FREEPORT, Maine — People all over the world are familiar with the work of Glen Halliday, whose light-hearted Kids Crooked House company has been featured on several popular television shows and is rapidly expanding with licensed branches as far away as Russia and Australia.
Now Halliday wants to draw some attention to Greater Portland and its music scene, which he described as underappreciated both nationwide and locally.
The multi-talented Windham resident is on a graphic designing, concert booking and merchandising campaign to ratchet up the profile of local musicians he thinks are among the best in America.
And Halliday knows what he’s talking about.
He grew up in Green Bay, Wis., and helped design album covers for the likes of the Dixie Chicks and Marilyn Manson while living in Miami in the 1990s before moving to Maine about 15 years ago after falling in love with a local woman and the state’s natural beauty.
Once settled in the Pine Tree State, he started building cartoonishly off-kilter playhouses for children, motivated by an interest in getting his own twin sons outside to play, and the idea took off. In 2007, the nascent company won a high-profile marketing contest run by web giant Yahoo! and subsequent appearances on popular reality shows like TLC’s “Jon & Kate Plus 8” and ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” boosted its status even more.
Now the Kids Crooked House company is signing up licensed partners in the United Kingdom, Russia, Portugal and Australia, among other places, to help distribute the playhouses across the globe.
But one look at the black-clad, sunglass-wearing Halliday reveals there’s more to him than children’s amusements. This month, the Wisconsin-native is celebrating the one-year anniversary of his 207 Brand, an outlet for what Halliday calls his “darker side.”
With the graphic design background he employed for years in Miami, he draws up professionally decorated T-shirts that promote Greater Portland and the region’s bands in a way he says nobody else is.
The musicians he partners with are charged little or nothing for the design work he previously charged corporate clients thousands of dollars for, and are invited to sell the apparel through his 207 Brand website e-commerce program.
Halliday can afford to provide his services to musicians inexpensively, he said, in part because of the ongoing success of the Kids Crooked House company.
The 207 Brand T-shirts express what Halliday described as “the edgy side of Maine,” complete with heavy metal-style skulls, beating hearts and rustic sea anchors.
“I think people are looking for more than moose and lobsters on the fronts of their T-shirts,” he said. “There’s so much more to Maine than moose and lobsters.”
For one thing, he said, there’s music. Halliday describes the Portland music scene with infectious enthusiasm.
“I feel like the art and music scenes here are so vast and so talented. Your average person doesn’t have any idea how much talent is right there in their backyard,” Halliday said. “People will spend $50 to go see Ke$ha or somebody perform up in Augusta, but they don’t realize they could spend $10 and catch a great local act around the corner.”
A year ago, he started booking occasional showcases under the 207 Brand name, bringing bands for whom he’d made logos and T-shirts under the same roof for concerts, oftentimes featuring disparate music styles.
The first showcase placed Maine rap star Spose on the same stage as alternative bluegrass band Dark Hollow Bottling Co. and the rock band Whitcomb. A second show featured metal act Murcielago alongside hip-hop trio Educated Advocates and the skyrocketing electronic soul group The Other Bones.
On Sept. 14, Halliday is promoting his third showcase, titled “Halfway to St. Patrick’s Day” and held at the Asylum nightclub, where he’s breaking from his own tradition somewhat by building a show around an Irish theme and centerpiece act The Pubcrawlers.
The concerts are opportunities to promote the bands across a wider range of audience members and, of course, get the 207 Brand name some publicity, Halliday said.
“The best compliment I got after the second show was from a metal head who was there strictly to see Murcielago saying, ‘I had no idea Educated Advocates were so great,’” he said. “Or people there who came to see Educated Advocates saying, ‘Murcielago was the tightest band I’ve ever seen.’”
Halliday said he hopes the booking, branding, merchandising and web sales services he offers help elevate the profile of Portland area musicians who he believes could compete on a national scene.
“Some of the best bands I’ve ever heard in any place I’ve ever been [are in Portland], and they get 50 people to turn out at their shows. Is that because they’ve got a singer, guitarist, bassist and drummer, but no web guy? Maybe,” he said. “I’m hoping 207 Brand will help them with their look and their brand.”