Though live music in Maine is today mostly found in Maine’s larger cities, there was a time when small towns all over the state had their own venues — be they intimate cafes, raucous clubs or BYOB venues. Here are four of the best known ones to host live music over the years, from names both little and big.
The Left Bank Cafe, Blue Hill
This hidden gem opened in 1987 in a spacious home on Route 172 between downtown Blue Hill and the Blue Hill Fairgrounds. Original proprietor Arnold Greenberg brought a who’s who of folk, blues and bluegrass artists from around the country to his intimate cafe, serving up lunch and dinner alongside musical entertainment. Some of the well-known names that took its stage during its 11-year existence were Arlo Guthrie (an early supporter of WERU-FM, alongside his friend Noel Paul Stookey), Loudon Wainwright III, Odetta, Jonathan Richman, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Maria Muldaur, Sleepy LaBeef, the Del McCoury Band, Pinetop Perkins, and Mose Allison, alongside famous Mainers including David Mallett and Jonathan Edwards. For a time in the early 1990s, it was a can’t-miss stop for touring songwriters on the East Coast folk circuit. The Left Bank Cafe finally closed its doors in December 1998, after several years of financial instability. Today, the building is an assisted living facility.
The Red Barn, Monroe
For decades, this literal barn on a dirt road in the Waldo County town of Monroe hosted live music from blues legends such as Muddy Waters, B.B. King and James Cotton, country artists like Connie Smith, as well as regional rockers including Bill Chinnock. Though exact dates on when it was open are sketchy, it hosted music and dances as early as the 1960s, and continued as late as the 1990s. It was the classic example of a bottle club — a bring-your-own-booze venue that was popular in the mid-20th century. There are still a few bottle clubs left in Maine, most notably the Silver Spur in Mechanic Falls, but most, like the Red Barn, have long since closed.
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The Penny Post/Heavy’s, Old Town
Though this long-gone Old Town music venue’s biggest claim to fame was hosting a show in 1989 from Phish, which was then just a regional band that hadn’t yet achieved world jam band domination, the Penny Post, later known as Heavy’s, was best known as a hub for local bands. Though it closed in 1995, during its six years of existence there were countless bands from Maine and New England that played at the Penny Post, which was located at the corner of Main and Middle streets in downtown Old Town. Though the occasional blues or roots act would find its way through the doors, the majority of shows at the Penny Post were from metal, punk and grunge bands — this was the era of peak Seattle sound, after all.
Famous — or infamous, depending on your opinions on the matter — Ushuaia in 1999 took the place of Geddy’s Pub, located at 103 Park St. in Orono, across the street from one of the main entrances to the University of Maine. Though the club was as well known for its popular DJ nights and packed, boozy, college student-fueled dance parties, it also hosted a lot of great bands over the years. The Dropkick Murphys, GWAR, Against Me!, Killswitch Engage, Clutch, Mastodon and many others passed through its door. Ushuaia closed its doors in 2006, and after a few years operating as a different club called 103 Ultra Lounge, it stopped operating as a venue in 2009. Today, a gas station and an Aroma Joe’s coffee shop operate in its old location.