Monthly Archives: September 2016

Justin Townes Earle with Max García Conover


Sunday, September 11, 2016

Port City Music Hall, Portland, Maine

Max García Conover is my friend and a heckuva guy. He is thoughtful and observes intently. He writes a song a week (you can be a patron of that project) and is working full-time as a singer-songwriter. I’m proud to know him. He was really excited to open for Justin Townes Earle, so the friend group rallied to support him on a school night.

Max took the stage to an attentive audience. Port City Music Hall had some seating set up in the general admission area, and it made for a special listening room show. Max told us that when he ended up in Puerto Rico without the grant money he’d expected to live on, he took to busking to earn money for groceries. He was just learning to play the guitar, and he’d play the same songs again and again, but no one dropped any money in his guitar case. He started playing a Justin Townes Earle song (“I Don’t Care”) on the streets, and it was the first song that made him any money. Max was clearly excited to open the show for JTE, and it was heartwarming to see him on stage at Port City in front of a big crowd that listened earnestly and enjoyed him. He played “My Neighbor Joe” early in his set, and it’s an intense song that reveals itself more and more each time I hear it. That something I appreciate about Max’s songs–they’re layered with meaning and take on new life at each listen.


Max Garcia Conover


Max said that everyone should have a preacher friend, so he invented one in a song. Max told us that he grew up going to church and on mission trips until one of his pastors gave an anti-gay sermon and so he immediately stopped doing both. He told us a story about a real investment banker with heart, who chatted with Max to make sure he was saving for retirement after his set at a music festival. Max’s last song of the night was one he wrote on a pizza box during intermission at a tough show in New Sweden, Maine (the song is aptly titled “New Sweden, Maine”), that has evolved over time and become a staple in his setlist.


Justin Townes Earle took the stage, and the crowd was pumped. Some friends I trust love his music, so I was excited to see him live. I’ve got to say that his live show fell flat for me. People in the crowd were smitten. Some shouted out song requests. I heard someone yell a song title and say it was his wedding song. JTE’s songs obviously mean a lot to his fans, so I thought it was unfortunate that Justin didn’t receive love from the audience warmly. At one point early in his set he said “I’m an asshole,” and it seemed true. I have a hard time getting interested in someone’s music when they don’t seem to care at all about the listener. Everyone is entitled to an off night, which perhaps this was, but it was enough to turn me off. I very rarely leave a show before it’s over, but I did on this night, and I don’t feel like I missed out. If you’ve had an incredible Justin Townes Earle show experience (and if you thought he was amazing at this particular show), I want to hear from you about what you see that I missed.




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The Lumineers, Langhorne Slim, and Rayland Baxter

Friday, August 5, 2016

Thompson’s Point, Portland, Maine

I snagged a ticket for this show at Thompson’s Point the moment they went on sale, and I am so glad I did. The show sold out early (impressive, given the capacity at outdoor Thompson’s Point), and as show openers were announced, I got more excited, because both Langhorne Slim and Rayland Baxter have both been on my radar for ages. I feel really lucky that I got to see three great bands for the first time at a fantastic venue on a perfect summer night.

I picked up my friend Marian and we got to Thompson’s Point early to grab a spot up front. We ended up seventh row center, surrounded by great people who’d also arrived early to enjoy the music up close. There was a brief bit of drama where a woman pushed her way through the crowd to get a better spot, but another woman who’d been there since doors opened with her kids convinced her to do the right thing and leave. Concert etiquette–if you want a good spot, arrive early. You can’t push your way to the front and expect to stay there and have people welcome you with open arms. It’s rude. Don’t do it.

Nashville’s Rayland Baxter took the stage and was friendly with the crowd. 98.9 WCLZ has been playing his song “Yellow Eyes” for ages, and I was glad to hear that live. He seemed like a chill guy and his country music inspired jam band was a fine opening to the night.


Raymond Baxter

I have a handful of friends who are devotees of Langhorne Slim, so my expectations were high. Langhorne Slim & The Law took the stage and worked it. I like the lyrics to his opening song “Airplane”You and I’ve got our backs against the wall/When you don’t move, no one throws you the ball/Life’s a dance between riding the bench and/Waiting for your chance to swing for the fence.” “The Spirit Moves” sounds a lot like a song The Lumineers would write, so it seemed fitting that Langhorne (born Sean Scolnick) would open for them. We sang along on “Love Crimes” while Langhorne jumped off stage and into the crowd and sang most of the song sitting on a fan’s shoulders. I was glad to hear “Changes” live. Langhorne Slim & The Law will kind of incredibly be back to Portland to play at teeny One Longfellow Square on Friday, October 28. It will be a great show and will sell out early.


Langhorne Slim & The Law


The Lumineers took the stage and the audience roared. My friend Ken Templeton introduced me to them back in 2012. I fell in love with their Daytrotter session he recommended and looked up their tour schedule, just to find I’d missed them playing at teeny tiny Red Room at Cafe 939 at Berklee in Boston by three days. I’ve been waiting for four years to see this band. I also sang their breakout hit, “Ho Hey,” at my best friend’s little brother’s wedding. He’d played the song to woo his now-wife and I sang it while they had their first dance.


The Lumineers


The huge crowd roared with applause and sang along every word of every song. It was such a feel good night. I loved hearing “Ophelia” and “Ho Hey” early in the set. Lead singer Wesley Schultz made a deal with the enormous crowd that we’d all put our cell phones away after “Ho Hey” and just be present in the moment. It was so refreshing to see a show without having to watch through the cell phone screen of the person in front of me. Wesley told us that “Cleopatra” is a true (and heartbreaking) story of a female taxi driver who he met in the Republic of Georgia.

The band grabbed their instruments and ran back to rear of the crowd and played a few songs on a small stage set up there, including “Gale Song,” which was featured on the Hunger Games soundtrack. I thought it was cool that the band wanted to reach as much of the crowd as possible. When Wesley returned to the main stage, he walked through the huge crowd and right by me! The Lumineers returned to the main stage for another eight or so songs and a three song encore. They wrapped the night with “Stubborn Love,” which the happy crowd ate up. What a night! I feel lucky I got to be at this show. Seeing The Lumineers live was well worth the wait.



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Grace Potter and the Nocturnals

Saturday, July 30, 2016

L.L.Bean, Freeport, Maine

I’ve been hard on Grace Potter and on the L.L.Bean Summer Concert Series in the past. On this night, though, I gave them both a chance, and they were amazing. It was great to be wrong. Grace Potter is a rock star, through and through. I saw her live from the front at the State Theatre in Portland back in 2012, and although she sounded great, I found her sensual dance moves distracting. I was positioned basically right underneath her at that show, though, so having a little physical distance and fast forwarding four years, I just saw a tremendous talent.

I have loathed the L.L.Bean Summer Concert Series for ages. I think L.L.Bean needs to build a large amphitheatre outside of town with ample parking facilities. The knoll where shows are located between their stores is wholly inadequate for the caliber of shows they bring to town. I continue to be flummoxed by their policy allowing people to put up chairs for the show at 6AM the day of shows, as well. Back in 2010, I went with my friends Tricia and Rebecca to see Joshua Radin at L.L.Bean, and we got there (they’d driven up from Boston, in fact) at 1PM, picnic packed, ready to hang out on the lawn for the day and save a spot up close to see the show. When we arrived, though, we couldn’t get any closer than 25 rows from the stage, and we were the only people there for hours. People will often remind me that these shows are FREE, and that’s why I’d rather pay good money to get to venue early to get a great spot up front. I have only seen two L.L.Bean shows in five or so years. My friend Andrea insisted I give it another try, so she set up seats for Guster at 6AM the day of the show, and even then, I was so far from the stage (the stage barricade is quite far from the stage–am I right?) that I could barely see their faces on stage. This Grace Potter show was the other exception to my firm L.L.Bean ban. My friend Grace declared she needed a girls night and wanted to go, and then I heard that Grace Potter herself had insisted it be a dance party, so people couldn’t set up seats in the front at all. It was worth a shot, and it paid off beautifully. I think a lot of regular L.L.Bean show goers skipped the show because they couldn’t set up chairs. I would definitely go to more shows if this were the policy. We arrived around and were six rows back. People sat on the lawn until about an hour before the show and a staff member got on the mic to welcome us and tell us it was time to stand up. People spread out, and we were easily able to move right up to second row center.

We stood next to a sweet seven year old girl, who was a huge Grace Potter fan and seeing her first-ever concert. If you saw Grace come down to the crowd and give a guitar pick away, it was to this little girl. Grace totally won me over with that classy move. Her voice was raspy and strong, her banter upbeat, and her energy well beyond what most people could give from start to finish. She brought her dad Sparky on stage to dance (Grace didn’t inherit her dance moves from him) with her, and was an absolute delight. The crowd danced and sang along happily, and we had a blast.


Grace Potter and the Nocturnals



A pick hand delivered by Grace Potter to this adorable fan!


I was very surprised that we had negative interactions with four pushy, loud people all trying to get to the front, especially because they were all people in their sixties. It’s just not what I expected. The seven year old girl’s mom played concert security guard for our whole area, though, and was able to convince three out of four folks to do the right thing and not push their way ahead of us. Overall, it let me just relax and enjoy the show, which I was grateful for, but this is worth noting. If you stake out a spot at a concert, it’s yours. If you arrive later and push your way to the front, that’s never okay.



Grace and her dad, Sparky


Grace designed the colorful dress (I’d call it a shirt, but I don’t have her legs) she was wearing, and it coordinated beautifully with an incredible sunset behind her. She invited us to think about our loved ones who have passed on before playing “Stars,” and wrapped her set with high octane crowd pleasers “Medicine” and “Paris (Ooh La La).” Grace went for it and really blew us all away. She’s playing in her home state of Vermont this weekend at the Grand Point North Festival in Burlington if you need another fix. She rocks.




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