Making Noise: Portland, ME

Maine has never had it easy when it comes to national awareness.

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Maine has never had it easy when it comes to national awareness. Sure, lobsters come to mind, but for the majority of Americans, the state is more of a quaint set of ideals than anything else. The recent attention being given to the food and drink coming out of Portland, however, has made the city somewhat of a poster child for the media. All of a sudden, the New York Times and Bon Appetit are publishing articles saying where to eat in the small city, as if it’s a newfound “Paris of the North.”

The newfound attention is well-deserved, but it brings to mind other aspects of what makes Portland such a great city that simply aren’t making national news. If there’s one glaring omission, it’s the city’s music scene.

A Thriving Community

To say that Portland has a “scene” at all doesn’t do justice to what’s actually happening there. If anything, Portland is home to a wide variety of different scenes, each of which is essentially its own sustainable community of like-minded musicians. Head to Geno’s Rock Club on a Friday or Saturday night, and the city’s tight-knit metal scene shows itself in its truest form. Swing down the road just a bit to Biddeford and stop into The Oak and the Ax, home to some of the best avant-garde and folk music being made and performed in New England. On any given night, the area offers these and a plethora of other options for those who love going out to see live music.

What’s astounding about Portland, though, is the quality of original music being made within city limits. Bands like Rustic Overtones and  (more recently) Lady Lamb the Beekeeper have helped to cast a light on the huge amount of talent in Portland, but the list of genre-bending acts could fill a book. The pristine acid-folk of Big Blood, the heartbreaking, loungy doom of Johnny Cremains and the breathtaking spectacle that is OLAS Middle Eastern Orchestra may not be well-known throughout the country, but it all deserves to be.

Optimism for the Future

Things are looking good for the city. The community as a whole has steadily been gaining momentum and traction over the course of just the past few years, and people are beginning to take notice. Earlier this month, Rolling Stone magazine highlighted the city’s annual “Beatles Night,” a well-executed tribute to the iconic band and featuring a number of local musicians. On the same night, a bill featuring 3 local acts sold out one of the city’s most esteemed venues, SPACE Gallery.

It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Portland may soon become known as much for its music as its food and natural beauty. At the very least, there’s no denying that the musicians living and working in the city are making their best effort towards turning this notion into a reality.

Published December 8th, 2013