There’s a lot of talent amassed at Main Street Music Studios in Bangor. Bill Thibodeau and Jeremy Shirland, the studio’s mandolin and guitar instructors, have taught students of all ages since MSMS opened in the fall of 2009, and together they have 70 years of experience. When they’re not in the classroom, however, they’re doing what any musician would do. They’re jamming out.
“That’s the kind of atmosphere we try to have here,” said Thibodeau, who has played in bluegrass groups in eastern Maine for three decades. “Come in, be yourself, make music. Play what you want and what you like.”
So when Paul Beaulieu, owner of the Big Easy Lounge at the Charles Inn in downtown Bangor, needed somebody to fill up an empty slot for entertainment one night, he asked Thibodeau and Shirland to come and do just that: jam. A year later, they’re known as the Main Street 2 and they’ve become a mainstay of the downtown Bangor music scene, playing their loose, laid-back blend of a variety of roots music. When they play with an upright bass player, be it fellow MSMS instructor Brad O’Brien, area bassist Wells Gordon or Thibodeau’s brother, Dave, they’re known as the Main Street 3 — but Shirland and Thibodeau are the only constant members.
While Thibodeau is a bluegrass true believer and Shirland is a blues man, the pair are anything but beholden to their respective genres. After all, all Americana — be it blues, bluegrass, country or folk — comes from one mysterious wellspring. And rock, in its purest form, comes from all those elements. So really, anything is on the table, and that’s what the Main Street 2 is all about.
“If you limit yourself to one genre, you’re just not getting the full experience,” said Shirland. “We try to push each other in lots of different directions. There are plenty of similarities between Bill Monroe and Jimi Hendrix. I’m more interested in that, than in their differences.”
They play those Bill Monroe songs along with plenty of other bluegrass standards, blues classics and traditional folk songs. But in between the old-timey stuff, there will be some downright funky takes on, yes, Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and on other rock songs. The pair’s version of Hendrix’s “Little Wing” is both instantly recognizable and uniquely arranged.
In fact, what’s most refreshing about Thibodeau and Shirland’s music is that their approach more closely resembles a jazz duo or trio than a traditional roots ensemble. Their high level of skill means they can improvise, try new things and keep it fresh for each show. It’s freewheeling yet deeply virtuosic.
“I think it’s great that we can let each of our individual personalities shine through,” said Thibodeau. “Once you just let the music speak for itself, it becomes less about trying to convey a specific sound or genre, and more about just saying what you want, through the music. It’s liberating. There’s only twelve notes you have to work with, anyway. We all have to share those.”
The Main Street 2 will play at 8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 1, at the Big Easy, and at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 10, at Nocturnem Drafthaus, also in Bangor. For more information on Thibodeau and Shirland, visit the Main Street Music Studios website at mainstreetmusicstudios.com.
Correction: In an earlier version of this story, Main Street Music Studios instructor Brad O'Brien's name was misspelled.