BANGOR, Maine — With two down and five to go, New England Concerts seems to be hitting high notes with fans and city officials alike in this inaugural season of the Hollywood Slots Waterfront Concert Series.
“We’ve been talking about something like this for years, but nobody ever went out and did it until now,” said Bangor Police Sgt. Paul Edwards. “I think he’s done a hell of a job with everything, and I hope he continues to bring this type of entertainment.”
“He” is Old Town native Alex Gray, the former owner of Russell’s Entertainment Complex in Bangor and Orono nightclub Ushuaia and current waterfront series promoter.
“Overall, it’s been very successful. If people continue to support it, we’ll be here for many years,” said Gray, who has not been without issues to address.
“People here have been great to work with, and people are coming out,” Gray said. “Why shouldn’t we do at least five to 10 shows a year here anyway?”
Actually, Gray has a much larger number in mind.
“The number is tough to say, but would I like to do 20 to 30 shows? Yes, but so much is due to tours, dates, routing, availability and timing,” he said.
That optimistic tone is a far cry from the sour notes sounded by many cynics when news of the concerts first were blurted out in June.
“It was like anything when you do a project like this here,” Gray said. “Mainers can be pessimistic to a certain extent. I was hearing we couldn’t do this, or we can’t do that a lot.”
To combat that pessimism, Gray had the idea to have the riverfront venue along Railroad Street more open and visible by delaying the installation of screening over the surrounding fences and letting people see and hear everything when series opener Celtic Woman led things off on July 28.
Public reaction was almost universally positive as fans, passers-by, and even passing motorists, stopped to take in some of the sights and sounds.
Not that there haven’t been problems to iron out along the way:
A printer interface problem stalled the printing of pre-sold and will-call tickets at Celtic Woman, but it was fixed well before the start of the show. Ticket bar code scanners also suffered glitches at the Lynyrd Skynyrd-Charlie Daniels Band concert last week.
A shortage of handicapped-accessible seating at Lynyrd Skynyrd due to some special-needs seating customers buying regular seats and not specifying at the time of purchase they needed handicapped seating.
Fans angered by having items such as jackknives, umbrellas, or chairs taken from them at the gate before admission and not getting them back.
“People need to understand that it’s not the same world it was before Sept. 11. You just can’t take anything you want on airplanes, public events or concerts anymore,” Gray said. “And at these shows, they’re generally given the option to take items back to their cars before coming in.
“If they don’t want to do that, [the items are] just discarded. Umbrellas, chairs and stuff like that is left in a pile if they want to come back and get them after the show, but contraband like knives or any kind of drug paraphernalia is disposed of.”
Frustration over the current rules for alcohol sales and restrictions on where drinks can be consumed. Fans must keep drinks inside the fenced-off beer garden and cannot take them back to their seats.
“The beer garden is a little contentious. The state and city need to work together to get legislation addressed so you can take a drink back to your seat and not be inconvenienced or miss part of the show,” Gray said. “We’ve also had some people mad because we wouldn’t serve them without ID and in once case, it was a 50-year-old woman, but we have to follow the rules and do it right.”
In the interest of safety and sobriety, drink sales are discontinued after the halfway point of the headliner act’s set.
People moving up from the lawn section and sitting or standing in the aisle spaces inside and outside the sections closer to the stage.
Dim lighting as fans start leaving at the end of the shows.
Fans smoking outside designated smoking areas.
“We have many of our issues worked out and will probably have more come up that we’ll have to address,” said Gray, who employs around 50 security people per show to the one police officer Bangor deploys per 1,000 fans. “But to do the volume of people we did at the second show and have the minimal issues we did, it’s kudos to my staff, the police department, security and other city officials involved.”
“I expected at least a couple arrests and there were none.”
Sgt. Edwards said he expected officers to be much busier than they were.
“I’m surprised even though I do consider myself an optimist,” he said with a chuckle. “A lot of planning has gone into this. We haven’t even had complaints with traffic and people have been really good. As far as disorderly complaints, we’ve had hardly anything. I think we had one guy thrown out and that was before Lynyrd Skynyrd even started.”
Bangor Fire Department assistant chief Scott Bostock echoed Edwards’ positive take.
“We’ve had very few problems in general. I think the first one was a medical problem related to heat at Celtic Woman,” Bostock said. “The second was the threat of severe thunderstorms [at Lynyrd Skynyrd] and what to do as far as shelter and how to handle the crowd.”
Bostock said emergency officials came up with a plan to have fans return to their vehicles, wait out a storm, and then be allowed back in after the storm ended.
Gray, who pays Bangor an undisclosed dollar amount per fan at each concert to lease the land, credited city officials and workers for making the first two shows relatively smooth and hassle-free.
Even sanitation and recycling services handled by Nate’s Lawn Care have been praised.
“They do an excellent job with cleanup,” said Tracy Willette, Bangor Parks and Recreation Department director. “Our role is facility management as the waterfront is under us. The first two events went extremely well, and I don’t think you could ask for a better scenario.
“I think much of that has to do with the people running it. It’s certainly a team effort.”
Gray couldn’t agree more.
“I can’t even come close to speak about how great everyone’s been to make this a reality,” Gray said. “Bangor’s people seem to get it. They’re all-pro people and I really think they truly see the big picture.
“It’s no longer going to happen; it is happening.”