Posted: December 11, 2017
The best of 2017: The big happenings in entertainment around southern Maine
Written by: Ray Routhier
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2017 is just about done. What the heck happened?
That question could be addressed in a sort of spiritual and metaphysical sense, exploring why we’re all here, how much time we have on earth, etc. But who’s got time for that?
Instead let’s talk about some of the big things that happened in the crucial areas of food, beer, music and entertainment around Portland and southern Maine. Here’s a look back at some of what happened in 2017 that was intended to please your taste buds and appease your appetite for fun.
And of course what happened in 2017 – such as new restaurants, breweries and night clubs starting up – bodes well for a fulfilling 2018.
EATS ON WASHINGTON AVE.
Washington Avenue in Portland, the stretch between Congress Street and Tukey's Bridge, was once known mostly as home of the J.J. Nissen bread factory. But it has become a restaurant and foodie mecca. Some of the places that opened in 2017 include: The Shop, a casual oyster bar and shellfish market run by Island Creek Oyster Farm; A&C Grocery, an upscale market with sandwiches and soups; Izakaya Minato, a Japanese gastropub; and Cong Tu Bot, a Vietnamese pho cafe.
The last two places mentioned are part of another trend in 2017, the explosion of innovative Asian restaurants that opened in Portland. There was Cheevitdee, serving healthy Thai food on Fore Street in the Old Port; Yobo, a creative Korean place on Forest Avenue in the Arts District; and Mami, the bricks and mortar incarnation of popular Japanese food truck, on Fore Street.
Back on Washington Ave., there are planned big doings in 2018, including a second location for Bob's Clam Hut, a classic Maine seafood place in Kittery, and a new location for Lewiston's Forage Market bagel and bread bakery.
Staff photo by Gregory Rec
YEAR OF SPOSE
Maine rapper Spose has been popular for a while, but he sort of owned 2017. In April he came out with the innovative idea of combining his album, "Good Luck With Your Life" with a video game app. The app, "Spose: The King of Maine," allows users access to tracks on the album as they earn points for playing the game. In the game, an animated Spose is seen battling characters and creatures in Wells (his hometown) and continues to various Maine locales, including Portland.
Then in October, Spose challenged himself to make an entire album in 24 hours. He invited about 50 musicians and holed up at The Halo Studio, in Windham. He began at 10 a.m. on a Friday and finished at 6 a.m. on Saturday. A week later he started selling album, "Humans," online and posted a video about how it was made.
Staff photo by Brianna Soukup
FEEL THE AURA
For some 20 years, Asylum on Center Street in Portland was a fun place to hang out and dance to a deejay, or see a local band. It held about 500 people, max. But in April, after a $9 million renovation, it re-opened as a sparkling 1,000-seat venue called Aura. It's got a decidedly urban nightclub feel, with a giant stage, a balcony and a massive three-story wall of windows. The owners are looking to book weddings, functions and conferences in the sleek space.
Some events coming up in 2018 at the new Aura include: rapper Ja Rule on Jan. 20; The Infamous Stringdusters on Jan. 24; Marc Cohn on Feb. 23; Rickie Lee Jones on March 28; George Thorogood and the Destroyers on April 22; and Badfish: A Tribute to Sublime on April 26.
Staff photo by Derek Davis
BEER IN THE WILD
This year saw breweries spread from clustered spots in big cities, across Maine to small towns. With such a saturated beer scene, especially in Portland, a new model for success seems to be to bring a brewery to a town in Maine without a brewhouse and become a cultural hub for that community. John Paul, co-owner of Lone Pine Brewing Company, once outlined the model for success that Lone Pine focuses on: "Win over your neighborhood, then your town, then your state, and then a region." Many towns in Maine are hungry for craft beer and are ready to be won over. People often wonder how many breweries can open in Maine before the market collapses — it's much higher if brewers are willing to start at the micro level by winning over a community. And, hey, if the beer is great—and it has to be truly great at this point — then perhaps it could become the next Allagash or Sebago.
The breweries that opened in 2017 that embrace this ethos are Flight Deck Brewing in Brunswick, Island Dog Brewing in South Portland, Nonesuch River Brewing in Scarborough, Cushnoc Brewing in Augusta, Lake St. George Brewing in Liberty, and Yes Brewing in Westbrook. Expect more new breweries to follow suit in 2018.
Photo by Dave Patterson
THE PLAY AROUND THE CORNER
In 2017, theater around Portland continued to become more accessible, with off-night shows, casual readings and performances in unusual places. In Portland, it's often possible to see a play or dramatic reading any night of the week, and often in bars, small theaters and unlikely venues. It makes theater more democratic by providing access for all, and makes theater fun by keep it lively and nimble.
Beginning in January, Good Theater presents two shows concurrently, "Shear Madness" on Wednesdays through Saturdays, and "Love Loss and What I Wore" on weekend matinees and Monday and Tuesday nights. Portland Stage has injected itself with bolts of energy with its black-box Studio Series and its staged readings. Coming up in January, it has both – the Dark Week Project, Jan. 12-14, with three staged readings of Sarah Ruhl's "Dear Elizabeth" when the big theater is "dark" between shows, as well as "Refuge/Malja" by Maine playwright Bess Welden, opening in the black-box theater on Jan. 6.
Acorn Production's Naked Shakespeare troupe is doing monthly shows in Portland bars. Looked for "Cursed" in February at Urban Farm Fermentory and "Vaudevillians" in March at Oxbow Blending and Bottling.
Photo courtesy of Acorn Productions
Dave Patterson and Staff Writer Bob Keyes contributed to this story.