What a difference a decade makes.
Ten years ago, Maine rarely saw a big outdoor rock concert, and downtown Portland’s live music scene was fairly quiet. Pop songwriter Amy Allen of Windham was still in high school, there was no end in sight for the Old Port Festival and Maine game wardens were government workers, not TV stars, too.
Over the past decade, Maine has seen a rich and varied output of books, art, TV, films and other creative endeavors. We’ve seen the passing of some noted artists and performers, and the emergence of others. Some venues have closed and others have opened. Maine performers and artists have made names for themselves around the world.
Here is a look back at some of the people and happenings that defined Maine arts and entertainment during the last 10 years.
At the 2010 Oscars, Portland’s Anna Kendrick was nominated for a best supporting actress for “Up in the Air” with George Clooney. She didn’t win, but went on to major Hollywood success in the “Twilight” teen vampire franchise and in the incredibly popular “Pitch Perfect” movies. The 34-year-old actress also was a starring voice in the animated “Trolls” movies, had a hit single on the radio called “When I’m Gone” and even wrote a book.
TURN UP THE RADIO
As one half of the duo The Chainsmokers, Freeport’s Drew Taggart scored a half-dozen hit songs this decade, including “Closer” and “Something Just Like This” in 2016 and 2017. Windham native Amy Allen co-wrote “Without Me” by Halsey, which reached No. 1 on the Billboard pop chart in January, and penned songs for singers Selena Gomez and Shawn Mendez. Portland country singer Kalie Shorr’s debut album, “Open Book,” came out in September and landed on a New York Times top-10 list of 2019’s best albums.
THE PARTY’S OVER
Portland’s longest-lasting bash, the annual Old Port Festival, ended a 46-year run in June. Organizers had announced in March that the annual festival – featuring a parade, live music, entertainment, food and crafts – had fulfilled its mission of marketing the Old Port and was no longer necessary.
It was the decade of cover/tribute bands in Maine, including ones that specialize in the music of previous decades. Motor Booty Affair continued to pack in shows with its ’70s disco/funk sets, while The Awesome played the ’80s hits and Hello Newman played the hits of the ’90s. Others include The Maine Dead Project, which does Grateful Dead and jam band tunes, Yellow LedVedder, a Pearl Jam tribute band, and Portland-based Dean Ford, who travels the country with his Prince tribute act.
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
Before 2010, big outdoor rock concerts in Maine were few and far between. But in the past decade, enterprising concert promoters opened several outdoor venues that together hosted 50 to 70 acts in any given summer, including Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion, which opened in Bangor in 2010; the Maine State Pier, which came and went within the past decade (open 2014 to 2018); Thompson’s Point in Portland, where concerts have been held since 2015; and, new this year, the Maine Savings Pavilion at Rock Row in Westbrook. One of the biggest outdoor concerts ever held in Portland came in 2012, when Mumford & Sons headlined a festival on the Eastern Promenade that drew about 15,000 fans.
The decade saw Mainers popping up on all sorts of reality TV shows. From 2012 to 2016, “North Woods Law” on Animal Planet followed members of the Maine Warden Service as they searched for missing people, tracked illegal hunters, went on drug raids and freed trapped animals. Other Mainers appeared on “Survivor” and “The Bachelor.” Maine chefs were especially popular on reality TV, particularly on the Food Network show “Chopped.” About a half-dozen Maine chefs have won episode competitions on that show, including Rob Evans of Duckfat and Matt Ginn of Evo Kitchen & Bar, both of whom were contenders in the Chopped Champions tournament.
ALL RAPPED UP
Ryan Peters of Wells, better known as the rapper Spose, first gained fame in Maine and elsewhere in 2010 with a radio hit called “I’m Awesome.” He’s gone on to build a Maine-based career as the state’s best-known and most visible rapper. He’s sort of like Maine’s best known comedian, Bob Marley, but of the rap world. He records albums, performs around the country and the state, and puts on annual Christmas concerts in Maine.
Downtown Portland has seen an explosion of live music in the past decade or so, largely because of three venues located within about a quarter of a mile of each other. First to open was the 500-plus-capacity Port City Music Hall in 2009, followed by the 2010 re-opening of the 1,900-seat State Theatre, which had been closed for four years. Then the 290-seat Portland House of Music opened in 2015. The State Theatre owners took over Port City in 2013, and those two venues together host about 250 shows a year.
HEAR THE BAND
A few Maine bands have really established themselves locally this decade while making national inroads as well, including The Mallet Brothers Band, which plays all over the state and beyond and draws big crowds with their country rock. The Ghost of Paul Revere, with a modern folk sound, performed on Conan O’Brien’s late-night show in 2018 and this year had their song “The Ballad of the 20th Maine” named the official state ballad. Indie rockers Weakened Friends have built a national and regional reputation and were named Indie Artist of the Year at the Boston Music Awards in 2018.
VISUAL ARTIST OF THE DECADE
Portland artist Lauren Fensterstock was everywhere this past decade. A sculptor, maker and educator, Fensterstock maintained a furious studio pace, creating a consistent body of work using materials associated with women’s crafts – hand-cut paper and seashells, often painted black – that reflected a domestic world growing increasingly complex. Between academic appointments that bookended the decade – first at Maine College of Art and recently at the University of Georgia – she had more than a dozen solo exhibitions, in Portland, New York, Philadelphia and elsewhere. She was part of a Portland Museum of Art Biennial and became an art-world star to watch at Art Basel Miami. Artsy, an online art journal, named her one of the top artists in the country younger than 40, based on her showing in Miami in 2014. She won a USA Artists grant in 2016, worth $50,000.
ONGOING LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT
It would have been perfectly acceptable for artist and author Ashley Bryan, 96, to have retired quietly to his home on Little Cranberry Island, where he has lived mostly year-round for more than three decades. But the painter, illustrator, poet and puppet-maker has had one of his busiest decades yet. His 2016 book, “Freedom Over Me,” was short-listed for the Kirkus Prize and received a Newbery Honor. His latest book, “Infinite Hope,” a memoir, explores his service during World War II. There’s been a movie made about his life, exhibitions on the island and at the Portland Museum of Art, and the University of Pennsylvania recently acquired his archive.
Elizabeth Strout won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction at the close of the last decade, in 2009, but she didn’t rest. Strout, who lives on Maine’s midcoast, kept up her good work, and the accolades kept coming. She won a Malaparte Prize in 2016 for “My Name is Lucy Barton” and the coveted Story Prize for “Anything Is Possible” in 2018. The New York Public Library named her a Literary Lion, the institution’s highest honor for a cultural icon, in 2018. The best-selling “My Name is Lucy Barton” was adapted for the stage in London, starring Laura Linney, and former President Barack Obama included “Anything Is Possible” among his favorite books of the year in 2017. Oprah Winfrey named “Olive, Again” as a book-club pick this past fall. In a decade that saw the publication of major books by Maine’s biggest writers, Strout stood tallest.
It seems like many more than seven years have passed since Bethel poet Richard Blanco stood on the steps of the U.S. Capitol and recited his hopeful poem for America, “One Today.” He wrote it for Barack Obama’s second inauguration, and it celebrated all that brings us together. A civil engineer and city planner, Blanco was the first immigrant, Latino and openly gay poet chosen to write and read a poem for an inauguration, and at 44, he also was the youngest at the time. The years since have been somewhat of whirlwind, for Blanco and the country he hardly recognizes anymore. His most recent book, “How to Love A Country,” published in 2019, explores how much America has changed in the years since and why he, as an immigrant, has lost his seat at the table. Next on his agenda: Becoming poet laureate of the United States, so he can reclaim that seat.
Melissa Sweet went from successful children’s book illustrator to superstar. Among the honors she received this decade: Her second Caldecott, for “The Right Word, Roget and His Thesaurus,” and a Carle Honors lifetime innovation award from the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Massachusetts. Her New York Times’ bestseller “Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White” also won an Orbis Pictus Award and a Boston Globe-Horn Book honor for nonfiction. In all, the Portland artist and writer has illustrated more than 100 books, as well as toys, puzzles and games.
John Cariani has a Broadway habit. Every two or three years, the pride of Presque Isle ends up in a hit Broadway musical. His run of success started with “Something Rotten!” in 2015, which ended up with 10 Tony and one Grammy award nominations. He followed that two years later with “The Band’s Visit,” which snagged 11 Tony nominations and won 10 of them. It was one of four musicals in Broadway history to sweep the Big Six of the Tonys – best musical, best book, best score, best actor, best actress and best direction. The Broadway cast recording also won a Grammy. Next, he will appear in a revival of Tony Kushner’s “Caroline, or Change,” in the spring. But before that, he’ll be back in Maine to perform in his play, “Almost, Maine,” at Portland Stage, which he wrote many years ago and has become one of the most-produced plays in America. Through Macmillan Publishers, Cariani will release a novel version of “Almost, Maine” in March.
INTO THE WOOD
Other than perhaps that King guy up in Bangor, is there a Maine writer more beloved, respected and productive than Monica Wood? If so, we haven’t met her yet. Monica Wood’s decade saw the publication of her memoir, “When We Were the Kennedys,” which was on the best-seller list at Longfellow Books for more than a year after its 2012 release, and her first play, “Papermaker,” which debuted at Portland Stage Company in 2015 and became one of the theater’s most popular plays. She also published another novel, “The One In a Million Boy,” and another new play, “The Half-Light.” This year, the Maine Humanities Council honored her with its Constance H. Carlson Public Humanities Prize for her commitment to Maine communities, libraries and her nourishment of Maine’s cultural life.
Maine basketmakers have been productive for thousands of years, but the past decade brought widespread recognition, acclaim and prize money to Wabanaki basketmakers working in Maine today. The brothers Gabriel and Jeremy Frey each won $50,000 United States Artists fellowships. The National Endowment for the Arts named Theresa Secord and Molly Neptune Parker, in 2016 and 2012, respectively, National Heritage Fellows, one of the country’s highest cultural honors (also awarded to Franco-American musicians Don and Cindy Roy of Gorham in 2019). And Maine basketmakers routinely pull down top honors at the Native American art fairs across the country. Meanwhile, the Abbe Museum started its own Indian art market in Bar Harbor in 2018.
The decade saw the rise of community art spaces and hyper-local collectives and residencies in cities and small towns across Maine – in Portland’s East Bayside neighborhood, on the waterfront in Rockland and in the mills in Biddeford, as well as the towns of Eastport, Cushing, Monson and Lovell, energizing neighborhoods and communities, creating economy and empowering artists. Other notable openings this decade were the Winslow Homer Studio in Prouts Neck, originally designed by John Calvin Stevens and restored and reopened by the Portland Museum of Art in 2012, and the Center for Maine Contemporary Art moved into a new building, designed by Toshiko Mori, in downtown Rockland in 2016.
The decade saw major changes in the structure and personnel of longstanding Maine art institutions. Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, Monhegan Museum, Bates Dance Festival, Portland Ballet, Bowdoin International Music Festival, Maine State Music Theatre, the Portland Chamber Music Festival and Barridoff Galleries, among others, saw the departures of longtime, legacy directors. At the Portland Symphony Orchestra, Robert Moody came and went, completing a decade-long triumph as music director during which he helped restore the orchestra to its status as a community pillar. Meanwhile, the Portland String Quartet celebrated its 50th anniversary and continued to find new ways to present music from across the ages and cultures.
GIVE IT UP
Peter and Paula Lunder spent much of the past decade giving away their money. The couple donated an art collection worth an estimated $100 million to the Colby College Museum of Art and then gave the college money to add a new wing to the museum – and then kept on giving. The couple donated Picasso etchings to Colby in 2016, Rembrandt etchings in 2019, and gave $3 million to the Maine College of Art and another $500,000 to the Portland Symphony Orchestra.
BAD NEWS ON THE DOORSTEP
We’re never surprised when famous people suffer ignominious disgrace, but Don McLean’s fall was dramatic, tragic and messy. Best known for writing the song “American Pie,” McLean was exposed as a perpetrator of domestic violence when his now ex-wife, Patrisha McLean, called the police after a 2016 incident at the home they shared in Camden. After their divorce, she spoke out about what she described as a pattern of abuse, and organized a traveling art exhibition, “Finding Our Voices,” that told the story of domestic abuse through words and images of abused women across Maine. Though he admitted his guilt to six charges and was convicted of three as part of a plea deal that included a fine but no jail time, he threatened media outlets that wrote about his crimes in the context of his wife’s exhibition.