In 2010, I visited Peter Wolf play an intimate set at Portland, Maine’s Port City Music Hall. At the time, I ‘d gotten deep into Wolf’s catalog after hearing J. Geils Band’s Houseparty album, and the frontman provided, playing a wild set filled with hits like “Homework” and “Love Stinks.” Throughout “Must of Got Lost,” Wolf dropped to his knees and provided the traditional spoken-word introduction. After the program, my buddy Jamie and I end up in Wolf’s dressing room, listening to the disheveled legend hold court with fans, beverage in hand, answering concerns about his songs and his times with Muddy Waters, Joe Tex, and Merle Haggard.
It was my first of numerous memorable experiences at Port City Music Hall, a 550-capacity, perfect-sounding room situated in the heart of the arts district, a short walk from the waterfront, where you might see legends like Wolf and regional heroes like Rustic Overtones and Kenya Hall. When the space opened in 2009, it seemed like an invigorating addition to a scene where most locations were crumbling shadows of their former selves– and it helped Portland turn into one of the finest music scenes in America. The place revealed this week that it’s closing permanently due to COVID-19, releasing a declaration:”Port City Music Hall unfortunately can not survive this crisis without profits– and no end in sight.”
The news led to an outpouring from artists such as the Mountain Goats, who thanked the club “for offering visiting artists a location to play,” and Against Me!, who played their last show before the shutdown at Port City. “We had no idea that it would be the last program ever for the place,” Laura Jane Grace tweeted. “This is breaking my heart.” The venue had no concept what was coming this year, either.”Business was so successful and we were doing so terrific,” says Lauren Wayne, basic supervisor of the company that owns Port City and the larger State Theatre down the street. “It’s bizarre to go through this after having such success. We went from generating countless dollars to definitely no dollars. It is the most surreal experience I have actually ever needed to endure.”
Wayne took over Port City in 2013, making it an essential part of Portland’s increasing music scene. She saw the area as a “leaping board” for artists on their method to bigger spaces. Maggie Rogers played Port City in 2017; less than 2 years later, she played the State Theatre. A year after that, she sold out two nights at the enormous waterside place Thompson’s Point. Dad John Misty followed the very same trajectory a few years previously. “Port City was so special due to the fact that you had this room to use so artists could curate their craft and establish their abilities, in front of fans who feel so lucky they do not have to go to Boston to see a show,” says Wayne. She mentions a show by the Arizona band Calexico as a highlight: “They’re a preferred band of mine, and getting to see them in a space that I book and that we run was actually special.”
Rustic Overtones’ Dave Gutter, who played a number of shows at Port City, echoes that belief. “It was about capturing an ideal moment, due to the fact that the noise and the lights and the people– it was all so best there,” he says. “It was likewise a not-forgiving space, due to the fact that you can hear whatever.” Gutter constantly liked playing the exact same stage as huge names like Unknown Mortal Orchestra and OK Go. “It’s cool to flip-flop, where you go and idolize somebody on the stage, and then the next week it’s you playing there. I think of the microphone. You see yourself as equal, even if it’s for that minute … and it makes you stretch a bit more [onstage] Those mid-size locations contribute to having local bands and national touring bands raise the scene, and we’re gon na miss that in Portland, not having that kind of room.”
After the place closed in March, Wayne laid off her part-time personnel. In the following months, she obtained PPP loans, “but, like probably every other service, we’ve exhausted that currently,” she states. “What are you going to do? You’re a concert place. You focus on mass events, and that’s not taking place for an unforeseen quantity of time. There’s no ‘pivoting’ to make revenue when your whole entire service model is based upon getting individuals in a space and watching a program.”
This week, we published an interview with My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, who’s wondering what live music will look like when shows do return. He saw a future where almost every artist might be on the road at the same time, however fans will not be able to pay for tickets. “The bands you love will not have actually made any cash in a year or more,” he said. “It’s going to be in an environment where every band is back. So you resemble, ‘Okay, what show am I gon na go to this week? Every fucking band is coming through town, and I haven’t had a job in 6 months, and I do not have any cash!’ You practically want that someone like Jeff Bezos would come out of the woodwork and state, ‘Hey, I’m a huge music fan. Here’s a bajillion dollars to renew the performance market.'”
Portland’s artists could utilize that kind of relief. Rain gutter just recently walked around Portland with an electronic camera crew, dropping in various clubs that have helped him survive with Rustic Overtones for 25 years. “It’s not just property,” says Seamless gutter. “These structures have a soul, and our happiest moments happened at these places.” He was hoping that the video, filmed for the Maine Music Alliance, would lead people with money to pitch in. “We were going to use it as promo for the clubs, however before we could even get the video out, clubs are closing,” Seamless gutter states.
While Wayne says there is no chance of resuming Port City, she has bigger expect the other places she books, consisting of both the State Theatre and Thompson’s Point. This morning, she spoke with Maine’s U.S. Agent Chellie Pingree, who did an Instagram story supporting the Conserve Our Phases Act. She also heard from Senator Susan Collins’ office, stating they’re promoting the bill too. “I can only fight for what I know that we need, whether that is some kind of industry-targeted relief, or whether our market is going to be consisted of in some type of wider plan,” says Wayne. “I don’t know. We simply fucking require it, since it’s going to get really dark really quick.”