1. I’ll be blunt: this week has sucked. If you read my column posted on Monday, you’ll know why. It goes without saying. In lieu of all the sad news surrounding us, I think we’re all due for a distraction this weekend. On Friday night in the Bangor area, The Focus Group improv troupe performs at 8 p.m. at the Next Generation Theatre in Brewer, there’s a 9 p.m. screening of “The Craft” at the Central Gallery, and there’s the monthly contra dance at the UU Church in Bangor starting at 8 p.m.; later that night, enjoy Magnetic North at Paddy Murphy’s, or singer Everett Dumas at Nocturnem Drafthaus. On Saturday, the Central Gallery hosts an excellent night of punk and indie rock with Bay Faction, Old Etc, Knife Worship and Wait, beginning at 7 p.m.; there’s also Koostix at Paddy Murphy’s, rockers One Sixty One at Nocturnem, and folk ensemble Even Keel at Black Bear Brewing in Orono. On Sunday, the Central Gallery offers heavy music at 7 p.m. from Smooth Move, Dying Mind and Holy Filth.
2. There’s two fun options for comedy Friday night in Portland — you’ll need it, again, after this week. Mayo Street Arts hosts the Improvised Puppet Project and the Teachers Lounge Mafia improv group, while there’s the monthly Local Laughs Maine standup comedy showcase at the Asylum. Elsewhere, Empire hosts a huge night of local songwriters, 12 in total, starting at 9 p.m; there’s Raging Brass Reggae at Bayside Bowl, there’s some local punk with Heavy Necker, Jimmy Jacked, Sunrunner and An Anderson at Geno’s, there’s OC and the Offbeats and Clara Junken at One Longfellow, and there’s Jargon Party at Portland House of Music and Events. On Saturday, get your pop music fix with O-Town, Todd Carey and Dean Ford at Asylum, or get your local love from the Bissell Brothers two year anniversary with OHX, Armies and Weakened Friends (pictured) at Portland HOME.
3. The Midcoast on Friday night has several fun options, including acoustic trio Whaler’s Run at the Unity College Center for the Performing Arts, the rockabilly band Three Button Deluxe at the Speakeasy in Rockland, the Miners Creek Bluegrass Band at Rock City Coffee, and singer-songwriter Joshua Davis at the Strand Theatre, also in Rockland. On Saturday, Blind Albert and Friends play the blues at Rock City, while rockers Two Dollar Pistol are set for Trackside Station, also in Rockland.
4. Oscar nominations came out this week, and while there’s never not a good time to watch or re-watch “Mad Max: Fury Road,” which so far is the best movie I’ve seen all year, there are tons of other great films to check out all over the state so you can be your own judge. In Bangor, “The Hateful Eight,” “The Revenant” and “The Big Short” are all at Bangor Mall Cinemas. At Railroad Square Cinemas in Waterville, there’s “Carol,” “The Big Short,” “Spotlight” and “The Danish Girl.” “Room” is playing at Reel Pizza in Bar Harbor, “Revenant” is at the Colonial in Belfast, “Spotlight” is at the Strand in Rockland, and at the Nickelodeon in Portland, there’s “Joy,” “The Revenant,” “The Big Short,” “The Danish Girl,” “Carol,” “Spotlight,” “Brooklyn” and “Room.” So there. You can see any of the big movies nominated this year — with the exception of “Mad Max” and “The Martian, which you can rent if you so desire.
5. Finally, the Cross Insurance Center is quite the place to be this weekend, with two wildly divergent events happening simultaneously. On Saturday, the America on Tap beer fest is set for the arena, with double the number of breweries from last year, and two sessions set for this year, up from just one last year, set for noon until 3 p.m. and then from 6 until 9 p.m., with a special VIP hour set for 5 p.m., leading into session 2. Tickets are $35 for each session; VIP tickets are sold out. Also on Saturday — and Sunday! — in the conference area is SnowCon, Maine’s annual non-electronic gaming conventions, featuring board games, RPGs, card games and more. There’s gaming all day on Saturday and Sunday; visit snowconmaine.com for a full schedule and to register for the convention.