BANGOR, Maine — Alan Jackson’s Freight Train Tour will make a stop in Bangor, and if Orono native Alex Gray has his way, at least a couple of other well-known rock, pop and-or country bands or artists will be stopping by in the near future.
Gray finally has realized a longtime goal of bringing mainstream concert acts to the area with the Bangor Waterfront Summer Concert Series.
“I’ve wanted to do something like this in Bangor for years,” said Gray, senior partner and booking agent for Massachusetts-based New England Concerts. “I consistently told the Live Nation folks that Bangor is a great market and when you do something, people support it in terms of entertainment.”
City officials will be watching the attendance for Jackson and Irish singing group Celtic Woman, the other act Gray has booked, to help gauge the size of a proposed new civic center.
According to its website, Live Nation Entertainment is the largest live entertainment company in the world. It consists of five businesses: concert promotion and venue operations, sponsorship, ticketing solutions, e-commerce and artist management.
Live Nation, which sold 140 million tickets, promoted 21,000 concerts and partnered with 850 sponsors last year, will help with booking the entertainment, marketing and support.
At least for the time being, Celtic Woman is batting leadoff for the new summer concert series with tickets (currently priced $51.50 or $61.50) already on sale for the Wednesday, July 28, show. Alan Jackson will play the Queen City on Friday, Sept. 10. Tickets for the 7:30 p.m. show ranging from $29.50 to $79.50 will go on sale at 9 a.m. Friday.
“We’ll also be adding cheaper lawn seats for people at all the shows, but we haven’t set prices for those yet,” Gray said.
Gray, who also is booking acts to appear at Le Colisee, formerly the Central Maine Civic Center, in Lewiston, wouldn’t offer the names of any acts he’s negotiating with, but said he is seeking bigger acts with more popular and-or broad appeal.
“We were after Aerosmith for a period of time because they didn’t have a second show after Fenway Park, but we were still in negotiations with the city and the tour dates passed us by,” he said.
Musical groups and artists who are or were on Gray’s wish list may likely include John Mayer, Nickelback, The Charlie Daniels Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd (the latter two are playing together at six Freedom Concerts this summer). Given that Ray LaMontagne lived and worked in Lewiston after graduating from high school and is touring with David Gray, their 2010 Draw the Line tour would be a natural choice for the summer series.
“We’re looking at everything, trying to put together a classic rock show, an active rock show, a heavy rock show,” said Gray, the former owner of entertainment complex Russell’s in Bangor and Orono nightclub Ushuaia. “We’ve even taken some shots at comedy shows, as well.”
Gray’s goal is to have five concerts booked in Bangor this summer with the possibility of expanding that number next year, depending on how well-supported they are this year.
“We have more ability and flexibility to attract bigger acts,” Gray said. “Our seating capacity will vary depending on the acts, but we think Celtic Woman can be in the 4,000 to 6,000 range and Alan Jackson 10,000 to 12,000.”
Bangor City Engineer Jim Ring estimated the potential maximum crowd capacity to be in the 15,000-20,000 range, according to Gray.
“The site is pitched at 4 degrees and there will be folding chairs set up in a grid,” Gray explained.
The covered stage Gray will rent will be located on the other side of the railroad tracks near the riverfront and essentially occupy the same location as that of the Railroad Stage for the American Folk Festival. It is 60 feet wide and 40 feet deep with 17-foot “wings” on both sides for staging and storage. Disassembled, it takes six tractor-trailers to transport.
“Ultimately, we’d like to donate the stage to the festival and keep it there July through September, and to do that [making it cost-effective], we need to book at least two more acts,” Gray said.
Gray has worked closely with Bangor Assistant City Manager Bob Farrar, City Solicitor Norm Heitmann, Bangor Parks and Recreation Director Tracy Willette, Police Chief Ron Gastia, fire prevention officer John Mickel and Bass Park Director Mike Dyer, and KahBang Music and Arts Festival founder Tim Lo. They all were instrumental in getting the concert series off the ground.
“I think it’s great for music fans around here, and there are a ton of them,” said Dyer. “The potential’s always been there and this finally opens up the real possibilities. I think this is the first chance we have to see if what we’ve thought all along is true as far as the potential popularity of shows in this area.”
Dyer pointed out the outdoor summer series means more people can attend the shows.
“For Alan Jackson, we could free up 3,400 seats to accommodate the show and stage space they want [at the Bangor Auditorium],” said Dyer. “Even if they don’t come here [Bangor Auditorium], we want to see them come to Bangor, so having an outdoor arena makes this available to so many more people.”
Not to mention creating many more tickets to sell.
Dyer and other city officials are eyeing this summer series as a unique chance to gauge the amount of interest in live shows and concerts as they debate how big a new civic arena to replace the aging Bangor Auditorium should be.
“We’ll find out how viable this concert market is. If Bangor proves to be a viable market for shows, promoters will be lined up to book shows here. I don’t think anyone disagrees with the idea that we need a new arena,” Dyer said. “We’re looking at 7,400 seats, but others are arguing we need 15,000 to draw the really great shows.
“This is a chance to find out if the market can support those kinds of shows.”
Dyer said the outdoor arena might also attract a previously untapped population segment: Canadians.
“We have three tour buses coming out of Canada to see the Dick Stacey’s Country Jamboree reunion show Aug. 7 at the [Bass Park] grandstand, so that shows how much interest there already is in that area,” Dyer said.
Whether the series expands next summer depends on the level of interest.
“The reality is going to be determined by if people come out and support this,” said Gray. “And for there to be real long-term potential, there needs to be further infrastructure improvement, maybe make it more of a permanent facility.”
Gray doesn’t expect parking to be a huge issue with Pickering Square Garage nearby, lots of parking on side streets, VIP parking services and sites, and the convenient nature of the area in terms of parking in nearby lots and walking to events.
For his part, Gray can’t wait to see the public response.
“I think it’s good for Bangor and the area as a whole because without some form of entertainment, it can be pretty dull,” he said. “My dad always says Maine is a great place to live and has some great places to eat or find quality entertainment, but you have to look hard to find it in a lot of cases.”
Tickets for the summer concert series are available to order online at www.thecolisee.com and at Mark’s Music at 203 Penobscot Square in Brewer, or by calling 989-6658.