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Aimsel Ponti

Aimsel Ponti is a Content Producer at MaineToday.com and a music writer for MaineToday.com and the Portland Press Herald. She has been obsessed with - and inspired by - music since she listened to Monkees records borrowed from the town library when she was six years old. She bought her first Rolling Stones record at a flea market when she was in 7th grade and discovered David Bowie a year later. She's a HUGE fan of the local music scene and covers it along with national musical happenings in her "Face the Music" column and with artist interviews that appear in print in the Portland Press Herald and online at Mainetoday.com. You'll also find her out and about absorbing live music like a sponge and roaming around local record shops and flea markets. Aimsel is also the host of Music from 207 on 98.9 WCLZ and appears monthly on the WCHS TV show “207” to talk about...music of course.

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Posted: July 11, 2017

Members know: Intimate One Longfellow is one great place to see a show

Written by: Aimsel Ponti
Exterior of One Longfellow Square 7.10.17 Staff photo by Aimsel Ponti

Exterior of One Longfellow Square 7.10.17
Staff photo by Aimsel Ponti

The amount of live music that happens in Portland never ceases to amaze me and never ceases to fill my heart with happiness. Whether it’s a small show at, say, Blue or Geno’s or a bigger one at Port City Music Hall or the State Theatre, I’m pretty much always up for a live show.

One of my favorite spots for the past several years has been One Longfellow Square. The space is near and dear to me, and I long ago lost track of how many times I’ve seen shows there, starting back when it was the Center for Cultural Exchange.

I’ll never forget the night Ray LaMontagne played there in 2003, and it wasn’t even sold out. Two gents in suits with British accents were among the crowd, and I, of course, being the shy gal that I am, walked right up to them and asked them to divulge just who in the heck they were and what they were doing in Portland. Turned out they were label execs who had flown in from London just to see LaMontagne perform. This is the kind of magic that happens in the room at the corner of Congress and State Street.

One Longfellow Square typically puts on more than 200 shows a year in its 200-seat hall, and the acts range in genre from folk, rock and jazz to blues, Celtic and world. The venue became a nonprofit seven years ago, and although there’s no real cause for panic, it’s experiencing its annual summer slump. And so I did what I’ve been meaning to do for some time now: I bought a membership. The $50 basic level gets me a 20 percent discount on all ticket purchases and OLS logo merchandise, members-only ticket processing and invitations to special member events for a year. That’s awesome.

Adam Ezra Group performing at One Longfellow Square in 2016 Photo courtesy of One Longfellow Square

Adam Ezra Group performing at One Longfellow Square in 2016
Photo courtesy of One Longfellow Square

The individual level is $75 and includes everything the basic level does as well as a bring-a-friend pass for up to $20. The other levels – household, donor, friend, benefactor and the OLS sustainers club – include assorted fabulous perks, and all of the details can be found at onelongfellowsquare.com.

But just how important are the members? I rang up Fiona O’Grady, office manager and bookkeeper since 2010, and she didn’t hesitate in responding. “We couldn’t survive without the members who are supporting us every year,” she said, adding that the venue has many loyal, die-hard supporters who renew their memberships annually and also some who might only make it to the space once. “They just love what we’re doing here and are very supportive of us,” she said.

Local bluegrass act Tricky Britches performing at One Longfellow Square in 2016 Photo courtesy of One Longfellow Square

Local bluegrass act Tricky Britches performing at One Longfellow Square in 2016
Photo courtesy of One Longfellow Square

O’Grady recognizes that the acts are what bring people through the door but also thinks there’s another piece of magic that happens: “The same faces come a lot. We have a big community of people who come in year after year. I think the people who come to the shows, they just love the space. People, I think, have become friends through here. It’s a great community.”

O’Grady was kind enough to send me a list of acts who have played at One Longfellow over the past five years. I gave it a quick scan, and some of the names that jumped off the page were Joan Osborne, Darlingside, Kris Delmhorst, John Gorka, Dar Williams, Maia Sharp, Mindy Smith, Lori McKenna, Melissa Ferrick, Lake Street Dive, Steve Forbert, Mary Gauthier, Mike Doughty, Brown Bird, Aoife O’Donovan, Gregory Alan Isakov, Ellis Paul, Lloyd Cole, Erin McKeown, George Winston and more local acts than you can shake a tambourine at.

Here’s Sara Hallie Richardson performing the Kate Bush song “Running Up That Hill” during a 2012 performance at One Longfellow Square

One of the venue’s most loyal fans is Portland resident and One Longfellow Square member Colin Smith, who has been attending shows at One Longfellow Square since day one (and also happens to be a copy editor at the Portland Press Herald and thus my colleague). “I saw Jeffrey Foucault, a great singer-songwriter, play to a very small crowd in 2007, before the secret was out,” said Smith who has seen almost 100 shows there. “A show I saw last year kind of highlights what OLS is all about. I went to see Rose Cousins and Penny & Sparrow on a friend’s advice. I wasn’t familiar with either act, but I was blown away. They both had us crying during their songs and laughing at their banter in between.” And that’s just the thing that Smith appreciates about the space. “You can show up just about any night of the week and get a great show. It’s obviously a great, intimate listening room, too, and it really feels like part of the community. It’s also fun to see acts “graduate.” I saw Gregory Alan Isakov go from playing to a half-full OLS to selling out the room before moving on to Port City and then the State.”

I also spoke with Liz Pettengill, One Longfellow Square’s director of development and rentals coordinator, and she, too, recognizes what draws people to the space: “The fact that it’s so small, and people really pay attention to the artists and feel really connected.” Pettengill also appreciates that it’s a space where artists will often come out and chat with fans after the show.

All of this is to say, I love One Longfellow Square and am happy to finally be a card-carrying member. But lest anyone think it’s the only non-profit music venue around these parts, let me give a heartfelt shout-out to three other nonprofit spots I’ve enjoyed shows at: Portland’s St. Lawrence Arts Center , Space Gallery, and the Chocolate Church Arts Center in Bath.

Places like these need people like us to support them. Tickets, band merchandise, cocktails, snacks and memberships all cost various levels of money. But the experience of seeing an act you love in an intimate venue? Say it with me — Priceless!

One last note. Here’s a quick and easy alternative way to support One Longfellow Square. Head to Sisters Gourmet Deli in Portland’s Monument Square on July 23 between 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mention One Longfellow Square when you purchase something there on that day, and part of the proceeds will go toward supporting the venue.

 

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