A look back at 2011 in Maine, musically speaking

2011 feels a little bit like a vindication of sorts, for me. I’ve spent the better part of a decade  immersing myself in the Bangor area music scene — from performing, early on, to lots and lots of writing that obviously continues today. While there’s always been something going on, there’s never been a lot of options. Bands come and go, venues open and close, and nothing ever really sticks. Until now, that is. 2011 was the year that Bangor actually started to have a real, exciting music scene.

Think about: there’s live music nearly every night of the week. On the weekends, you actually have to choose between shows. And in addition to the usual cavalcade of cover bands, there’s actually original music being created by more than a handful of people. In Bangor specifically, there’s the powerful, eloquent rock duo When Particles Collide, the delicious indie poppers Temperature of the Sun, the theatrical punk rock four piece the Tree Streets, the Celticfolk rockers the Bar Stuards, the noise rock stylings of Captain Hollow, longtime funk master Mike Billings, soul singer Stesha Cano, jam band extraordinaire Mudseason, blues rock duo the Thriftways, and songwriters Jenna Campbell, Jake McCurdy and Chris Ross. Waldo County bands like the almighty rockers the 220s, the garage punk duo the Class Machine, folk pop band Odlaw and country punk trio the Rugged have staked a claim in Bangor as well, along with Aroostook County songwriter Travis Cyr, who put out the beautiful album “All the Best Thing in Life.”

In particular, the WPC Presents series of shows have brought together bands from all over the state, encouraging further cross-pollination between the south and the north. The weekly jazz and bluegrass nights around town have brought together generations of fine musicians, and has blossomed into something far bigger and better than I think even the musicians themselves thought it would. And, of course, the KahBang Festival, the Belfast Free Range Music Festival and the Arootsakoostick Music Festival have had nothing but a positive influence on artists of all stripes in eastern Maine.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There’s still a long way to go. But compared to even one year ago, there’s clearly something new and different going on. For Christmas, I want Bangor to get have a full on live music venue, with a stage and a sound guy and lights and everything that goes along with it. Something like Empire Dine & Dance or Geno’s Rock Club in Portland, or even a smaller Port City Music Hall, all of which have been fostering Portland’s music scene for years now. Bangor certainly isn’t lacking for talent; now it just needs the forum in which to display it.

It goes without saying that there’s a lot of great stuff coming out of southern Maine, from indie rockers and electro-poppers to metal, punk and noise. There’s too much from 2011 to cover in just a few paragraphs, but for starters, there were some fantastic albums put out. The Mallett Brothers Band released their second, self-titled full length collection of dusty country-influenced rock. Jacob Augustine, formerly of Portland and now in Lincoln, released not one, not two, but three albums of new material, from the sparse and lovely “Goldyhymns” to the more fleshed out “Frontier.” Huak offered up another powerful collection of twitchy, intelligent post-punk, with “Yorba Linda,” and Sunset Hearts put out an unabashedly 80s-retro album with “Haunted Cloud.” Kurt Baker put out more insanely catchy power pop, with “Rockin’ For a Livin'”. The Milkman’s Union put out the beautiful indie rock EP “Telos,” and toured all over the Northeast, proving that they’re one of Maine’s best, most versatile bands. Oh, and Glass Fingers is 19-year-old Jesse Gertz, and his album is called “This,” and it’s strange and excellent.

What am I looking forward to in 2012? The fully-produced album from Portland-via-New York City Lady Lamb the Beekeeper, which she is recording with none other than the Milkman’s Union. I’m interested in hearing what the Blast Addicts’ album sounds like, and if the energy of their covers translates to their originals. I can’t wait to hear Theodore Treehouse’s follow up to their last album of delightful indie rock. And I know that most of the aforementioned Bangor area bands have albums coming out in 2012. The future is bright, kids. Happy New Year.

Emily Burnham

About Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native, UMaine graduate, proud Bangorian and a writer for the Bangor Daily News, where she's worked since 2004. She reports on everything from local bands to local food to all the cool things going on in the Greater Bangor area. In her quest for stories, she's seen countless concerts and plays, been lobster fishing, interviewed celebrities, hung out with water buffalo and played in a ukulele orchestra. She's interested in everything that happens in Maine.