’s awesome, exciting and very weird too. No matter what happens, I’m like, 'people like us?' It’s like the surprise when getting the job and saying ‘What? You believed my resume?’ Anytime anyone takes some time out of their day to recognize some sort of art that you are putting out is a real honor.”


Tim Gillis: You’re touring with Lettuce. Tell us what that’s like.


AS: We’ve played with them before. Last year, we played with them at the State and did three or four shows with them, including one in September Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel in Providence. They’ve taken us out for some one-off gigs. I would say they’re my favorite band. And in meeting them, we found that they’re the funnest guys to hang out with.


TG: Where is the tour headed in the New Year?


AS: We’re tagging along on the East Coast side of their tour, from Boston to Florida for a couple of weeks, playing quite a few shows with them. Then we are heading to LA to play a hip-hop showcase, then linking up with Papadosio for some of their tour in the Southwest and finishing up in Atlanta. We’re going on the road for about two months.


TG: There’s been a big buzz around your recent release. A lot has been happening for the band since the release of Heatweaver. The response, both critically and from newer fans from farther away; what’s that been like?


AS: It’s been great. Our second album, Blades Plural, got a great reception, but it was before we were brought out nationally. We were playing other places, playing with great bands, and then put out the new album. Portland and the Maine music scene has to be one of the most supportive communities in the country. We couldn’t be a band without it, but putting out an album and have people who don’t know you, to have those people pick it up … it’s not better than when you play in Portland, [but] it’s just different and new. I probably speak for the whole band when I say it’s a great and weird feeling when people have no reason to like your music — they’re not your friends’ friends. When you know that the reason they dig your music is all their own.


TG: How does an improviser practice?


AS: That depends on the intent of practice. If we’re rehearsing to get ready for shows, we’re not really writing new things, not changing things. We’re just trying to play the music and not stagnate. You want the thing to sound like it’s new and fresh. And it probably sounds counterintuitive, but you don’t want to practice too much and just move your hands mindlessly. So we don’t put too many rules on how we’re going to play. We don’t want a dance song to turn into a happy ballad, but other than that, there are no rules.


Jaw Gems is made up of Ahmad Hassan Muhammad and Tyler Quist, both on keyboard and samplers, D.J. Moore on drums, and Andrew Scherzer on electric bass. Each of them plays in at least two different bands, but Jaw Gems is now their main project and focal point for playing live.

  • Published in Music

Newly opened Mini Mogadishu offers authentic Somali cuisine

Somalis in the greater Portland area can get a taste of home at Mini Mogadishu, the new Forest Avenue restaurant that opened Saturday. It’s owned and operated by Nimo and Halimo Mohamud, spiritual sisters and pioneers in an ethnic fare usually served up by men.

Al Huda, Fez Mediterranean, and Asmara offer Somali and the somewhat similar Eritrean food, as do several other markets dotted in between, but the tendency is that some can turn into hang out spots for males, making it awkward for young African women to share the same space.

Mini Mogadishu is not designed just for women of course, but the idea is to have it run by women making authentic homemade Somali food, with an enclosed space in the restaurant reserved for women where they can comfortably remove their hijabs.

Halimo Mohamud came to Portland in 1999. Nimo arrived a couple of years later. They met in 2002 through a mutual friend and discovered they were from the same Abgaal tribe. They talked about their new lives as immigrants, raising kids in a foreign community, and agreed that mealtime was a solidifying experience.

“Growing up in Somalia made you tough but empathetic. Surrounded by such uncertainty and hardship meant that sometimes the only good part of life was the time spent with family around the dinner table,” Nimo said. “I’ve watched a large group of kids grow. Some of them my own and some of them within my neighborhood and community. I remember them coming to my house with my children to have supper with us. It is a nice feeling knowing that however small, I did have a little impact on their maturity through a home cooked meal.”

Halimo and her cousin had operated a transportation company. Nimo drove for them, and plans began for the restaurant.

Operating all day, Mini Mogadishu will serve classic Somali breakfast fare including aanjeero crepes (a fermented pancake-like bread) with hilib (goat or beef) or chicken sugar. Lunchtime offerings include dalac bilash (a tomato soup), boor (fried dough), mushaari bowl (porridge), and fresh pita or jaapaati. For sipping, there'll be fruit smoothies and mango or guava juice.

“And many Italian foods,” said Abdul Yousef, Nimo’s son who painted the left side of the wall blue with a large white star to reflect the Somali flag. “Italians were settlers in Somalia and part of their culture was left behind. Lasagna, ziti, spaghetti — there are a lot of pasta dishes in our culture.”

Yousef's sister Hanan and brother Abdi helped renovate the restaurant from its former days as Nur’s, Abdi Rahman’s Halaal Market. In addition to painting the walls, the family tackled the kitchen and bathroom, and tore up layers of tile floors. But they kept the brick oven to consider serving pizza.

“There’s a big difference for what you need in a kitchen between a restaurant and a market,” Yousef said.

The changes were a necessary attempt to put their mark on the building, but the look will keep evolving. According to Yousef, conformity is not so important in Somali culture, so he'll have a mix of rearrangeable booth and single seating, a café and a more private section for women only.

With family style seating available, Mini Mogadishu can accommodate eight to ten people.

“We want to reflect how people do things in their own homes, and try to do our best to recreate that,” Yousef said.

  • Published in Food
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