Francis Flisiuk

Francis Flisiuk

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What's taking so long? Mainers are anxious to start buying and selling recreational marijuana

Hundreds gathered at last week’s 3rd Annual New England Cannabis Convention amidst stalls displaying everything from the latest lighting and trimming technology, cultivation products, and an array of the latest strains, vaporizers, edibles, and CBD topicals, to talk shop about marijuana.

But underlying the industry chatter among vendors and attendees was an overwhelming sense of frustration with the delayed implementation of the measure voters approved of in November 2016 and the uncertainty surrounding its rewrite currently crawling through the legislature.

One question steered many of the conversations at the two-day convention: How long will it take before Maine’s recreational marijuana market is up and running?

“People voted for this, it's time to give them what they voted for,” said Dr. Trevor Boseman, an independent medical marijuana consultant from Brunswick on the NECANN floor. (Marc Shepard, the co-founder and president of NECANN, is an associate publisher of the Phoenix.)

A special bi-partisan committee has worked for seven months to amend last year’s citizen’s initiative and write a more responsible adult-use marijuana bill which aims to set up the licensing regulations, product safety requirements, age restrictions, and avenues for tax revenue (estimated at $220 million by 2020) for the recreational market in Maine.

Other aspects of the bill include a 10 percent sales tax and a 10 percent excise tax based on weight, provisions for law enforcement to receive six percent of collected sales tax, home cultivation limits to 12 plants, and a requirement that those applying for a recreational marijuana operation must have lived and paid taxes in Maine for at least two years.

Boseman doesn’t agree with everything in the bill (like the extra excise tax, which wasn’t in the original ballot question), but supports it regardless because he’s tired of all the stalling.

“I just want to see it go forward it whatever capacity, so people have access to it,” said Boseman. “On the medical side, some patients don’t want to get a green card, and they should be able to get it [marijuana] over the counter.”

Entrepreneurs looking to burgeon into this new market support the bill because without it recreational marijuana sales would be in a legal limbo and an unfettered, unlicensed, and untaxed black market would be in its place.

Grass Monkey, a family owned and operated cannabis company out of Westbrook, serves medical patients. But they’re hoping to sell to consumers 21 and over inside a Portland storefront offering numerous different strains of both indica and sativa. 

“I’m impressed with this bill, it will be the best one in the U.S. if passed,” said Jared Dinsmore of Grass Monkey. "They understand that the free market will dictate who stays in business and who goes. I appreciate the allowance of delivery services. I appreciate third-party testing; you can’t let people give themselves their own seals of approval. I’m happy that the state is taking on the task of responsibly drawing up a good bill for everybody.”

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Jared Dinsmore of the Portland cannabis company Grass Monkey showing off his product at the third annual New England Cannabis Convention. 

But it’s unclear what will happen once the bill reaches a divided House floor for deliberation or once it lands on LePage’s desk for potential signature.

House Minority Leader Ken Fredette (R-Newport) — who is against the legalization of marijuana in general — will vote against the bill because it lumps too many issues into one measure. Nobody knows how many Republicans will follow his lead.

David Boyer, Maine’s director of the Marijuana Policy Project said he’s almost certain that Gov. LePage will veto the bill. According to Boyer, if LePage continues to drag his feet on this, the earliest Mainers could see marijuana storefronts and social clubs is summer 2019.

“I’m disappointed in the Governor, he seems to have gone back on his word,” said Boyer, who played a big role in last year’s legalization effort. “If he vetoes it, Question 1 is still the law of the land, and we’ll still be in this awkward place where marijuana is legal to grow and own, but not to sell or buy.”

Boyer spent a lot of time at the convention urging folks living in Republican districts to call their legislator, in hopes of drumming up the two-third votes needed to override a potential veto.

“We don’t support everything in it, but we support the passage of it,” said Boyer. “Even if you don’t like marijuana at all, you still probably want this bill because it adds restrictions and regulations. It’s time to get moving on this.”

The Battle For Fair Rent — What You Need To Know About Question 1

It's no secret that Portland is changing — and fast. Tons of development money is pouring in, and with it, a different class of people who can afford higher rents, a process that has accelerated the displacement of long-term residents and exacerbated the housing crunch in the city. On November 7, Portlanders will vote on Question 1, the ordinance proposed by the upstart citizens' group Fair Rent Portland, which aims to cap the rate of rental increases and provide more protections for tenants.

The vote will be important for the future of the city. But with both sides of the debate accusing each other of distorting facts, the average citizen is often left confused.

For starters, the arguments offered aren’t both rooted in the same premise — namely, that rents are rising in Portland at such a pace that it’s disproportionately affecting low and middle-income earners. Opponents of Question 1 don’t agree; they say rents haven’t increased in the past two years.

But they have. The fair market rental rate for a two-bedroom in Portland was $1,012 in 2014. Since then, it’s risen to $1,348. According to the online real estate database Zillow, rents have risen by 40 percent in the past five years.

A recent report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition titled Out of Reach found that a Mainer earning the average renter wage of $10.98 an hour would have to work 80 hours a week to afford a fair market rate two-bedroom apartment costing $939 a month (affordability is defined here as spending less than 30 percent of one's income on rent). And that’s just the average cost for the entire state. Portland itself is indeed more expensive to live in than ever before.

Those opposing rent stabilization, a group calling themselves Say No To Rent Control, has been rebuked by critics for indulging in fear-mongering, conflating rent stabilization with rent control and falsely claiming that the rent-stabilization ordinance would increase property taxes.

Members of Fair Rent Portland consider the signs and flyers their opposition has peppered all over town “manipulative and designed to frighten Portland voters.”

“The most obvious and dramatic aspect of the flyer is how it is almost a non-sequitur,” said Jack O’Brien, a member of Fair Rent Portland. “While there are many reasons that people have come out against rent stabilization, this one has almost no basis in the economic literature, empirical studies, or even what other opposition campaigns have come out with in the past.”

Who Doesn't Like Fair Rent?

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Brit Vitalius, the president of the Southern Maine Landlords Association, speaking at a recent Say No To Rent Control Rally. Photo Courtesy of Say No To Rent Control. 

Say No To Rent Control is a loosely organized coalition mostly comprised of landlords, real estate agents, contractors and developers. The group is promoted by the Southern Maine Landlords Association and Port Property, the single largest housing company in the city, and their address, 306 Congress Street, shares the same address for The Vitalius Group, one of the area's biggest real estate companies.

Naturally, their campaign has a big financial advantage. The Portland Press Herald reported that the Say No To Rent Control still has over $100,000 left in their campaign coffers, compared to $3,200 for Fair Rent Portland. As evidenced by the big turnout at a Say No To Rent Control rally last week at Lincoln Park, the group appears to be determined to squash this ordinance.

It’s worth noting that suspicions suggesting that the opposition's marketing is being run out of Washington D.C. are unfounded. Derek Lavallee, who manages public relations for the opposition campaign, does write as a columnist for the conservative-leaning D.C.-based website The Hill, but he’s lived and worked out of Portland since 2010. (He believes that Fair Rent Portland is the group responsible for disseminating flyers filled with falsehoods, but more on that later.)

Together, Lavallee and a coalition of landlords are pushing the narrative that Question 1 is a “poorly written ordinance” and throwing around a lot of money to convince you that a yes vote would be a disaster for Portland. In this piece, we’ll examine their biggest gripes.

What would Question 1 do?

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Campaign signs for Fair Rent Portland. 

If approved by voters, the ordinance would set up a special volunteer panel which would settle rent increase and eviction disputes in the city — one of the worries here is that the panel would automatically be biased toward tenants, regardless of the issue.

Article XII Sec. 6-250 of the proposed ordinance reads: “The city shall take reasonable steps, but is not required, to appoint to the Rent Board at least one (1) Landlord and at least four (4) tenants.”

Under the ordinance, the board would have the authority to approve or deny proposed rent increases, make rulings on appeals brought forth by tenants challenging evictions, and fine landlords if they don’t follow the provisions laid out in the ordinance.

In other words, it’s an effort to hold landlords more accountable and address the power imbalance between them and their tenants. What it's not is a group of citizens arbitrarily setting a cap on rental increases with no chance for discussion (like the Say No crowd warns). In fact, the ordinance ties the annual allowable rent increase to inflation, and if landlords have a property improvement that warrants a rent increase, they can appeal to the board. 

But there remain valid concerns that the seven-person board would be ill-equipped to mediate the myriad of rental increase and eviction disputes amongst the 18,000 or so renters in Portland.  

“The volunteer panel would replace eviction court and this is a completely unworkable proposal,” said Lavallee. “This would be an unreasonably expensive and time-consuming task, and the replacement of the court system with volunteers without any legal experience would be an injustice to both renters and landlords.”

The proposed ordinance would remain active for five years with a section of it stating that the Portland City Council "will determine to amend, renew, or terminate it 180 days prior to January 1, 2025." The opposition doesn’t appreciate this so-called “sunset clause,” and its potential to keep rent-stabilization on the books for seven years, five of which without a chance for a slight amendment.

Question 1 would also increase the city registration fee for new units up $30, from $35 to $65. However, this provision and the overall cap on allowable increase percentage wouldn't apply to landlords who own less than six units under the ordinance.

There are other concerns the Say No To Rent Control side has with the rent stabilization ordinance, but perhaps their biggest one is that under it landlords believe they’d lose the incentive to upgrade units and invest in new developments. They say this would “lead to a shortage of affordable housing.”

Overall, they believe that rent-stabilization would contribute to the problem it’s trying to ameliorate by pushing landlords to develop condos or use AirBnb to rent rooms to circumnavigate the regulations that cut into their profits. Using this logic, poor people looking for housing in a tight market would lose out the most.

“It’s really just not a well-written document,” said Dana Totman, the CEO of Avesta Housing, Portland's largest provider of affordable housing. “It will not have a positive effect, I think it will probably lead to many apartments being converted to condominiums or Airbnb just to avoid this whole thing. People will try to get out of the apartment business, and that’s not good for affordability.”

This argument is puzzling, especially coming from people who claim to care about gentrification in Portland, like Jonathan Culley, a housing developer and board member at Avesta Housing. Culley opposes Question 1 and appeared in a recent ad for the Say No campaign saying "rent control initiatives favor middle and upper-income professionals, they favor people with good educations, they favor people who are well connected, and they favor people with high credit scores, and these are not the people that need the help.

In other words, poor people need help and housing, but landlords make more money when they don't rent to them. 

The Say No To Rent Control website cites a study called “Rent Control: Do Economists Agree?” that backs up the claim that rent-control policies hurt the people it intends to help the most. Written by Blair Jenkins in 2009, it concludes that 93 percent of economists in the American Economic Association consider rent-stabilization bad policy.

“There is a whole host of economic studies that show the negative impacts of rent control,” said Lavallee. “The primary problem with rent controls is that they create supply shortages — meaning less affordable housing.”

Referencing the study, copy on a Say No To Rent Control leaflet reads: “This means more competition for fewer housing units, resulting in a market that favors landlords instead of tenants. With a cap on rental costs, this means things like credit scores and work history will become even more important to property owners when approving tenants. It is more likely that higher-income earners will be favored based on their ability to afford rent.”

Dubious sources?

However, Fair Rent Portland takes issue with citing this study because it “systematically excludes almost all of the recent research on rent stabilization,” including all work from Canada and Europe, and the work of Edward Olson and Richard Arnott, the two leading economists who’ve studied it..

“She’s cherry-picking information and publishing it on a free-market think-tank page,” said O’Brien. “I would not call that a credible source.”

And even if 93 percent of economists "agree that rent-control is bad policy, it's useful here to consider the work of Arnott who argued in a 1997 paperthat critics of rent control often deride its oldest versions, instead of examining modern policies that have since been reformed. For example, like Fair Rent Portland’s proposal, many rent-stabilization policies across the U.S. exempt landlords from the cap on rental increases when dealing with new tenants (something called vacancy decontrol), or constructing new units. Arnott argues that rent control programmes should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, rather than being opposed in general.

"Second-generation rent controls are typically mild and so can be expected to have only modest effects on the housing market,” reads a portion of Arnott’s study. “As a result, expert opinion on the effects of modern rent control policies has become increasingly agnostic.”

Loss of theoretical revenue

Jenkins herself recognizes that over 140 jurisdictions have implemented rent-control policies across the U.S. just since 2001, each one distinctly unique in definition and execution. The flyers choose to mention two cities as examples of rent control gone wrong: “from Berkeley, California, to New York City, the adoption of rent control in communities around the country has resulted in massive erosion of tax revenues.” It then warns voters ominously, “don’t let Portland be the next city on the list.”

But the interesting thing according to O’Brien is that the studies cited on the flyer only tenuously back up its claims.

The first citation on the flyer points to a thorough, glowing report from the City of Berkeley about their rent-stabilization program from 1978-1994, which was implemented to shield low-earning renters from the rising costs of land in the Bay Area. During that period, the average controlled rent in Berkeley was 35 to 40 percent below what it would have been without controls. Landlords did see a decrease in profits — down from 19 percent return on investment to 9 percent — but this had “little to if any effect” on building repair and maintenance expenditures.

“All of the disasters predicted by critics did not come to pass,” said O’Brien.

In fact, the study shows that the policy was successful in stabilizing communities, decreasing transience, slowing rent increases, and retaining more black, disabled, and elderly residents than neighboring cities.

“Overall the Bay Area suffered a staggering loss of more than half of its most affordable rental units due to rent increases. Berkeley held its loss of low-rent units to half the rate of the Bay Area and was far more successful than any of its neighbors in maintaining its stock of low-rent housing,” the study reads.

The claim the opposition makes about the erosion of tax revenues stems solely from page 132 of the study, a section on foregone revenue, which is calculated as what Berkeley would have made if its buildings had increased at the same rate as surrounding towns without a rent-stabilization policy. It reads that rent stabilization diminished increases in the resale value of multi-unit buildings in Berkeley and the value of buildings in outside the city increased at a higher rate.

Berkeley's tax base from multi-units did not shrink but grew more slowly than that of its neighbors. But since Berkeley did not collect this virtual revenue that they might otherwise have had, they might have had to increase property taxes. So essentially, there was no tax increase directly related to the stabilization policy.

“It’s not remotely like a property tax increase,” said O’Brien.

When asked directly whether the rent-stabilization ordinance would increase property taxes in Portland, Lavallee didn’t refer to a formal tax increase, instead saying: “Question 1 would cause the devaluation of rental properties, based on their limits revenue potential. When these properties drop in value, it would create a decrease in tax revenue. This would put pressure on other revenue sources like property taxes for homeowners to replace lost tax revenue from devalued rental properties.”

The last citation on the flyer — titled A Financial Analysis On Rent Regulations In New York City — says that a rent control initiative cost the city over 4 billion in taxable property values in the late 1980s. But it’s unclear if the study connects that loss directly to an increase in property taxes. “That study is even stranger,” says O’Brien.

First off, it’s incredibly hard to find.

“I’m an academic and I know how to search a library, but I could not find that book,” said O’Brien who searched every major university in New England and the Library of Congress. “I don’t think anyone actually read this book. I would be interested to see if they could produce a copy.”

The only copy readily available comes from Albany, New York, and is considered questionable by Fair Rent Portland because it was commissioned by landlords in New York to argue against rent regulations and is largely cited concerning the distribution of units in the city.

But the struggles of enacting rent-control in much bigger cities like New York and Berkeley might not serve as a good analog for Portland; each city has very different housing stocks, available space, income distributions, and demographics. Fair Rent Portland modeled their ordinance off of existing ones in the smaller cities of West Hollywood, CA and Takoma Park, MD.

According to a story in the Washington Post, in Takoma Park, one apartment building called the Hampshire Tower was granted exemption from their city’s rent stabilization policy under the condition that they’d renovate units and address over 100 code violations. What was the result? Sure, residents received upgraded apartments but they also got a 70 percent increase in rents — up from $1,098 a month to $1,600. This displaced dozens of lower-income residents, primarily first-generation immigrants.

But elsewhere in the city, where rent-control policies were enacted, the immediate housing crisis was relieved and long-term development and growth were supported; today Takoma is home to a “thriving middle class.”

Facts or feelings

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With hugely well-funded interests backing the Say No To Rent Control campaign and these seemingly founded allegations of promulgating misinformation, it’s no surprise that Fair Rent Portland doesn’t consider this a fair fight. O’Brien considers the political tactics of their opponents as nothing new, saying that it fits right into how debates have been conducted in the U.S. for decades.

“The majority of people can agree on an issue, but what wealthy interests have learned since the '70s is that the only thing you have to do to stop a progressive policy is gin up enough fear and insecurity that people vote no out of a sort of pragmatic conservatism,” said O’Brien. “That’s a trick they’ve used over and over again, from climate change to labor laws to minimum wage.”

But the Say No To Rent Control crowd also accuses their opponents of distorting facts, with a page of their website dedicated to “fact checking” Fair Rent Portland’s flyers which they say are “riddled with false statements.” Of the seven allegedly debunked points, three seem to be onto something: Fair Rent Portland claims that their ordinance is as an “interim measure” (seven years is hardly an interim), that it “encourages construction of affordable housing” (there’s nothing in Question 1 about that), and that Portland “recently ranked #2 in the nation for rent increases (it technically did for one month in 2015, but the larger picture ranks Portland 2,750th out of 13,113 cities for rate of rent increases).

A lack of a shared set of facts and general confusion around an issue can lead to extreme polarization, when in fact, both sides might simultaneously voice truths: rent stabilization can protect tenants against arbitrary rent increases or evictions and impact housing quantity and quality. And when a political issue is objectively complex, it’s tempting to make it subjectively simple, encouraging voters to make a decision based on morals and personal philosophy.

In an interview with Pacific Standard, Joshua Mason, an economics professor at Roosevelt University alluded to this notion by saying that “the real goal of rent control is protecting the moral rights of occupancy," something that's not guaranteed in a free-market.

“Long-term tenants who contributed to this being a desirable place to live have a legitimate interest in staying in their apartments,” said Mason. “If we think that income diverse, stable neighborhoods, where people are not forced to move every few years, [are worth preserving] then we collectively have an interest in stabilizing the neighborhood.”

As is often the case with political debates revolving around intellectually dense topics like economics and public policy, it’s common practice to eschew statistics, distort studies to fit a narrative, shamelessly exploit fears, and instead call for people to squeeze themselves into just two morally subjective camps of people: those that believe housing is a product, and those that believe it’s a basic human right.

Which camp are you in?

  • Published in Features

Taking On The Tuck: City Councilor Spencer Thibodeau Clashes With Fox News Anchor

City Councilor Spencer Thibodeau appeared on Fox News' Tucker Carlson Tonight last week to defend a measure he voted on for the city to recognize Indigenous People's Day on the second Monday of October, replacing Columbus Day.

Immediately Carlson, who’s developed a reputation for vilifying progressive movements ever since he took the prime time Fox news spot from Bill O'Reilly, conflated the municipal recognition of Indigenous People’s day with an attempt at offering an alternate history. He introduced Thibodeau by connecting his measure — which was initially brought forth by fellow Councilor Pious Ali — to a national “battle to cleanse history.”

“It sounds like the city council of Portland is sending the message it would have been better if the Europeans hadn’t come to America in the first place and that's why they are eliminating Columbus Day,” said Carlson during the start of the interview.

Thibodeau patiently explained that the history of Christopher Columbus is inexorably tied to the history of Indigenous peoples (specifically the ones living in the areas Columbus conquered and pillaged) and that the city of Portland didn’t vote to overthrow a federally recognized holiday (it couldn’t even if its voters wanted to) but instead simply voted to recognize Indigenous People’s Day, a holiday within an entire month dedicated to honoring Italian Americans.

“This allows people to recognize the holiday as they see fit,” said Thibodeau. “And I think it was a reasonable proposal that the council took up.”

Pivoting, Carlson then challenged Thibodeau to name some Indian tribes living in Maine, to which he responded with two — Wabanaki and Penobscot — before Carlson cut him off again.

Carlson’s last argument in the lively six-minute exchange with Thibodeau was a baffling example of “whataboutism” in which he suggested that Portland’s famous for “junkies” overdosing on opiates and that because Portland’s grappling with an opioid crisis, city councilors shouldn’t have “wasted time on symbolic stuff."

“Presumably, there are American Indians in Portland you could be helping but you guys spent a ton of time on this,” said Carlson. “There are also a lot of heroin addicts right downtown in Portland in case you haven’t noticed. For the council to spend any time at all on this nonsense when your city has become famous for people overdosing on opiates, it’s like, where are your priorities?”

Here was Thibodeau’s astute reply: “Our city is famous for lobster and Longfellow. We’ve struggled as many other cities do with opioids. But let me just say, we’ve spent time on this, 40 minutes, and then we moved onto the next issue, which is what we’re supposed to do on the municipal level.”

 

  • Published in News

8 Days: Small Town Horrors, Uncovered Gems, and Art Dissections

THURSDAY 12

BEST IN THE BIZ | A big reason why Portland — unlike some rapidly growing American cities — retains its unique and hyper-local charm, is because of the success of its small businesses. Without out them, Congress St. would likely resemble Main Street USA: a soulless strip packed with chain restaurants, big box stores, and corporate kitsch. Today Portland honors its vibrant independent business community at the annual Indie Biz Awards. Although we all have our own ideas on which businesses are the best in town, let's gather to see who won the most votes. In addition the award show, guests will enjoy food, drinks, and live music from Saved And Sound, a duo comprised of Portland locals Monique Gaudet and Dave Jacquet.

| $5 | 6:00 pm | Portland House of Music and Events, 25 Temple St., Portland | https://www.portlandhouseofmusic.com/ |

 

2 + 2 = 5 | Do you really understand the similarities between today’s political climate and the themes present in George Orwell’s dystopian fiction 1984, or do you like to just gab about it to sound smart? If you never read 1984 (or didn't pay attention in high school) I recommend you revisit this classic — it’s a short, thrilling read, and the parallels to today (from mass surveillance and alternative facts to thought-crimes and an overbearing government) are quite striking. Armed with a refresher, attend this special screening of the film starring John Hurt and Richard Burton, and then stick around for a discussion on both the book and movie with Jason Read, the chair of Philosophy at the University of Southern Maine. Tell me, is there anything more exciting than literary analysis in our postmodern world?

| FREE | 6:30 pm | Portland Public Library, 5 Monument Square, Portland | https://www.portlandlibrary.com/ |

 

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Muddy Ruckus. Photo By: Michael Lowe

STOMP YER FEET | Devot some precious minutes this evening to welcome power duo Hymn for Her during their first trip to Portland, and save some energy for the amount of jumping they'll inevitably convince you to take part in; these two don’t play for wallflowers. Hymn for Her has been touring across the country with their juiced-up blend of backwoods country-folk and desert psychedelia and finally decided that Maine needed a taste. I don’t know about you, but any band that’s described as “Hell’s Angels meets the Amish” immediately piques my interest. Joining these two on their hayride to hell is Muddy Ruckus, Portland’s rootsy Americana duo — they’ve got a rad new EP out called Awakening Enkindled, check it out on Spotify.

| $8 | 9:00 pm | Empire, 575 Congress St., Portland | http://www.portlandempire.com/ |

 

FRIDAY 13

DREAMS OR NIGHTMARES | Take a risk on the unluckiest day of the year and sample these three bands performing tonight at Blue: the transcendent indie-folk band Olive Tiger, the graveyard bluesters of Fat Knuckle Freddy, and fiery Latin jazz group El Malo. Tonight’s not the night to stay at home (and watch Jason movies).

| DONATION BASED | 6:00 pm | Blue, 650 Congress St., Portland | http://portcityblue.com/ |

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FOR THE CURIOUS | Chances are, you haven’t touched a VHS tape in years, let alone watched one; they're relics of a bygone era now! A massive amount of strange media from those times is undoubtedly archived somewhere online, but not everything is saved. Currently, the only way to watch something as obscure as an 80s law enforcement guide to Satanic cults, or bloopers from a small town North Dakotan news station is at the Found Footage Festival, a delightfully bizarre showcase of videos from a different time. See this. 

| $12 | 7:00 pm | SPACE Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland | http://www.space538.org/ |

 

SHHHHH! | Back in the days of silent cinema films would play in tandem with a live orchestra in an attempt to provide the sound effects and emotional resonance. Tonight the Art Department and Listen UP music aim to recreate that strange magic with a showing of their own original silent film with a synchronized soundtrack. The topic of the night’s entertainment is a big secret!

| $8 | 7:00 pm | Mayo Street Arts, 10 Mayo St., Portland | http://mayostreetarts.org/ |

 

DARK CINEMA | Can you believe an eighth Saw movie is in the works? Is it just me or are studios unaware of when to respectfully end a franchise? Here’s my prediction: the film’s commercial and critical success is relying on the popularity of its titular character Jigsaw, but instead will likely just be a 2-hour snooze fest, filled with cheesy jump scares and copious amounts of gore. Good horror sneaks under your skin and plagues your thoughts long after the credits roll. It shouldn’t be predictable. Maybe indie filmmakers that aren’t beholden to soulless cash grabs can conjure up the kind of deep frights seasoned horror fans crave. If that sounds like you, get your ass to Damnationland 2017, which opened up its lineup this year for international films for the first time ever, meaning this roster of shorts will be all over the map thematically. If our feature on page TK didn’t convince you this year’s fest is a scary go time, then I’m afraid you can’t be helped; go enjoy Jigsaw instead you freak.

| $15 | 7:45 pm | State Theatre, 609 Congress St., Portland | http://www.statetheatreportland.com/ |

 

SATURDAY 14

HIDDEN GEM? | Ya know, I used to think Portland couldn’t sustain any more coffee shops, yet another one opens its doors to the public for the first time today on Wharf Street. Folks over at the new cafe Higher Grounds welcomes the community to preview their shiny space, and sample some of their potent brews and artisanal treats. (It’s still far too early to tell whether this place will be a local hotspot or a tourist magnet.) People who drop in will be offered a discounted ticket to Higher Grounds’ dance party featuring mosart212 and Jasen Loveland that will commence later in the evening at Maine Craft Distilling.

| FREE | 8:00 am to 6:00 pm | Higher Grounds, 45 Wharf St., Portland | http://www.highergrounds.me/ |

 

HOW TO DEAL WITH DEATH | October seems an appropriate time for such morbid thoughts, so I’m compelled to ask readers: do you know why we wear black at funerals? Or how about this one: why are we buried in wooden caskets anyway? Most of our mourning practices trace back to the 19th century, and most of us continue them without really knowing why. Professor Libby Bischof from the University of Southern Maine will host a fascinating lecture on why we demonstrate grief the way that we do. Bring some weird questions.

| $10 | 1:30 pm | Maine Historical Society, 489 Congress St., Portland | https://www.mainehistory.org/ |

 

PUFF, PASS, LEARN | God knows when, but eventually, Maine’s recreational marijuana market will open up with government approved regulation. But if you’re itching to launch your own cannabis business, there’s a lot you need to know first. Soak up that necessary knowledge today, and sip on some marijuana-infused coffee at the one and only 3rd Annual New England Cannabis Convention. And yes, you’re allowed to bring and exchange cannabis at the event! We’ve got details on page TK.

| $20 | 10:00 am to 4:00 pm | Portland Sports Complex, 512 Warren Ave., Portland | http://www.necann.com/ |

 

SUNDAY 15

SLICE A FACE | You know what makes pumpkin carving about 60 percent more interesting? When you add craft beer and turn it into a competition. Some determined folks will team up and speed carve some pumpkins and after one hour you’ll get to judge which one’s the most grotesque. In the past, this AIGA Maine event’s proved to be hilarious and fun. Recommended.

| FREE |1:00 pm to 4:00 pm | Foundation Brewing, 1 Industrial Way, Portland | http://foundationbrew.com/ |

 

DRAWING WITH LIGHT | Any hobby photographers out there? If you habitually like to take “slice of life” shots, head to Deering Oaks Park for what could be a good photo opportunity — if Instagram influencers are any reliable judge of aesthetic quality, that is. Tonight marks the 3rd Annual Portland Lantern Walk, and I imagine with the diffused light of a setting sun, leaves on the ground, and lanterns floating above a line of Portlanders, it could make for some conventional lovely, atmospheric snapshots.

| FREE | 5:00 pm | Deering Oaks Park, Portland | http://www.deeringoaks.org/ |

 

SILENT READING PARTY | Reading is typically a solitary affair, but if you’re the type that prefers to be seen with a book, head to Tandem for a silent reading party. Other bookworms will be there too and together you can sneer at the simple fools that consider mindlessly scrolling online newsfeeds as their “reading for the day.” Keep up, screen zombies.

| FREE | 2:00 pm | Tandem Coffee, 742 Congress St., Portland | https://www.tandemcoffee.com/ |



MONDAY 16

8days PinkMartini

PARTY IN STYLE | This Monday doesn’t have to be drab and boring like the all the rest. Especially when Portland’s lovely songstress Viva and her eight-piece ensemble The Reinforcements are playing a short set at Aura tonight, kicking off a classy night of elegant tunes, sexy dance numbers, and magical connections. Viva’s particularly excited for this show because she’s opening for Pink Martini, a globetrotting 12-piece act that melds a bunch of sophisticated, stylish, period genres together (in multiple languages) — they've served as the leading inspiration for her musical focus in Latin dance and jazz.  

| $30 | 6:30 pm | Aura, 121 Center St., Portland | http://auramaine.com/ |

 


TUESDAY 17

 

TEXTUAL EMBERS | A rotating lineup of poets and writers take the stage upstairs at Bull Feeney’s every Tuesday for the Port Veritas series, weekly nights of storytelling somewhere on the idea spectrum between silly nonsense and deep revelations. This week, it’s veteran poet Tony Brown’s turn to show you where he finds meaning in a logo-centric world. Visit his blog Dark Matter for a preview of what’s in his head. You’ve been warned.

| $5 | 7:30 pm | Bull Feeney’s, 375 Fore St., Portland | https://www.facebook.com/port.veritas |

 

KILLING TIME | As cogs in the giant capitalist machine, subconsciously we’re always chasing a sweet deal. Here’s a free tip on a good one: a three-band show for a three dollar cover with three dollar beers at the bar. Can’t beat that. This week’s edition of Empire’s cheap-easy night features Boston’s Best Not Broken, the bluesy rock trio of Bees Deluxe, and Portland’s melody-driven Xander Nelson.

| $3 | 9:00 pm | Empire, 575 Congress St., Portland | http://www.portlandempire.com/ |

 

WEDNESDAY 18

COLLABORATION HUB | You should meet some of the people that work at Portland’s fairly new (it only opened this summer) Immigrant Welcome Center. The folks using that space aren’t just interesting and kind, they also might be able to help you or your neighbor. They connect Portland’s immigrant community with organizations, businesses, and people so they can best pursue whatever short or long-term goal lies ahead of them, whether it be learning a language, getting into school or finding a job. It’s only natural that 2 Degrees Portland linked up with them, as their mission is very similar. Tonight the two organizations will gather for a meet and greet, and you’re invited. (There’s free food, too.)

| FREE | 5:30 pm | The Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center, 24 Preble St., Portland | http://www.welcomeimmigrant.org/ |

 

CHOICES | Although abortion is legal in the U.S., the fervor of the “pro-life” movement — especially in Trump’s America — can’t be understated. (A bill banning abortions after 20 weeks just passed the House and is likely to pass the Senate too.) While third wave feminism and solid journalism have done a lot to elucidate these attacks on a woman’s right to choose, some would say they haven’t done much to shed light on how these political and social battles over abortion affect women in minority and/or impoverished communities. How hard is it, for example, for a low-income earning black woman to get an abortion in the red state of Mississippi? A film titled Jackson follows Shannon Brewer who owns the only abortion clinic in the state and the lives of three young women of color. Jackson’s an emotional heavy journey, but one that’s definitely worth taking. It’s screening tonight at SPACE thanks to an effort from the ACLU of Maine and Planned Parenthood, organizations that mobilize on a daily basis around intersectional issues like this.

| $8 | 7:00 pm | SPACE Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland | http://www.space538.org/ |

 

8days DianeCluck photoByDerrickBelcham

Diane Cluck. Photo By: Derrick Belcham

CHORDS OF MAGIC | Simply put, Diane Cluck has one of the most interesting and unique voices amongst vocalists today. Her fluttery pitch, haunting beauty, and arresting style are unmistakably hers, and it’s an enchanting experience every time she visits Portland. Don’t miss this semi-rare chance to hear a poet in full control of her intense voice. Joining Cluck tonight are musicians Sam Moss and Jerusha Robinson.

| $10 | 8:00 pm | The Apohadian Theatre, 107 Hanover St., Portland | https://theapohadion.wordpress.com/ |

 

THURSDAY 19

AROUND THE CORNER | Next week we’ll check in with the critically acclaimed “theatre rock star” Leslie Odom Jr. (he’ll be at Merrill for what’s expected to be a musically vibrant lesson in suaveness), the Apohadion Theatre for details on “an introspective dance party” (whatever that means), the historic Eastern Cemetery for rumors about “ghostly storytellers,” and Mayo Street Arts for a night they’ve dubbed “a hot evening in Hell.” And that’s all just in one evening; Portland knows how to keep its restless busy.

 

Confrontational Comedy: Talking political correctness, sobriety, and reinventing yourself with Ben Roy

Ben Roy never wanted to be a comedian. Instead, his first times on stage were spent fronting various punk rock bands like the Mendicants and Thousand Year Suffering, which he did as a way to shield himself from the dark forces of addiction present in his life at the time.

For Roy, music was what kept him from "losing his mind" while growing up in Augusta in the '90s. 

“In Maine, I was getting into a lot of trouble,” says Roy. “There was a lot of gnarly shit going on in the capitol. I had to get away from the violence and recklessness.”

Struggling with a drug and alcohol addiction, and debilitating mental issues stemming from past trauma, then 19-year old Roy decided to leave his "shit-hole apartment” for good, crawl into his 1993 Geo Storm, and drive to Denver in a last ditch effort at crafting a new life, and possibly a music career.

Fast forward to 2017, and Roy's a far cry away from both chemically-aided stagnation and full-fledged rock stardom. But still, he's doing quite well, actually. 

Although Roy still performs occasionally in his hard-rock band SPELLS, today he's making a big splash in a totally different scene: stand up comedy. Roy basically stumbled into comedy back in 2004 and since then has managed to evoke memories of the late great Bill Hicks. Known for his confrontational punk-rock attitude, "spittle-flecked rants," and deeply personal, introspective bits about depression, Roy’s a rising star in both the Denver and Los Angeles comedy scenes. Over the years, he’s dropped two comedy albums and currently produces and stars in a sketch comedy series on TruTV with his buddies called Those Who Can’t, which has been greenlit for a third season.

Roy managed to accomplish all this while getting clean (he's eight years sober now) and raising a family (he married his sweetheart from Maine, and fathered a son with her, who's now 12).  

But as I found out from chatting with Roy over the phone last week, his fame, success, sobriety, and loving family, didn't greet him instantly when he arrived in Denver. Like most attempts at reinvention, Roy’s transition wasn't easy.

Here’s an edited transcript of my conversation with Roy — who returns to Maine for two shows this week — where we talked about recovery, political correctness, TJ Miller, his strange origins in the Denver comedy scene, and what it takes to make something out of your life.

comedy benroy

I like to ask every ex-Mainer this: why did you decide to leave Maine?

I was drinking and doing a lot of drugs and just being stupid. Central Maine was so insular, so even if I wanted to change, I felt like I couldn’t because everyone knew me. Running away can’t change whatever problems you have either but it does help to reinvent yourself.

I wanted to get out so bad, but it wasn’t anything specific about Maine, it was just my own personal issues.

So things didn’t get better for you once you got to Denver?

Not right away. I was thrown in jail, I was still drinking, getting into trouble. Still seeking out toxic relationships. But eventually, I finally started to deal with my demons.

I know that the recovering from alcoholism technically never ends. What helped you stay sober these past eight years?

Truthfully, my family. The last day that I drank I knew that if I didn’t stop, my wife was going to leave. I remember screaming and losing my shit, and seeing my son, 5 at the time, standing in the doorway and watching me.

My parents grew up in an alcoholic household and I saw the damage it did to them. I didn’t want to do the same to my wife and son.

I’m aware that you’re vocal about this journey to recovery in your stand-up. How did you even get into comedy?

I moved back to Maine briefly to visit my folks in Fairfield, and I met my wife at a party at a friend’s house. We both moved back to Colorado where she took a part-time at the Comedy Works club. Over time through me drinking and hanging out with the staff, someone convinced me to sign up for the open mic.

[Since then Roy’s been invited back to numerous comedy festivals and competitions around the country, which helped him earn spots on Comedy Central, HBO, and MTV.]

But you never wanted to be a stand up comic right?

Yeah, music was what I always wanted to do. I never had an urge to become a comedian. It was kind of random. I had an impression of comics as these like late night hacks. But then I started seeing comics like David Cross, Daniel Tosh, and Brian Posehn perform and I realized that comedy can be really different.

I got bit by the bug. I realized you can make comedy into whatever you want.

Which you turned into something personal?

Yeah, I’m just a hyper-emotional person, so a lot of my stuff is introspective. Both my albums I Got Demons, and No Enlightenment In Sobriety, were about my alcoholism and how getting sober didn’t solve all my problems.

What else do you talk about on stage?

My topics are always changing. When I started, I joked about pop culture and ranted about things that frustrated me. Sometimes I get stuck on an idea or a contradiction.

I have a bit about running into this racist guy in North Carolina, and I break down the speed and efficiency of how racist he was. He didn’t even bat an eye with his racism, it was just a part of his lexicon.

Comedy that touches on racism or other sociopolitical issues seems to be particularly popular nowadays.

You know what’s funny is that I grew up in the punk and hardcore scene, and the world’s always been shitty. We were railing against things that are now in the common dialogue: fascist ideologies, racial divisions, the fear of a diverse and self-reliant community.

So honestly, the world doesn’t seem shittier than it already did.

What do you make of comedians like Tim Allen, Bill Maher, and Mel Brooks saying things like “political correctness is killing comedy”?

I challenge you to find a younger comic that says that. There are very few. It’s a lot like hairstyles. You’re allowed to get on stage with a mullet, but the younger generation is going to point out how old and antiquated it makes you look.

Could I say the word “retard” on stage 10 years ago? Yeah. Are people less comfortable with the word today? Yeah. Does one word change the ability to make comedy? No, it doesn’t.

If pronouns change your comedy, then you’re a shitty comic and you’ve never been funny to begin with.

And there’s a difference between being needlessly offensive and making a good joke that might offend someone, do you agree?

Exactly. You’re allowed to be crass for no reason. But don’t expect a crowd to show up to your next show.

I still say things that are controversial. I just have to figure out the new and different ways to shock people. I like saying things in a manner that’s like throwing cold water in someone’s face.

But if you’re not creative enough to adapt, then maybe it’s time to bow out of comedy. Part of getting older in stand up is realizing that the stage time belongs to the younger people coming in. You have to play by their rules. You have to learn to understand where they are coming from.

People have been calling out bad material for ages. One of the most offensive comedians is Sean Rouse, he’s almost unbookable, but lot of comedians respect him. He says a lot of dark and awful shit, but he does it smartly, with a point.

Bill Burr has said a lot of stupid shit that pissed a lot of people off, but he’s maintained a good status because he’s fucking funny when he does it. There’s a craftsmanship and a point to it.

OK, I know you’re friends with TJ Miller, so I can’t let you go without asking; what did you think of his Emoji Movie?

*Laughter* You know, I did not see The Emoji Movie. My son loved it, and that’s who the movie was designed for, was for children. I saw all the terrible reviews, but to TJ’s credit, he has put out so much good shit with comedic integrity like Silicon Valley and the Gorburger Show, that if I saw the Emoji Movie and hated it, I’d give him a pass.

Ben Roy | Fri, Oct 13, 8pm | Rising Tide Brewing Company, 103 Fox Street, Portland | $15

 

  • Published in Arts

News Briefs: Housing, Health Insurance, Paid Sick Days, and Shark Science

In 2018, just two health insurances offered in Maine

Last week Anthem announced that it’s leaving Maine’s insurance marketplace.

Currently, Anthem covers about 28,700 people in Maine. Starting next year it will reduce its offerings to just one off-exchange plans available only in Aroostook, Hancock, and Washington counties.

Under Maine law, existing individual members will be able to renew their current health plan in 2018, but these plans will be offered off exchange and will not be eligible to receive financial assistance or subsidies.

According to Colin Manning, a spokesperson for Anthem, Anthem pulled out because of “volatility and uncertainty in the marketplace.”

“While we are pleased that some steps have been taken to address the long-term challenges all health plans serving the individual market are facing, the market remains volatile,” said Manning in a written statement. “A stable insurance market is dependent on products that create value for consumers through the broad spreading of risk and a known set of conditions upon which rates can be developed. Today, planning and pricing for ACA-compliant health plans has become increasingly difficult due to a shrinking and deteriorating individual market, as well as continual changes and uncertainty in federal operations, rules and guidance, including the restoration of the health insurance tax on fully insured coverage and continued uncertainty around the future of cost-sharing reduction subsidies.”

Manning also said that as the marketplace continues to evolve and adjust to changing regulatory requirements and marketplace conditions, Anthem will reevaluate whether a more robust presence in the exchange is appropriate in the future.

Governor Paul LePage criticized Senators Angus King and Susan Collins for refusing to support the Republican's health care reform bill, which was dead on arrival. He then blamed Anthem’s departure on the Affordable Care Act itself.

“Obamacare is continuing to implode and cause significant hardships for Maine’s people,” said LePage in a press release. “The loss of yet another insurer on the exchange leaves Mainers with few alternatives to pay for healthcare. Even though ObamaCare is collapsing around them, Maine Senators Collins and King still refused to support a bill that would have sent 44 percent more healthcare funding to help struggling Mainers pay for health insurance. Instead of seeking national headlines, they should have been working to help the people who elected them.”

Senator Collins supports the idea of repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, as evidenced by this statement from her a couple months ago: “The system created by the law is under tremendous financial stress. The Obamacare exchanges are on the verge of collapse in many States. The reality is that significant changes must be made; doing nothing is not an option. We must fix the Affordable Care Act and provide reforms at nearly the same time that we repeal the law.”

But Collins still voted against the Graham-Cassidy reform bill, after voicing concerns about the Congressional Budget Office’s report that found it would leave 24 million Americans uninsured.

Now there are just two providers offering policies in Maine, Harvard Pilgrim and Community Health Options.

 

Business owners throw support for paid sick days in Portland

Two prominent local business owners in Portland publicly stated their support for mandatory paid sick days, by writing a letter to the City Council urging they pass the ordinance around the issue.

Mary Allen Lindemann of Coffee By Design and Patrick Roche of Think Tank Coworking wrote on how missing even just one day of work because of an illness can be devastating for low-income earning families.

“This is not just a workforce issue; it's a public health issue,” Lindemann writes. “Many of the jobs that don’t offer paid sick leave are in the food, hospitality, and healthcare industries. 65 percent of workers who lack sick days say they go to work when they have the flu.”

Lindemann also mentioned that giving workers paid sick leave is actually in the best interest of the employer, citing studies from San Francisco and Connecticut, where similar ordinances improve employee productivity.

According to the Southern Maine Workers' Center, the organization that first proposed the mandate alongside the Maine Women’s Lobby, about 20,000 workers in the area don’t have paid sick days. They are proposing an ordinance that allows workers to earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours of work, capping at six days a year.

Mayor Ethan Strimling — as well as many activists — have come out in support of this initiative since it was first launched this past Labor Day. Opponents of the measure include the Maine Restaurant Association and the Maine Innkeepers Association.

The issue was discussed by the Portland City Council on September 18, where it was determined it would be sent to the city’s Health and Human Services Committee.

City sells crucial land parcels in Bayside, hope to revitalize the neighborhood

Last Monday the Portland City council voted to sell four parcels of land in Bayside, a neighborhood that's been the focal point of local conversations around gentrification and affordable housing. 

Only one of the parcels (178 Kennebec St.) is being considered for affordable housing; Ross Furman, a developer that owns adjacent properties, will likely buy it and pitched development of 50 units of housing there, 32 of which would be geared toward for low-income earners. 

The other parcels will be sold to developers for a total of four million. The other buyers, Tom Watson, Jack Soley, and Barret Made, have other projects in mind that include: a 20-bench "makerspace" for craftspeople that sign up as members, rooftop decks and other open spaces for public use, an office building, and a four-story condo geared at middle-income earners. 

City councilors hope the mixed-use intentions behind the sold spaces will help transform the neighborhood, and make it more attractive for people interested in moving to it. 

"Housing was a priority, but we also were looking for imaginative solutions for mixed uses, as that was what we had heard from the residents in the neighborhood," said David Brenerman, the chair of the city's Economic Development Committee. "The Council’s action is a milestone for Bayside, creating a new multi-use neighborhood in this industrial section, with the potential to build more than 100 units of housing, and over 20 units in the Parkside neighborhood, as well as bringing the development of maker space to add to our creative economy and new business incubators, and open space."

 

UNE unveils new research vessel, dubbed Sharkology

Marine science students at the University of New England will have a chance to study sharks in their natural habitat, thanks to a new research vessel that was revealed last week, aptly named Sharkology.

Sharkology is a 35-foot 350 Marlin FM boat that will be used to transport students and faculty offshore as part of the University’s “Apex Predator” class, a course that teaches the biology of sharks and marine mammals.  

“The donation of this research vessel provides UNE with an opportunity to fill a unique niche in New England by providing a platform to study sharks, tuna, whales and other charismatic, high-profile, and often endangered or threatened species,” said Professor James Sulikowski, who teaches the course. “By studying such species and how they interact with their environment, we can educate the community, inspire conservation, and challenge scientific paradigms while training future marine scientists.”

According to Sulikowski who heads his own Shark and Fish Research Lab, his students will be studying movement patterns, growth rates, reproductive biology, resiliency to climate change and fishing pressure, and exploring ways to more effectively manage, conserve and utilize fish populations.

Shark species present in the Gulf of Maine include: the spiny dogfish, blue shark, basking shark, shortfin mako, porbeagle, thresher, sand tiger shark, and occasional great white.

  • Published in News

'Maine has its own Standing Rock' - The Penobscot River Fight Explained

In September, Portland followed Bangor, Brunswick, and Belfast and voted to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous People's Day. While the holiday recognition — which lands on October 9 this year — is informal (it's not federally recognized), we think it’s a useful time to reflect on Maine’s contentious relationship with some of its indigenous residents, specifically the Penobscot Nation. 

About 150 miles north of Portland on a reservation called Indian Island, a long-simmering conflict between the native residents and the State intensified this summer prompting Kirk Francis, the tribal chief of Penobscot Nation, to decry it as “cultural genocide.”

During the summer, the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston ruled against the Penobscot after a four-year-long dispute over who has jurisdiction and full fishing rights over a crucial section of territory: a 61-mile stretch of the Penobscot River.

At the center of the dispute are differing interpretations of Maine’s 1980 Indian Claims Settlement Act., which says the Penobscot Indian Reservation consists “solely of Indian Island, also known as Old Town Island, and all islands in that river northward.”

The state of Maine and Attorney General Janet Mills interpret this line literally, while the Penobscot claim their ancestral right as the islands, the riverbank, and the waterways connecting them, citing a Supreme Court precedent that defined islands as including submerged land.

Here’s what Mills had to say about the Supreme Court's decision in August: “We are gratified by the court’s ruling and we look forward to working with the Penobscot Nation on areas of mutual interest. We respect and honor the Penobscot Nation’s deep historical and cultural ties with the river and look forward to working with them to preserve the health and vibrancy of this major watershed which is so critical to all the people of Maine.”

Representatives for General Mills declined to comment further, because the case may still be ongoing, as the plaintiffs “may still request an en banc review" a session of court where it's is heard before all judges instead of a select panel, something that's typically reserved for unusual and/or complex cases. 

The Penobscot people are not deterred by the ruling and are currently discussing political strategies internally which will determine their next step.

“The entire community and all of our people who have been active in the fight are very upset but still motivated to continue our stewardship and protection of the river,” said Nick Bear, a Penobscot resident on the reservation. “It's not over yet. We are still here and we will still fight.”

Setting the Record Straight

Some members of the Penobscot Nation worry that Mainers consumed a “damaging misleading narrative” on the case earlier this year when news broke about the Supreme Court’s decision. Chief Francis says the state refused to mention critical facts.

“I have concerns with the way the state has tried to report the facts of the case, and the way it’s been printed, because it runs contrary to what the case really means for the tribe,” said Francis. “Some of the reporting has been flat out wrong. Our goal was never to regulate the river. The tribe just wants to protect its cultural identity.”

The mainstream narrative, Francis says, is one built on animosity and fear-mongering, despite the fact that many Maine citizens support the rights of the Penobscot, as evidenced by the typically large turnout of people from Old Town, Orono, and Bangor to Penobscot rallies around the issue, and communal, respectful encounters between non natives and Penobscot people on the river.

feature kirkfrancis

Tribal Chief Kirk Francis of the Penobscot Nation. Photo by: Bob Nichols

According to Francis, the state has painted the Penobscot as a tribe that wants to “police” the river and exclude non-natives from using its resources. Mills expressed this concern back in 2015 in a statement to the Press Herald, which has helped uphold the narrative that the Penobscot are trying to take over control of the entire river.

This divisive sentiment was also expressed earlier than that by Pierce Atwood lawyer Matt Manahan, when he wrote to the Bangor Daily News in 2014 that the Penobscot were using “your tax dollars" for "testimony as to what was in the minds of the Penobscots when they entered into treaties in the 18th century, which is somehow relevant” and that the Penobscot people had formed “secret pacts” with other tribes to decide who can or can’t use the river’s resources.

“There’s no question the history of the treatment of Indians in this country includes tragic episodes of overwhelming resources used to renege on commitments previously made,” wrote Manahan. “It’s ironic the same scenario is happening again, with roles reversed.”

Chief Francis says this couldn’t be further from the truth.

“They’re trying to create controversy. You won’t find one person in the state that said that the tribe ever tried to exclude them from the river,” he said. “We agree that the river is a resource for all Maine people, but the state is saying it’s for everyone except the Penobscot.”

It’s time to revisit this case, explore its nuances, and dispel some myths attached to it, because they have important implications for not just the environmental sustainability of the river, but the Penobscot’s cultural integrity, relationship with the state, and overall health and wellbeing.

Myth 1: The Penobscot Were Looking For a Dispute

What’s been reported in most the stories around this case is technically true: the Penobscot Nation did sue the state of Maine. But what’s often glossed over is why they sued in the first place.

Think of it this way. Imagine you’re a homeowner and one day you get mail from the state government stating that their opinion is that the land that your house is on is actually owned by the state. Wouldn’t you sue?

That’s essentially what happened in 2012, when then-Attorney General William Schneider presented a memo to the Penobscot tribe, stating their opinion that “the River itself is not part of the Penobscot Nation’s Reservation, and therefore is not subject to its regulatory authority or proprietary control.”

According to Francis, this was a departure from all previous state and federally held positions. In the 2007 Maine Supreme Court case Maine vs. Johnson, the highest court recognized the waters as part of the Penobscot territory, as did the Bureau of Census in their 2010 census report. The U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples labeled both the land and water as an inalienable aboriginal right. Once the lawsuit kicked off, the federal Department of Interior and the Department of Justice backed the Penobscot in this case, and called it an “unlawful taking.”

Schneider’s memo itself read, “if you disagree, this matter should be settled in the appropriate forum,” basically baiting the Penobscot into filing a lawsuit.

“They were very clear that they wanted to litigate this; we had no choice but to file,” said Francis. “The case got turned into something we never wanted. It’s a forced land-taking, a genocidal act in my mind.”

Myth 2: The Penobscot Don’t Have a Historical Claim to the River That Bears Their Name

feature mapofMaine

A European map of New England before it was colonized. Photo from the Osher Map Library.

According to Francis, the state said that the Penobscot don’t have a historical presence on the river, which to him is “a ludicrous statement” easily refuted by picking up a history book.

The Penobscot tribe is part of the Wabanaki Confederacy, a coalition of five tribes — the Penobscot, the Passamaquoddy, the Abenaki, the Maliseet, and the Mi’kmaq — all of which have lived, hunted, and fished in New England since pre-colonial times.

Centuries ago, the entire 109-mile long river belonged to the Penobscot. Today, they are just fighting for jurisdiction and regulatory authority over hunting and fishing in just the 61-mile “main stem” of the river. 

“The state of Maine has taken the Settlement Act and interpreted it so narrowly to continue the institutionalized oppression against us,” said Francis.

The Penobscot’s rights to these waterways are analyzed thoroughly (and sourced extremely well) in Maria L. Girouard’s 2012 University of Maine master's thesis on the topic: "The Original Meaning and Intent of the Maine Indian Land Claims: Penobscot Perspectives." In it, Girouard — who is a historian, Penobscot native, and Health and Wellness Coordinator for the advocacy group Maine-Wabanaki REACH — writes that the language in the Settlement Act “does not accurately reflect their original meaning and intent in settling the land claims.” It contained ambiguities that could be exploited by Maine’s courts. Because of this, Girouard argues, it’s necessary to interpret the act with the historical context of previous treaties — which the state has not done.

“The Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act (MICSA) was more than an attempt to get back land. The tribes were adamant that in order to survive they needed to be in control of their own affairs. The Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act was intended to be the vehicle the tribes needed to move themselves away from dependency and into prosperity,” writes Girouard. “MICSA was initially framed as victorious, the “Biggest Indian Victory Since the Little Big Horn,” but it soon became apparent that the tribes’ interpretation of the legal pact differed from state government interpretation. The urgency in which the complex settlement was negotiated increased the likelihood that the Act would contain ambiguities or grey areas that were expected to be worked out later. Tribal negotiators state that their understanding when they negotiated the settlement was that it was intended to be fluid and dynamic, changing over the years, rather than fixed and rigid.”

Judge Juan Torruella, who was the only judge to rule in favor of the Penobscot in the First Circuit Court of Appeals, said that “statutes are to be construed liberally in favor of the Indians, with ambiguous provisions interpreted to their benefit.” He concluded that the bed of the Penobscot River is submerged land, and, because that river is non-tidal, this submerged land is not owned by the state, but rather privately owned.

One of the main reasons why the Penobscot interpret MICSA to include the river as part of their territory is because they rely on the river to travel to and from their islands. Just as it’s illegal to sell landlocked land, the Penobscot argue that it’s illegal to take away their rights to the connective waterways in between their land.

Myth 3: The Penobscot Want Dominance Over the Entire River

Chief Francis argues that perhaps the biggest misconception surrounding the lawsuit deals with the Penobscot’s motivations behind it.

 feature tribalseal

The tribal seal of the Penobscot Nation.

“It’s not about taking the river back,” he said. “We recognize where we live today, a co-existing society with non-natives. We value the great relationships we have, like with the town of Old Town.”

Although the Penobscot want to be free to control their own fishing practices, this doesn’t mean they aren’t willing to work with non-natives who already use the river’s resources. They’ve been working collaboratively with Mainers for decades, from duck hunters and kayakers to campers and recreational fishers.

Tribal game wardens have a "cross-deputization agreement" with the state of Maine. Penobscot’s wardens go to the same school as the non-native wardens and enforce the same laws. When one of their wardens pulls up on a boat with non-natives, they are treated the exact same way as when a state warden approaches them. The same questions are asked: “Do you have life jackets? Can I see your fishing license?” And if non-natives are found in violation of their laws, they aren’t sent to some special tribal court, they’re summoned to the court in Bangor.

The Penobscot say they don’t want to exert dominance over the surrounding population and just want to be able to govern themselves, and subsistence fish and hunt in and along the river. Certain species of fish, like brown trout and largemouth bass, are outlined in MICSA as fair game for the Penobscot to harvest, but are mostly found in the disputed “main stem” section of the river.

And therein lies the problem: how can the Penobscot subsistence fish — most of their diet comes from fish in the river — if they aren’t entitled to regulate the quality and quantity of the catch? 

While the First Circuit’s decision found that the state does not intend to interfere with the nation’s sustenance fishing rights, the tribe believes this promise is merely symbolic.

Indeed, under the ruling, the Nation's "fishing" will only take place in the uplands of their islands, on dry land where there are hardly any fish and or places to fish.

“If we don’t have the rights to be in the waters, then essentially we don’t have those fishing rights,” said Sherri Mitchell, a member of Penobscot Nation and an indigenous rights attorney. “It’s a constructive eviction to our ability to access those waterways.”

Mitchell, who accused the state of fabricating the law, sees this case as part of a pattern in America where indigenous rights are ignored in favor of courting corporate financial interests.

“It’s completely egregious, but it’s nothing new,” said Mitchell.

What’s Really At Play Here: Paving the Way For Dirty Energy

Now that we’ve outlined the Penobscot’s intentions behind their failed lawsuit, let’s explore the state’s reasons for triggering it.

Mitchell traces the state’s side of the story back to July of 2012, when Gov. LePage met with Canadian officials and representatives of Exxonmobil immediately after the Canadian government approved of Enbridge 9, a controversial pipeline project that seeks to pump tar sands (a sludgy deposit used to make synthetic oil, often considered to be the dirtiest energy source) from the West of Canada to the Atlantic ocean.

“They needed a way to get from Canada to the coast so they could ship it out to foreign markets,” said Mitchell. “Immediately after that meeting the state attorney generals office issued a memorandum stating that the tribe did not have jurisdiction over any of its territorial waters.”

The Portland/Montreal section of the pipeline — separate from Enbridge 9 but connected to it — already crosses through one Maine river, the Androscoggin, and officials want to reverse its flow, which would send 100,000 barrels of crude oil from Montreal to South Portland daily. 

“This is clearly because the Governor of the State of Maine in collusion with the Attorney General's office was working to benefit industry to allow them to cross the Penobscot river unimpeded by tribal rights,” said Mitchell. “They’re trying to pave the way for dirty industry to come through there.”

In the years since, LePage has advocated for mountaintop mining, hydro-fracking, and the construction of the East-West corridor, a 220-mile long, private highway running from Coburn Gore to Calais to be used for trucking energy sources. The proposed corridor would cut through both the Penobscot and Kennebec rivers, potentially jeopardizing the fisheries and water quality there while consuming 13,500 acres of land.

The Penobscot River is a critical focal point for these energy projects, and Mitchell believes that the state sought to take away the Nation’s rights to the river so they’d be able to launch these long disputed energy projects unobstructed. She says this poses major concerns for both natives and non-natives in the area, as all the proposed construction, mining, fracking, and truck traffic, not to mention potential oil spills (of which Exxonmobil does not have a good track record of avoiding or cleaning up) could tarnish the health of Penobscot River Watershed, Maine largest at 8,750 square miles.

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The Penobscot is New England's second largest river system. Map courtesy of the Penobscot River Restoration Trust.

“There are grave environmental concerns at play here,” said Mitchell. “There’s a lot of industry pressure to cross that river.”

Mitchell says that anyone who doubts there's a lot of industry interest in the river should note some the defendants in the appeals case who sided alongside Janet Mills: True Textiles Inc., Guilford-Sangerville Sanitary District, Kruger Energy Inc., Veazie Sewer District, Covanta Maine LLC., and the Verson Paper Corporation. (Power and Industrial companies operating within the Penobscot river watershed.)

Water Is Life: Environmental Concerns

For the most part, the Penobscot people have done a good job cleaning up “a century of degradation” in the river. In collaboration with state and federal agencies as well as seven conservation groups, the Penobscot Nation launched the Penobscot River Restoration Project. This 16-year effort cleaned up sections of the river, and by constructing a “natural fish bypass” at the Howland Dam, provided 11 species of fish full access to the river for the first time in 200 years, bringing their populations back to more sustainable numbers.

Today, the Penobscot Nation’s water monitoring and quality standards are compliant with the EPAs. But the river is still polluted in some areas. The now-defunct HoltraChem Manufacturing Co. had dumped chemicals in the Penobscot for over four decades, and currently, Maine’s struggling to figure out how to clean up the nine tons of mercury deposits sitting at the bottom of it. Chief Francis mentioned other environmental concerns, like phosphorous overloads which are leading to toxic algal blooms, and high levels of dioxin in the water from the bleaching process of the adjacent paper mills.

“Industry is not as a prevalent as it was before, so we have an opportunity to really make a difference and clean up the river,” said Francis. “But we’re worried about future development.”

Nickie Sekera, a non-native Fryeburg resident and water rights activist who’s been following this case since its inception, described the Penobscot people as natural stewards of the river.

feature PhotoByCommunityWaterJustice

Photo Courtesy of Nickie Sekera.

“We need to follow their leadership and example on clean water standards,” said Sekera. “The extent of the records they keep on water monitoring are better than the states are doing.”

Like many involved in this water war, Sekera is "deeply troubled" by the state’s actions and was quick to define them as instances of "environmental racism." 

She noted that the river’s not just the core of the Penobscot nation’s cultural identity, it’s their literal lifeblood, meaning that the health of the river will dictate the health of the people that depend on it.

“How much pollution and toxins can these native peoples handle?” said Sekera. “Their bodies are on the front lines of this.”

Sekera also said that non-natives should mobilize around this issue too, because the health of the Penobscot watershed affects everyone living in Maine.

“If we compromise our water, we compromise ourselves,” she said. “Maine needs to consider the long view of water security in the state.”

Healing the Wounds of Colonization

In June, an ancient ceremony was held at Nibezun Farm, located on the Penobscot River in Passadumkeag. Dozens of indigenous elders from around the world gathered with Wabanaki tribes for a weekend of events dubbed “Healing the Wounds of Turtle Island,” a time for singing and dancing, prayer, and reflection. (Turtle Island is what natives called Maine before it was settled by Europeans.)

"Water rights were undoubtedly on people’s minds," says Sekera who was in attendance, but the ceremony was about “healing from all wounds brought by colonization.”

“We do live on occupied territory,” said Sekera. “Native people are not pointing fingers. They want to heal and work together with non-natives.”

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Sekera and Mitchell kayaking alongside dozens of others in a floating protest on the Penobscot earlier this year. Photo courtesy of Nickie Sekera. 

But unfortunately, as old wounds heal, corporate interests often don’t mind ripping open new ones. Indigenous people across the country have experienced this injustice for decades. From proposed pipeline projects cutting through sacred lands in Standing Rock, North Dakota, and the Arctic Wildlife Refuge in Alaska (just to name two), America continues its history of trampling over the indigenous rights of many to favor the financial interests of few.

“Maine has its very own Standing Rock,” said Sekera. “The state relies on racial tensions for these type of takeovers to happen. This should be a huge alarm bell for us to wake up and pay attention to what’s really going on.”

| Penobscot Nation v. Janet Mills: A Case of Cultural Identity and Tribal Stewardship, A Lecture By Kirk Francis | University of New England, 11 Hills Beach Rd., Biddeford Maine | October 30th, 10:00 am | https://www.une.edu/calendar/2017/ | 



Francis Flisiuk can be reached at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

8 Days: Questionable Comedy, High-Flying Dancers, and a Whole Bunch of Rats

THURSDAY 28

 

GET VERTICAL | If you’re in the area, make sure to spend your lunch break in Congress Square Park today, because you’ll get to witness something exciting and unusual: acrobats, tethered on ropes, dancing on the side of the Westin building. The Bandaloop troupe is coming to town and is quite a sight to behold. A fear of heights is not a hindrance for these brave acrobats; they’ve danced on the side of Seattle’s Space Needle, NYC’s Stock Exchange, and the cliff face of Yosemite's El Capitan. If you miss their noontime shenanigans at the Westin, they’ll be defying gravity again on Friday at 5:00 pm on the side One City Center.

| FREE | 12:00 pm | Congress Square Park, Portland | https://portlandovations.org/event/bandaloop/ |

 

SEASONED STRINGS | A gorgeous display of musicianship commences tonight courtesy of the talents of Quad (a collaboration between cellist Devon Colella and drummer Chris Wilkes), Spanish guitarist Gregoire Pearce, and the folk-pop duo Builder of the House. Soothe your soul with strings.

| $8 | 9:00 pm | Empire, 575 Congress St., Portland | http://www.portlandempire.com/ |

 

FRIDAY 29

 

8days KatWright PhotoByLuisRuiz

Kat Wright. Photo By: Luis Ruiz.

ALT-EXPERIENCES | There’s a shit-ton of music available tonight (which is 24 metric ass-loads for the curious). Waking Windows is naturally dominating Portland’s concert options tonight, but there are few others outside the festival worth paying a modicum of attention to. The incredibly versatile DJ duo of Thievery Corporation is spinning a cosmopolitan dance party at Aura around 7:30 pm. Next up, some local celebs are trying out their best Freddie Mercury impressions at the third edition of Queen Tribute Night at Port City Music Hall at 9:00 pm. Tonight’s also Portland’s second chance to hear Kat Wright’s beautiful voice and her powerful, Indomitable Soul backup band, as they’re playing another set at PHOME, this time alongside Chris Roth and the North. And lastly, the Downeast Soul Collective is setting up shop for a free, casual, and funky concert outside in Congress Square Park at 6:00 pm. With so much music happening downtown at once, you’ll need to plan your night strategically.

 

8days tomsegura

FROM PODCAST TO STAGE | Don’t go see LA-based comedian Tom Segura’s Portland show if you’re easily offended. Seriously, Segura himself won’t want you there. The name of his show No Teeth, No Entry, implies a tacit truth about traditional comedy shows; leave your delicate sensibilities at the door or you won’t have a good time.

| $25 | 8:00 pm | State Theatre, 609 Congress St., Portland | http://www.statetheatreportland.com/ |

 

SATURDAY 30

 

SIP AND SHOP | It’s honestly about time CBD’s spacious roastery did something like this: the cafe will be transformed into an artsy marketplace for an evening. Attend their first ever pop up market and buy something weird and local while you work on that caffeine buzz. Sales will go to benefit the fairly nascent Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center and the vital, welcoming work they do for New Mainers. Nice initiative, CBD.

| FREE | 10:00 am to 4:00 pm | Coffee By Design, 1 Diamond St., Portland | http://www.coffeebydesign.com/ |

 

WINDOW-WAKER | There’s not much worth doing in Portland tonight that isn’t part of the Waking Windows festival. So jump back to page TK for our advice on how to spend your afternoon/evening. There’s a lot of music/comedy/art/lectures to digest, so good luck prioritizing which ones matter to you most! But do attend; the only ones that aren’t are the children, the elderly, some introverts, and the people that still consider Oasis a good time.

| $15 to $30 | 11:00 am to 11:00 pm | Up and Down Congress Street | https://wakingwindowsportland.com |

 

SUNDAY 1

 

JUST FALL THINGS | October 1st feels like the first real “fall day” doesn’t it? You’ve likely been looking for an excuse to partake in the seasonal activities that make it onto cute Buzzfeed listicles, so here’s one chance: the annual Portland Harvest Festival. It’s kicking off where it always does, Deering Oaks Park, where dozens of Portlanders will munch on apples, ride on a horse-drawn wagons, and buy some of those overrated gourd things to scatter needlessly around the house later. Heads up though, this fair is organized by a Christian church. If you have kids, you’re going to have a better time here. If not, perhaps drive West to the Fryeburg Fair — which kicks off today — because we all know that’s the real deal.

| FREE | 12:30 pm to 4:00 pm | Deering Oaks Park, Portland |  http://www.deeringoaks.org/ |

 

MONDAY 2

 

FUNNY OR NAH | Playing Cards Against Humanity usually makes everyone involved a little bit funnier. But what if some of Portland’s funniest comics played? And with custom cards? Let’s see what hilariously inappropriate ideas the contestants cook up during this unique, hybrid show that pits local comics together for a couple rounds of the game on stage.

| FREE | 9:30 pm | Empire, 575 Congress St., Portland | http://www.portlandempire.com/ |

 

DON’T EVER QUIT | Despite some serious problems, America is probably the greatest country in the world when it comes to individual freedoms. It’s still a place where hard work, integrity, and endurance, are usually rewarded. Steve Pemberton, whose new memoir A Chance In The World: An Orphan Boy releases this week, can attest to the trials and tribulations present on the road to success. He’ll be at USM today for an event called “Every Dream Starts Somewhere” where he’ll speak about his latest book, and the challenges disadvantaged youth face while working for a chance at higher education. Hopefully, this educational hour will inspire you to put in more effort into that one thing in your life that requires it.

| FREE |6:00 pm | University of Southern Maine, 120 Bedford St., Portland | http://usm.maine.edu/ |

 

TUESDAY 3

 

UNHOLY TRINITY | For a numerologist, the number three brings to mind a whole host of esoteric things. But for the folks at Empire, it’s just reminder of a night dedicated to cheap but wholesome punk music. Every week at the club, 3 bands will play for just a $3 cover charge. This time around the bands Random Ideas, Acadia, and Young Culture are slated to climb on stage, seethe, emote, and rock on repeat. Oh and the beers are all $3 too, which always helps make these sort of nights more palatable.

| $3 | 9:00 pm | Empire, 575 Congress St., Portland | http://www.portlandempire.com/ |

 

 

WEDNESDAY 4

 

WORK IT | The bearded, blue-collar hero Ron Pope tours through Portland today with his recently released, 7th studio album Work, which features some interesting tidbits of wisdom on how to balance the tricky relationship between work and well, the other parts of life that actually matter. It’s a highly relatable, not-so-dreary sonic journey, that we hear lends itself quite well to a live performance — reviews for the tour so far have been nothing but positive. Pope’s joined tonight by rockabilly band Ages and Ages, and The Heart Of.

| $20 | 8:00 pm | Port City Music Hall, 504 Congress St., Portland | http://www.portcitymusichall.com/ |

 

TACO HEAVEN | It’s likely that you don’t need a reason to gorge on the wonderful creations that are tacos. But in case you did, it’s National Taco Day today, meaning it’s entirely possible to get a bunch of these delicious things mad cheap. We recommend you visit the places that make them the best: El Rayo, Taco Escobarr, and El Corazon. You could also venture down to Margaritas, and attempt to conquer their El Gigante taco: a crispy shell packed with monstrous amounts of beans, rice, ground beef, chicken, carnitas, cheese, salsa fresca, bacon, queso, hacienda sauce, picante sauce, crema and pickled jalapeños. Do it.

 

CREATURE FEATURE |  “There's never been a rat problem in Baltimore, it's always been a people problem,” says one character in Theo Anthony’s bizarrely gripping documentary Rat Film. The movie explores humanity in Baltimore but through the eyes of its rats, the people that kill them, the people that love them, and the people that live alongside them. You won’t soon forget this film, as its unique take on nature, society, history, and social justice linger in the brain much longer than expected. It’s a surprisingly dense film that’s not to be missed.

| $8 | 7:00 pm | SPACE Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland | http://www.space538.org/ |

 

THURSDAY 5

 

ALWAYS WATCHING | Next week’s edition of 8 Days will bring details about a socially conscious photo exhibit at the Atrium Gallery in Lewiston, an eyebrow-raising discussion about the intersection of art and politics at the Maine Girls Academy, a special screening of cult classic Donnie Darko, and the Broken Social Scene concert at the State Theatre. We’ll also let you know which day will likely be the best one to venture out to the good ol’ Fryeburg Fair.

Chances Worth Considering: Special Events At Waking Windows

events RECORD FAIR

A Chance To Shop For Vintage Tunes

Over 20 vinyl dealers from across the Northeast will converge for an epic sale. Peruse their collection, and add to your own, while these guest DJs perform: Disco Phantom, No Wolfpack, Precious Style, and Ash & Herb. Stopping here could make for a nice, chill, primer before the day's events really kick off.

Portland Record Fair | 11:00 am to 4:00 pm | Maine Ballroom Dance, 615 Congress St.

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A Chance To Learn How It All Works

Unless you're an extreme audiophile, you may be tempted to skip over the cutely named Synth Petting Zoo event. But don't miss it! Appreciating vintage and contemporary synthesizers certainly requires some insider knowledge, but if you've ever wondered about the machines behind electronic music, here's a convenient opportunity to learn something niche, and new. The folks from the Weirder Than Stranger Things Synth Club will be on hand enthusiastically answering any of your dumb questions, while a lineup of musicians set up their gear for a concert on the groundfloor of the museum. The synth masters include: Patrick Carey, Morgan Tindall, Mark Price, Steve Drown, Richie Elefante, Patia Maule, and Philip Maier.

In conjunction with the showcase, the documentary A Life In Waves will screen offering a “feminine glimpse into the complicated world of electronic music.” The film follows composer and New Age music pioneer Suzanne Ciani through her life of making s­ynth music with the very machines you just went hands-on with. ­

­

Synth Petting Zoo and Screening of Film A Life In Waves | 1:00 to 4:00 pm | Portland Museum of Art, 7 Congress Square |

 events cringe

A Chance To Embrace The Cringe 

We've all been through awkward stages in life and ended up writing something just plain awful. Let's face it, the days of our youth were filled with some cringey moments, bad ideas, and sometimes we felt confident enough to make them semi-permanent. But many of us keep the cringe suppressed — the old rap songs, love letters, fantasy film scripts, diary entries, and classroom notes usually stay hidden.

But a lineup of Portland's most honest storytellers plans on embracing their follies and revealing them to the crowd. Annie Russell, a radio host, comedian, lover of stories, and "incredibly unchill person" is driving up from her home in Burlington Vermont (where Waking Windows first started) to host the Cringe! Comedy Show, which she says is ultimately a show about embarrassment.

"I invite comedians, musicians, artists and even nonperformers to present their old artwork, diaries, songwriting or films," says Russell. "We’ve all created something that we thought was genius, only to look back and think “ugh.” Especially for young artists, sometimes what you think is original and irreverent is actually very, very common. For the audience, it’s cathartic to watch a performer read a diary onstage that expresses an emotion with which you identify. Plus, it is super fun to watch someone get embarrassed."

Trust Russell; this should be hysterical.

Cringe! | 4:15 to 5:15 pm | Etain Boutique, 646 Congress St.

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A Chance To Relate With Strangers

When it comes to storytelling mediums, Waking Windows hits just about every base. At the root of good comedy is a compelling story (and of course, a solid punchline). Comedy's covered at Empire during the fest, where master improv and impersonation comic McQueen Adams (of Comedy Central's Heads Will Roll) will open for Greg Barris, the creator of the classic comedy showcase in downtown NYC, Heart of Darkness (which helped launch many greats).

The hilarity will be emceed by Connor McGrath, a sincerely funny dude who our readers voted Maine's Best comedian during last year's Best Of contest. If you're looking for a lighthearted break from the otherwise heavy lineup of music and conversations Waking Windows has to offer, head to Empire for refuge and laugh.

No Chill Comedy | 5:30 pm to 7:00 pm | Empire, 575 Congress St.

 wakingwindows samueljamesandMIlo

A Chance To Listen And Think Deeper 

Ending the night's non-musical events on something of a serious note is a doubleheader discussion between four black intellectuals and polymaths. The first one is between Rory Ferreira a rapper better known as Milo, and Samuel James, who's well known in Portland for his mastery of the guitar and eloquent comments on race in the Bollard. The second conversation features artist and activist Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo and Dr. Leroy Rowe, a professor of African-American History and Politics at the University of Southern Maine.

To give the necessary space these folks need for their words and ideas to flow freely, this event won't have a moderator, agenda, or preliminary structure. Instead, two pairs of minds will collide and produce fragments of unexpected wisdom for the audience to take home with them. We're not sure what will be discussed, but we're anxious to find out.  

In Conversation | 6:15 pm to 8:00 pm | Portland Flea-For-All, 585 Congress St 

 

  • Published in Features

Reality Replacement: Plug Into A Virtual Version Of Portland With The Yarn Corporation

If your current reality sucks, why not try a new one? One Waking Windows event will provide the option.

The Portland-based company the Yarn Corporation are launching an event called Art, Seen: Virtual Experiences of Art, Music, and Design. There they'll let Portlanders play with the technology that they market as the answer to problems, both minute and apocalyptic, that might await humanity in the future.

On their website, they playfully warn that big problems might manifest themselves in this reality — rising sea levels, drought, global pandemics — and the only solution might be uploading oneself into a new, virtual one.

“Upload yourself. Together, we can build a fresh new world,” reads some of the text on the Yarn Corporation's website.

All drama aside, the Yarn Corporation built a social platform, called the Driftspace, for people to create fully immersive, story-rich, virtual worlds. They technically are offering another door into a different reality, although, we're not convinced their digital space could provide refuge from climate change, nevertheless, it's a cool distraction.

“One of the interesting things that we're doing is using a nonlinear format,” said Sam Mateosian, the CEO of the Yarn Corporation. “We challenge what it means to be a story. Does it have to have a standard arc? Instead, we've got a collection of characters. You just experience a moment in time.”

One of those characters will be the city of Portland itself. During Waking Windows, the Yarn Corporation will demo their software with the public on Samsung VR Goggles, one of which features a 360 virtual version of Congress Street between MECA and the Hay Building. Other alternate realities visitors will be able to plug into include: the Portland Pride parade, the inside of the Maine College of Art, backstage at Port City Music Hall, and the interior of Pickwick Press, as well as other locations in Portland that “you wouldn't typically find yourself in.”

“Even if you're familiar with Portland, this will have a behind-the-scenes feel to it,” said Mateosian. “It's immersive, but you don't get to interact. It's got a voyeuristic quality to it. Sit and watch someone work and you have no obligation to talk to them. As an introvert it's very nice; you sort of feel like being a disembodied spirit.”

The Yarn Corporation teamed up with MECA and the Knack Factory to create these virtual worlds. Of course, virtual reality technology still has some kinks to work out — resolution, latency issues, and nausea from the illusion of movement without actual movement — before it becomes indistinguishable from physical reality, but Sam thinks we'll get there one day.

“Where we are now with the technology is sort of like the equivalent to the car phone stage of smartphones,” said Mateosian. “They were bulky, expensive, awkward and not everyone had them.”

In the meantime, as the technology improves, Mateosian encourages creators to collaborate with the Yarn Corporation if interested in adding to their expanding, inter-connected story-verse.

Art, Seen: Virtual Experiences of Art, Music, And Design | 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm | The Art Department, 611 Congress St.

 

  • Published in Features
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