With less than two weeks left of 2009 and the first decade of the 21st century, let’s take a look at where we were 10 years ago, as far as music, culture and community arts scenes go.
In 1999, hardly anyone had a cell phone, and less than 50 percent of Americans had Internet access at home. Today, it’s the exact opposite — we’re always connected all the time. In 1999, iTunes and the iPod did not exist. Now, you can have every song you could ever possibly want to listen to on a piece of equipment the size of a deck of cards. To quote the great comedian Patton Oswalt, it’s a miracle!
In 1999, storefronts and commercial areas in towns and cities across the state were empty. Belfast and Rockland were just picking up, and downtown Bangor was still largely a ghost town. There was no centralized place to know what was happening and where, and quite frankly, there was no place for “it” to happen. Today, that’s not really the case. In fact, the turnaround from even just five years ago is remarkable.
2009 marks the end of a decade in which everything fundamentally changed. It’s an exciting time to be alive, and it’s only going to get more exciting as the years progress. And it’ll certainly have ramifications for the average people who want to see more music, more art and more culture in their communities. Here’s to positive change, and to more cool, creative, progressive people making art of any kind in Maine. Here’s my personal list of some of the highlights of the eastern Maine music scene in 2009.
Undoubtedly the coolest music venue to open in the area this year is Roots & Tendrils, the boutique-art gallery-music venue located on Cross Street in downtown Belfast. Since opening last June, it has played host to some of Maine and New England’s most interesting bands, ranging from indie punk to jazz to acoustic folk. Cheers to Bub and Meg Fournier for taking a gamble and opening a venue for live music. It’s a boon to bands looking for a showcase for their stuff.
Also worth mentioning is the continuing renewal of downtown Bangor, especially in West Market Square. With new places like the Thai Siam Bar and Ipanema, as well as old standbys such as the Whig & Courier and Paddy Murphy’s, hosting bands and DJs every weekend, the Square is the hub around which activity centers. But let’s not forget the fact that the Bangor Opera House hosts many bands each year, as well as Giacomo’s, the Union Street Brick Church on Thursday nights, and Luna Bar & Grill, on occasion.
In Bangor, two big events happened this year: the West Market Festival and the KahBang Festival. West Market, held last June, hosted Rustic Overtones, Feel it Robot, the Bar Stuards and many more Maine bands for a full day of outdoor shenanigans in West Market Square. KahBang was held on the Bangor Waterfront, and featured headlining acts such as Matt and Kim, Ra Ra Riot and a litany of other international talent. At its peak, more than 1,000 people were in attendance. That’s nothing to sneeze at; in fact, it’s unprecedented in recent Bangor history. Look out for KahBang 2010, courtesy of West Market Productions.
For outdoor concert series, the gold star undoubtedly has to go to Belfast, for its Summer Nights concerts, each Thursday during the warmer months. Mostly local, and always entertaining, the town puts an emphasis on diversity and funkiness for the months of weekly music it programs. A close runner up, however, is the Bar Harbor Jazz Festival, which puts some of Maine’s best jazz groups in venues all over the town.
For sheer enjoyment, you can’t go wrong with the Flannery Brothers album “Love Songs for Silly Things.” Yes, it’s a kid’s album, but it’s also some of the sweetest, smartest songwriting you’ve heard all year. And the Flannery Brothers’ live show is so danceable I defy you to resist at least tapping your toes.
For a bit more existential ennui, check out Wood Burning Cat’s “Borono,” recorded over the course of a year by songwriters Jason Unterreiner and Tony Bitetti. It documents life in a small town in Maine, when you’re too smart for your own good. It’s also tuneful, well-crafted indie pop.
Sam and Yuri, the Bangor-based songwriting duo, put out a killer LP this year titled “Drip and Bleed.” It’s Maine-made indie rock, in the vein of Simon & Garfunkel or Death Cab for Cutie, that’s sensitive, melodically dense and full of gorgeous harmonies. Sam and Yuri were so busy they recorded a follow-up EP, “The Pushaw Lake EP,” just last summer.
Down Belfast ways, the Travis Lloyd Band, featuring (you guessed it) lead songwriter and singer Travis Lloyd, put out one heck of a roots rock album titled “Old Damn Rodeo.” Think Ray LaMontagne mixed with Elvis Costello, with just the slightest country twang. It’s very satisfying stuff.
Finally, she may have left Maine, but Sara Hallie Richardson’s album “A Curious Paradox” blends folk and electronica into an intoxicating stew. She has a pure, crystalline voice that will melt your heart — and then steal it.
On a sad note, I was awfully bummed to see the band Feel It Robot break up. Things happen, though, and several of the band members have moved on to other things: Mike and Dan Flannery are, in fact, the Flannery Brothers, and drummer Sasha Alcott has moved onto the indie punk band Queen City. That’s how it goes; things evolve. I’m pretty psyched to see the kinds of evolution that will go on in 2010.
Happy Holidays and Happy New Year to all!