Music’s good for the pickin’ at Common Ground

Posted Sept. 24, 2009, at 6:24 p.m.

Besides the food, the crazily coiffed chickens, the fabulous art and crafts and the people-watching, the Common Ground Country Fair, set for this weekend at the Unity Fairgrounds, is a hotbed for Maine music. Yes, you can mow down on pie cones and lamb gyros, and you can see some seriously adorable bunnies, but you also can check out a multitude of fantastic bands and artists from all over the state as they perform at the three stages and while wandering around the fairgrounds. Here’s a short list of some of the great musical acts you can check out at the fair this weekend.

The Kelly Ravin Trio, 2:30 p.m. Friday, Spotlight Stage. This 20-something guitar phenom from Brooks has been touring New England and beyond for several years now, playing his brand of rootsy acoustic rock. He is based out of Burlington, Vt., now, and he’s a kindred spirit of fellow Mainer Ray LaMontagne with his gruff-but-warm vocals and dexterous acoustic stylings.

David Mallett, 5 p.m. Friday, Amphitheater Stage. You can’t go wrong with David Mallett, the ultimate Maine troubadour. He’s been at it for decades with his intelligent, literate folk songs detailing the simple pains and pleasures of life. Expect an array of songs from his back catalog, including his wonderful 2007 album “The Fable True,” which set Henry David Thoreau’s words to music, and from his first album of all new songs in six years, “Alright Now,” out this year.

Toughcats, 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Spotlight Stage The Toughcats are the most fun bluegrass junkyard band you’ll ever see. Three guys from North Haven slay on banjo, steel guitar, mandolin and a funky drum set. Some compare them to Tom Waits, and some to Old Crow Medicine Show. Either way, you’re in for an entertaining, dynamic treat.

Spencer and the School Spirit Mafia, 3:45 p.m. Saturday, Amphitheater Stage. Think of this band as like an indie rock Partridge Family. Except they are actually brothers and sisters. Spencer Albee, former member of both Rustic Overtones and As Fast As, has assembled a big band of 13 musicians who play everything from guitar and drums to violin, ukulele and trombone. Think happy British pop like the Kinks or Paul McCartney mixed with modern indie rock like Peter Bjorn and John and Sufjan Stevens.

Tree By Leaf, 4 p.m. Saturday, Spotlight Stage. The elegant, melancholy folk rock from this Waldo County four-piece has lit up the stage at Common Ground for years now. Garrett and Sirii Soucy, Cliff Young and Eric Sanders combine soul-searching spirituality with pop-influenced songwriting and beautiful melodies.

Gypsy Tailwind, 5 p.m. Saturday, Amphitheater Stage. A major new force on the Portland music scene, Gypsy Tailwind has been together for just about two years, but already has released two albums of moody, earthy Americana, including 2008’s “The Halo Sessions” and 2009’s “Grace.” The band has performed with the likes of John Fogerty and Guster and garnered the second place award for the Portland Phoenix’s Best Album of 2008 for “The Halo Sessions” — second only to Ray LaMontagne.

Imperial Hot Club, 4 p.m. Sunday, Amphitheater Stage. Ooh, gypsy jazz. It’s totally irresistable, and Imperial Hot Club, a Portland-based group, plays it with plenty of passion, style and musicality. While most of the set is composed of creative takes on standards from Fats Waller and Duke Ellington, the band throws in an original now and again. Bring your dancing shoes.

Perpetual E-motion, 3:45 p.m. Sunday, Spotlight Stage. In the 21st century, nothing is off-limits. That’s why Perpetual E-motion is so fun — a little Celtic here, a little jazz here, a little electronic loops peppered in throughout its set. The duo, comprising Ed Howe and John Cote, combine fiddle, guitar, didgeridoo and drum programming into one hypnotic sound.

The Common Ground Country Fair opens at 9 a.m. Friday, Sept. 25, and runs through 5 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 27. Admission is $10, $8 for elders and free for children 12 and under. For more info, visit www.mofga.org.

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