The Collins Center for the Arts in Orono, Merrill Auditorium in Portland and the recently reopened State Theatre in Portland each hold more than 1,400 people at capacity. Waterville and Skowhegan each have 900-seat opera houses, and The Grand in Ellsworth holds around 500 people. The Bangor Opera House seats just over 300, though reopening the balcony would double that.
And then there’s the Criterion Theater in Bar Harbor, an 877-seat gem from a bygone era, with its ornate, beautiful art deco look, its floating balcony loge boxes, and its wonderful acoustics. Built in 1932, the building cost $150,000 to build — a lot more in today’s money — and remained the center of society for the wealthy and powerful who came to Mount Desert Island each summer. In recent years, however, the Criterion’s fate has been up in the air, as it has gone through multiple owners and is in legal limbo in terms of who actually controls the building. Programming has been intermittent, especially this past summer.
That’s why more than 40 musicians from 10 groups from all over eastern Maine have signed on to play a marathon benefit concert this weekend at the Criterion. Daniel Ober, vocalist for Blue Hill-based blues band Deja Blues, and local drummer and show promoter Steve Peer have put together the first-ever Matinee to Midnight Concert from noon until midnight Saturday, Nov. 13. Admission to the show is $10, with all proceeds benefiting the Criterion. Larger donations are encouraged, as Ober and Peer hope to raise $15,000.
“We got such a great response from everyone we contacted to play,” said Ober. “We had to turn some people away. We want to do another show in the spring. People really love the Criterion.”
Ober, who played with Deja Blues at the Criterion just last month in the first concert the theater had held since early summer, loves the space for many reasons, but its long history in Bar Harbor is reason No. 1.
“Being in a room that survived the great Bar Harbor fire in 1947 is one of the big things that’s just so cool about it,” said Ober. “I remember when I was a kid and I got involved with the resurrection of The Grand theater [in Ellsworth], and the same kind of thing had happened to that place. It had fallen into the same kind of disuse, and look at it now. It’s doing great. We can do the same thing with the Criterion. We can have stuff going on there six days a week, if not seven.”
For Saturday’s concert, music fans can come in for any part of the show — though if you want to stay for all 12 hours, you’re more than welcome to. Barbecue from Mainely Meats will available most of the day to keep you fueled up for dancing.
The fun starts with an intimate performance by solo acoustic artist Bobbi Lane of Ellsworth, who will perform her folk-pop songs from noon to 1 p.m. Then the mike is handed off to Dirty Martini, a four-piece group from Bar Harbor who play an eclectic blend of jazz, funk and blues.
“They’ve got a real torchy thing going on with their singer, Britt Lee,” said Ober. “They’re just a really neat band.”
After Dirty Martini is the guitarist James Boynton, an Old Town resident who plays straight-up rock ’n’ roll. Peer’s band, The Tumblers, are up next at 3:45 p.m., playing their legendarily raucous combination of old school R and B and contemporary rock that puts a new spin on the term “northern soul.” Bangor’s own Eric Green will play a solo set at 5 p.m., performing his trademark blend of country and blues that’s part New Orleans, part Memphis, and all coming straight out of the muddy bottom of the Penobscot River.
Mark Bluesboy Kanter, a Bangor harmonica player, guitarist and vocalist who busts out old-fashioned blues, is on next, starting at 6:15 p.m. Jason Hammond and Jon Wood will take the stage at 7:30 p.m.
“They do a really interesting kind of acoustic-electric duo,” said Ober. “It’s mostly instrumental. They do a lot of jazz-influenced jamming. They’re excellent musicians.”
Mondo Charlie with special guest Annie Manzetti Parker is on at 8:45 p.m. Mondo Charlie, a power trio from Bar Harbor, is composed of guitarist and fiddler Jim Coffman, bass player Sig Echholz and drummer Russell Snyder; Parker will sing with the band for this show. The band plays a blend of classic ’60s rock and blues, with Parker’s Janis Joplinesque vocals adding to the vibe for this show only.
Then the night is turned over to rock ’n’ roll and blues with Bangor-based band the Blast Addicts playing kick-butt rock 10-11 p.m. and River Bottom Funk grooving it up from 11 p.m. to midnight. In all, it’s a night of great Maine music, and a way to breathe life back into a treasured part of eastern Maine culture.
“We just want to see [the Criterion] shine again,” said Ober.