Saturday, July 13, 2019
Front Street Music Series
Downtown Augusta, Maine Riverfront
I’ve seen The Ballroom Thieves and Max Garcia Conover so many times over the years, but I’d never seen them share the same bill before. That was all the motivation I needed to convince Dan that we should leave our quiet lakefront weekend at camp on Clary Lake to see our friend Max play with The Ballroom Thieves. Plus, the last time we saw the Thieves was last summer at Ghostland, and Dan was in a giant food truck line at the very back of Thompson’s Point and sadly missed their whole set.
It was a little tricky to figure out how to get to “downtown Augusta’s riverfront behind Cushnoc Brewery” as instructed by our Eventbrite tickets since we aren’t familiar with Augusta, but we managed. We were welcomed by folks at the entrance volunteering for the Front Street Music Series (which is happening all summer) to benefit the renovation of Augusta’s historic Colonial Theater. I have just left the Board of Directors of Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center in nearby Gardiner, Maine, after my three-year term, so I was especially glad to show some support for our neighbors.
We showed up a few minutes into Max’s opening set, and I was impressed with how close to the Kennebec River the stage was. It was beautiful. We brought short folding chairs (I’d encourage you to do the same if you hit up the rest of this summer music series), and just sat back and enjoyed an easy night of great music. I didn’t love (shocker) that Cushnoc had a downstairs bar in the rear, because folks back there were chatty and distracted from the music for me. I know my dream for silent, engrossed audiences at shows is really impractical!
Max was glad to share the stage with the Thieves. He told us that he’d played a crazy cross-country tour and there was a show in Iowa where maybe 7 people showed up and 3 of them were the Ballroom Thieves and he was starstruck. He also said they’re as “wonderful and kind in real life and that’s a special thing.” I love how humble Max is, and something I appreciate about his music is that every song is a work in progress. I’ve heard Max play maybe 20 times, and I’ve heard him change so many of his songs over the years to add a verse or lyric about something current. He’s such a hard worker. I was glad to hear a couple of new songs and favorites like “Self Portrait” and “Rich Man.” He also introduced one of his songs by sharing the beginning of his touching, beautiful story about the first girl he ever loved that I’ve had the pleasure to hear him tell twice–once on The Moth mainstage! You should really listen.
The Ballroom Thieves took the stage and played a long set. I didn’t love the performance overall, but it was out of their hands and was because Martin often sings the melody and his microphone was just not loud enough. I appreciate how sweet Martin, Callie, and Devin are on stage with each other. Devin’s band introductions are always funny and awkward. All three of the Thieves live in Maine now and Martin joked that the “last time I came to Augusta was to set up our cable with Spectrum. That’s not the best part of Augusta. This next song–‘Trouble’–is about setting up your cable package with Spectrum.”
I absolutely love Devin’s lead vocals and their powerful interpretation of Frightened Rabbit’s “My Backwards Walk” and was so glad to hear it live. Frightened Rabbit’s lead singer, Scott Hutchison, ended his own life a little over a year ago, and a tribute album was recorded by the likes of Julien Baker and Ben Gibbard. Proceeds go to a mental health foundation in Scott’s name. While we’re here, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.
I also really enjoyed their cover of Bahamas’ “Lost In The Light,” too. Devin introduced a “love song called ‘Fist Fight’” by encouraging people in the crowd to “at least say hi to the person who’s here that you’ve had your eye on.” He said “quit the crap and go say what’s up.” It was very sweet.
I appreciate that The Ballroom Thieves are using their voice as a band to speak up about issues of global importance. Martin introduced “Do Something”:
This is a risky thing to say in today’s political climate. We are on the side of basic human rights. Sometimes you have to just take a stand. I think this is where we make our stand. It’s a big issue in our country right now even though it shouldn’t be. It’s important to speak up for those who don’t have a voice or for those who have had their voices silenced. Since we are literally on a platform and we have microphones amplifying us across the river we might as well make a stand for basic human rights because I believe it’s the minimum stand you can take. This is a song called “Do Something” and it’s about holding people accountable, especially those in public office, because those people work for us and they have to do what we want them to do or they’re not fulfilling their duty. In a way, we’re Trump’s boss, which flips the Apprentice narrative. That’s where I’ll leave it for now because I’ve gotten in trouble before.
I’m always glad to see Max Garcia Conover and The Ballroom Thieves live. They both use their platform to speak up for people without a voice, and if you’re down with treating all people with respect and dignity, you’d like them and would be in good company at one of their shows!