Maine Music Scene: Sound Check or Paycheck?
I lived in southern Maine for about 20 years before I moved back up here a few years ago. As a professional musician, I took whatever gigs came my way. Probably 85 percent of those were original bands, and the rest of my calendar was busy with pick-up gigs for local cover bands, or subbing for other bands etc.
As a rule, my original-music friends always kind of gave me the stink eye for playing covers, yet I could always catch a whiff of their jealousy when I told them I was actually making some okay money. In southern Maine, you easily can fill a decent calendar with $40-$75 gigs almost every night of the week. Certainly not retirement money, but I could swing a car payment out of it.
When I moved back up here, I noticed something strange right out of the gate ... Where was all the original music?
Slowly, I began to see that the extremely tight and compact local scene for original music is a small, very vocal minority, that seems to survive by doing a majority of gigs out of town. And locally, in addition to the small number of bands performing originals, there are even fewer places to play them.
Yet the Bangor area's cover bands are thriving. There's a sizable crop of talented, working musicians. And many are seeing the money as a reliable source of income and willing to make the trade off.
"Playing years of your own originals can feel like you're playing covers after a while anyway," said Eric Rovito from local cover band Dakota. "Covers can become a wonderful legacy, if you can get past being tired of them."
But even playing music can feel like work after a while. "We play a lot, and I love it," Rovito said. "But it can become like any other job when you're forced to play it as opposed to just feeling the urge to pick up your instrument."
Tim Emery, one of the owners of Buckdancer's Choice in Portland, has been a gigging musician in Maine for nearly 40 years with acts such as The McCarthy's, The Guv'nors, and Big Ass Rooster. His take is a bit more seasoned and practical.
"To me, music is music, a gig is a gig," he said. "I tend to think, 'Is it going to be fun? Are the players good? Good crowd? Good money? Does the bar stock a nice top-shelf bourbon?' Those things are more important to me these days than whether it's original or covers."
But Emery also thinks the self-righteous types could also take it down a notch and remember there's plenty of room for everybody.
"I'd love to play music that I had a hand in creating, in front of a crowd that reacts like they did when I played 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps' at the sold-out Beatles night at the State Theater, but that's not happening, and that's okay. I've created great music and played Beatles songs to sold-out crowds. Both are equally rewarding."
There's no right or wrong, good or bad. There's just music. At least, that's how it should be. Now go find a great club and go sing at the top of your lungs. You'll be glad you did.
And really.....music is about the fans. So music fans....feel free to sound off and tell us who you like to go see........