If you live in rural Maine, chances are you have multiple income streams going to keep the wolf away from the door. You have to because depending on the hardscrabble economy’s vagaries, some of those will get dammed upstream by psychotic beavers and slow to a meager trickle, leaving one scrambling to find new ones. I was wicked lucky several months ago when Hugh Lysander, editor of a new startup weekly out of Skowhegan, The View From Somerset Ridge, called and said he used to read my Right-Minded, But Left of Center column in the old Highland Journal which went out of business last year, and liked my humor and style. “Any chance you want to do more newspaper stuff?” he asked.
I had to think on that. Between my current book project, MCW and the ton of books waiting to be reviewed, I was torn, but when he said I could roll my own, I was in. I’m a local music nut. Any time I hear of a new Maine group or performer doing a gig and I can get there, I’m in the audience and listening with hope I’ll be hearing the next Wicked Good Band or Devonsquare. There are tons of homegrown Maine musicians, but most aren’t going to set the world on fire. Thanks to Youtube, however, I can get a better idea which are worth checking out before driving 40-50 miles after working all day.
Anyhow, Hugh gave me the green light and my latest literary effort, Rocking My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham, Pierced Nipples and All, was born. I have to give the man a lot of credit. He realized I’d need a small expense account if I was going to do an adequate job of uncovering new Maine talent. Let’s face it, Maine is big and you can’t get to the Wytopitloc Grange for a jamfest on good looks. Fifty bucks a month lets me cover a lot of territory in my 35mpg Chevy Sonic. I thought I knew a lot about the Maine music scene, but once the column got rolling, I was floored by the email responses that provided leads on new groups and individual performers. I’m happy to share some of my better finds with you folks, listing the band or performer, the members, where they’re located and a comment on their music style. Unfortunately most local music venues prohibit camera usage, so I’m unable to provide live-action pictures.
Over in Oxford County, The Graceful Deadheaders are the hottest thing in Bethel. Simone, Audra, Marcy and Louine are retired ladies and avid gardeners who formed a string quartet. They play a mix of classical and pop music. All their concerts are by donation only, with the money going to help fund a new botanical garden that will be opening in 2014 on the site where the old Rumford Zoo operated for many years.
One of the best kept secrets in the Maine music and theater scene is the summer performance series at the East Sangerville Grange. 98% of Mainers don’t know the place exists and the other 2% want to keep it that way. Located on a back road between routes 23 and 7, this place rocks on Saturday evenings during the summer with music or laughter, depending upon the performance. In late July, I got to hear one of the more unusual new groups, Three Logs, Right? Biff, Chuck and Nate are semi-retired software engineers who made their money developing programs for dot.com startups that went public in the mid 1990s. Once their kids were grown, they looked at where they were living and made a decision to find a place where they could still work, but have privacy and elbow room. The Dexter/Guilford area appealed to them and their spouses, so they moved out of Massachusetts and settled in rural Somerset County, bringing their software and musical talents with them. They do incredibly funny covers of ’70s and ’80s music that would make Weird Al turn green with envy. The night I caught them, they were in such rare form, I wished I’d had a Depends concession because people, mostly my age, were laughing so hard they really were in danger of peeing their pants.
Another group, formed by people who work together is Wa-Chu Haydn. Marvin, Roger and Phil are U.S. Customs agents up in the county who check for illegal immigrants and contraband by day and do a mix of classical and folk music by night. They deserve a lot of credit for persevering because they live half an hour apart in a place where in most years, winter still is the real deal. There aren’t a lot of commercial venues in the County, but the civic and public school entities support them quite well. You haven’t lived until you have heard Suite: Judy Blue Eyes played by a guitar, bass and cello.
Two all female groups are having quite an impact on tourism in Washington County. Most folks tend to think of Washington County as uber-conservative, but the cultural scene up there has changed greatly in recent years. The Barren-Naked Ladies are a quintet of women who are members of a nudist commune in Whitneyville. Rachel, Mariah, Rose, Steffi and Goldenrod perform clothed or in the buff, depending on the venue (I’m sure you can determine which version played at the First Baptist Church of Addison in early August) and play a mix of their own music and crossover country stuff from the 1990s forward. As their name attests, they rake berries as well as harvest fir tips during the appropriate seasons to help the commune make ends meet. Rumor has it, they got a great deal on bulk sunscreen lotion from the Machias Rite-Aid.
Up in Perry, the Dizzy-gilled Lesbians are all the rage. Beth and I caught them during the 4th of July festivities in Eastport where Richelle, Brenda, Suze and Chlora brought the house down with some of the best jazz north of Boston. They harvest wrinkles (periwinkles) and rockweed by day because even great jazz doesn’t pay all the bills in Washington County. I heard a rumor last week that they may get an appearance on America’s Got Talent early next year. I hope it’s going to happen because they’re awesome.
Alex From Cooper is a plumber by day and folk singer by night. Hailing from a small town in Aroostook County, he writes most of his own stuff and his 12 string virtuosity reminded me of John McLaughlin at his peak. Because he’s the only plumber specializing in clogged industrial and residential drains within a 40 mile radius, he doesn’t get to play many venues in Maine’s larger cities, but he’s coming out with a 2 disc CD in November that will be worth buying by anyone who loves intelligently crafted folk songs.
Steel I-Span In Danger of Collapse was formed by a bunch of MDOT bridge engineers who discovered they all loved English folk rock from the 1960’s and 1970’s. While they live in three different counties, they all work in Augusta and often jam together in Capitol Park during their lunch break. They have a couple videos on Youtube that give you a good idea of their talent. I’m particularly impressed with how well they cover obscure songs you’ve heard once, but can’t quite get out of your head.
My favorite new band has some of my AA buddies from Somerset County in it. Grateful I’m Not Dead is one of the scariest looking groups since Kiss. In their case, it isn’t make-up, but hard living that gave them their frightening appearance. Lonnie lost half his left ear in a Jackman bar fight, Vince is missing a couple fingers because Muscatel and chainsaws don’t mix (good thing he’s the drummer), Packrat was on the wrong side of a broken beer bottle in gravel pit party gone bad (He’ll never appear in an ad in Maxim) and Horse has an ugly dent in the right side of his head from an angry animal of the same name. Between them they have 47 years of sobriety, a lot of hard earned wisdom and humility and an awesome blend of voices over acoustic instruments. They do christian rock as well as soft country. Since they’re playing because they really enjoy making music and giving something back, they are usually found doing benefit concerts in Franklin, Kennebec and Somerset County churches and schools.
Martin and the Van Dealers is the only entry south of Hartland. The group was formed when auto sales in the Portland/South Portland area tanked a couple years ago and sales people found themselves with plenty of time on their hands. Brian decided to set up his amp one afternoon and play guitar to see if he could snag some customers. Chris and Bert worked in the dealership next door and heard him playing. After getting the OK from their boss, they approached him about jamming and before you knew it, they were selling twice as many cars as any other dealer in Cumberland County. None of them could sing worth beans, so they recruited Martin, the parts manager from a South Portland dealership who was noted for his voice and appeared regularly in amateur musicals all over southern Maine. They started rotating among their dealerships on Saturday afternoons and getting very positive reviews. This spring, they made their professional debut at a Gorham night club. They were an instant hit and now play somewhere in southern Maine and New Hampshire almost every weekend. The thing that sets them apart from most groups is their ability to play almost anything written between 1975 and 2000 that was considered mainstream popular music. I saw them in Westbrook in August and out of some 30 requests from the audience, they refused just one because they couldn’t play it. That’s pretty impressive.
Heard any good local musicians lately? I’d love to know about them.