With a larger city of the same name on the opposite end of the country and Boston being a mere two hours south, Portland, Maine hasn’t really been able to form its own identity. But Portland is blossoming into quite the little destination. Its iconic cobblestone streets, many craft beers, and unbelievably delicious local food have drawn young hipsters and elder retirees alike from around the country to come and see just what makes life so good up here. And all of us Mainahs absolutely love it.
Last weekend, the 41st Annual Old Port Festival clogged the streets of the Old Port with a mix of vendors selling everything from hand-made jewelry to an assortment of fried veggies and meats. There were lots of things to do, as Old Port Fest took place Friday-Sunday. Only being able to attend on Sunday, I chose to spend my day getting an odd sunburn and listening to some awesome (and free!!) music at the 98.9 WCLZ Stage, where Amy & The Engine, Anna Lombard, The Ghost Of Paul Revere, and Vance Joy were giving amazing (FREE!!) performances. After eating a (semi-delicious) vegan sausage and a salad comprised of mostly feta cheese, I worked my way down to the corner of Fore Street and Silver Street to see this free show.
First up was South Portland singer/songwriter Amy Allen, who was debuting her brand new band Amy & The Engine. They formed at Berklee College of Music in Boston, and their talent is quite obvious. While Amy did alternate between tambourine and acoustic guitar, you could tell that her band really was ‘The Engine’ that kept her going. The lead guitarist’s backup vocals blended so well with Amy, you could hardly tell that there was another person singing right next to her. They performed a few songs, including one from her stint as a solo artist, which was beefed up to include some of her band. What first caught my attention was an amazingly accurate and eerily similar cover of The Cranberries’ “Dreams.” In fact, if I do say so myself, I think I prefer Amy’s version. Check out Amy covering Lorde’s “Royals” here for an idea of how she sounds covering. But the most striking moment was when the whole band performed their single “I Got You.” Listening and watching the band perform this song (and totally nail it) was obviously infectious for the crowd. The upbeat and super catchy lyrics combined with the fast-paced indie-folk music sold me on Amy & The Engine.
After a brief set change, Anna Lombard took the stage next. You could tell that she was a more experienced Maine artist before she started playing, just from the number of fans that had been added to the crowd (and a guy who kept screaming ‘I love you!’). Unless you had heard her talking on the radio a few days before like I did, you wouldn’t have been able to tell she was pregnant with her second child. When her band started playing, and backup singers started dancing, you could tell that Anna Lombard absolutely loved what she did up there. Her passion came through in her voice, which powerfully covered the crowd as she performed. Two of the songs I think she performed best were “Why Did You Leave Me” and “All For You.” Her songs reminded me of fellow Maine artist (or who we consider to be a Maine artist) Ray LaMontagne. Before singing “All For You,” she addressed the crowd and said it was one of her favorite songs. That definitely showed. After the slow song picked up after the bridge, there wasn’t a person in the crowd that wasn’t dancing along with every person on that stage. If you’re interested in listening to Anna’s album, you can purchase a CD here. In my opinion, the recordings don’t do her voice justice!
The Ghost Of Paul Revere had big shoes to fill and an even bigger crowd to entertain. With each artist, the crowd seemed to morph into a larger and larger sea of people. This was especially surprising to me, as rock trio Los Lonely Boys were performing about three blocks away at the same exact time. As the set of GOPR continued, it became evident to me that the giant crowd wasn’t by default. Most of the people in the crowd knew every lyric to the rag-tag band’s songs. The band, comprised of a banjo, an acoustic bass, an acoustic guitar, and a harmonica, asserted themselves as a power presence in their hometown of Portland. The result of this acoustic band was a Lumineers-esq sound, with very modern-folksy lyrics about whiskey and cigarettes and ghosts, but so unique and blunt that you can’t help but listen to their songs over and over. They performed two of my favorite songs, “Ghostland” and “This Is The End,” which were just as amazing live as they are blasting through the surprisingly sturdy speakers in my burnt out ’94 Subaru. You could tell this band had a great following for a reason: they kept the attention of the crowd and forced everyone to sing their hearts out. If you weren’t clapping your hands or tapping your feet, you just weren’t at the concert. Their music speaks for itself, so purchase a CD here or buy concert tickets here, though most of their shows are free.
Australian singer/songwriter Vance Joy was the last artist to hit the ‘CLZ stage. His hit “Riptide” and the fact that he was stopping here on his way to Bonnaroo made me especially excited to see him free and in Portland. He performed almost all of the songs from his EP God Loves You When You’re Dancing. My favorite, aside from “Riptide,” was definitely “Play With Fire.” What I like most about these two songs are Vance’s ukelele. Not to say that other songs, “From Afar,” “Emmylou,” and “Snaggletooth” don’t rock with the acoustic guitar. But the ukelele makes his music more unique to me. One of my favorite parts about seeing artists for free is that you really get a sense of if they enjoy playing their music or not. Some bands go in and play 3 songs off their latest album and call it a day. But when someone like Vance Joy, who is quickly increasing in popularity, smiles after every song and thanks the crowd for cheering, it really makes the audience member feel like they’re watching a person and not an entertaining drone. You should definitely support Vance Joy and purchase a CD here. He’s in the festival mode this summer, but does have a few shows coming up with other indie-folk artists like Young The Giant and The Head And The Heart. You can buy concert tickets here.
All-in-all, the Old Port Festival gave me everything I hoped for and more. Though next time, I might avoid the vegan sausage and just eat more delicious potato donuts. If you’re ever cutting through Maine to go towards the Great White North, make a stop in Portland and experience the extremely unique city for yourself.