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Posted: December 23, 2016

How Maine kept us entertained in 2016

From outdoor shows to a brewery boom, the year’s highlights in arts, music, food and more.

Written by: Staff Reports
A concert at the Maine State Pier. Jill Brady/Staff Photographer

A concert at the Maine State Pier.
Jill Brady/Staff Photographer

There’s no question that Portland, in particular, and Maine as a whole are getting hipper all the time, but how exactly?

With 2016 coming to a close, we decided to look back at the year and pick out the highlights across the many areas of entertainment that we cover, taking stock of the ever-evolving music, theater, art, beer, food and film scenes — all of them growing and thriving in their own ways and for their own reasons.

Our only resolution for 2017 is to keep taking advantage of all there is to do here.

MUSIC SHOWS AL FRESCO

Five or six years ago, Portland music fans would be lucky to have two or three outdoor concerts to flock to on a summer evening. But in 2016, with two venues booking shows all summer long, there were about 40 to choose from.

Bangor-based Waterfront Concerts put on shows at the city-owned Maine State Pier on the harbor, while the State Theatre organized concerts at the grassy venue at the privately owned Thompson’s Point on the Fore River. It was the first year that both venues had more than 10 shows each during the same summer.

Some of the highlights at the Maine State Pier were shows by Jackson Browne, the Beach Boys and Bonnie Raitt. Thompson’s Point saw shows by Brandi Carlile, Ray LaMontagne and Bob Dylan. No shows have been announced yet for the two outdoor venues in 2017. The Portland City Council recently approved another season of shows at Maine State Pier, but with the caveat that Waterfront puts on fewer shows — there were nearly 30 each of the last two summers — and does a better job of handling noise complaints.

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer Florence Cooley of Yarmouth, right, and Amelia Whitney of Gorham twirl hoops as they rehearse their upcoming performance "Circle Dance" that they performed as part of PortFringe, a five-day theater festival in June that has helped bolster Portland's theater scene.

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer
Florence Cooley of Yarmouth, right, and Amelia Whitney of Gorham twirl hoops as they rehearse their upcoming performance “Circle Dance” that they performed as part of PortFringe, a five-day theater festival in June that has helped bolster Portland’s theater scene.

FEST BRINGS OUT THE BEST

The Portland theater scene continues to expand, thanks largely to the success of and regional interest in PortFringe, the alternative theater festival that happens in late spring. Portland’s theater scene is thriving because of the collaboration among actors and the cross-pollination among theater companies. As the festival gains traction, it increases the volume and kinds of performances in Portland. Just as important, it also fosters relationships among actors, directors and other theater artists, which results in new theater companies, new plays and new alliances among artists.

ART ROCKS IN ROCKLAND

In June, the Center for Maine Contemporary Art moved from its longtime home in Rockport into a new gallery space in downtown Rockland. The move paid instant dividends, with big, bright galleries for exhibitions and the opportunity to build and expand the audience. The inaugural exhibition included an installation by Ogunquit sculptor and printmaker Jonathan Borofsky, an artist with an international following who rarely shows in Maine, and small paintings by Alex Katz, the now-famous painter who was an emerging artist when he showed at the arts center soon after it opened in Rockport in 1952.

The new gallery gives Rockland two fine-art venues within walking distance, including the Farnsworth Art Museum and makes the Knox County town a top destination for art in Maine.

The Center for Maine Contemporary Art building moved to downtown Rockland this year. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

The Center for Maine Contemporary Art building moved to downtown Rockland this year.
Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

BREWERIES MAKE LEAPS AND BOUNDS

This year was all about growth and expansion for the Maine brewing scene. The Pine Tree State saw 17 new breweries open this year, bringing with them new innovative beers like Gunner’s Daughter from Mast Landing, a scrumptious peanut butter stout, and Lemonless Lemonade from Foulmouthed Brewing, an IPA brimming with fresh lemon flavors.

In addition to the new breweries, a number of established breweries made expansions to their brewhouses and tasting rooms. Leading the way were Rising Tide Brewing and Foundation Brewing, each of which increased production and provide patrons with more elbowroom in their expanded tasting rooms. Bissell Brewing and Bunker Brewing moved out of their respective former breweries to build expansive new brewhouses. Maine beer fans should expect this growth to spill over into 2017. There are a number of new breweries slated to open after the New Year, and Sebago Brewing and Maine Beer Co. each have significant renovation plans for 2017. The future’s looking bright for Maine beer.

Owl & Elm in Yarmouth, before the rush. Photo by Hannah Holmbom/Double H Photo

Owl & Elm in Yarmouth, before the rush.
Photo by Hannah Holmbom/Double H Photo

NORTHERN NIGHTLIFE

To say Yarmouth is the new Old Port would definitely be stretching it, but with an Otto pizza, a tiki-type bar that also serves pho, and Maine beers flowing from taps all over town, it’s got most of the makings of a hip Portland neighborhood.

The renaissance really got going last year, when Dirigo Public House was born, Otto moved in and Royal River Grillhouse reopened with a facelift that rivaled anything done on “Restaurant: Impossible.” This year, those spots have thrived, and building on their momentum were the openings of Owl & Elm – a hip, higher-end pub that’s been packed from Day 1 — and, most recently, Woodhull Public House, an island-themed watering hole where the cocktails are tropical, the menu fuses Latin and Asian flavors, and, hello, there’s a shuffleboard table. It doesn’t really get hipper than that.

While residents of Portland’s northern suburbs were surely hungry for more drinking and dining options themselves, what’s happening now might have city dwellers heading to I-295 when they feel like hitting the town.

A ‘DAMN’ GOOD YEAR FOR FILM

“Damnationland” started out as just a cool idea, but it’s become an institution. Brainchild of co-creators Eddy Bolz and Allen Baldwin, the concept — a handpicked handful of Maine filmmakers have carte blanche to contribute a short horror, thriller or fantasy film of their own devising — has become a yearly showcase for some of Maine’s best and most ambitious filmmakers. Since 2010, the resulting dark cinematic omnibus of film has not only kept audiences on their toes (and the edge of their seats) with the ever-unpredictable mix of dark comedy, straight-up horror and all possible permutations thereof, but 2016’s outing (featuring talents like The Campbell Brothers, Ross Morin, Anna Gravél, Christine Louise Marshall, filmmaking collective Big Damn Heroes, and Bolz and Baldwin themselves) saw “Damnationland” upping its game not just in terms of quality, but also as an invaluable calling card for the Maine film community.

By seeking out filmmakers from all over the state and giving them a platform, the team behind “Damnationland” provides a vital one-stop shop for audiences and industry professionals to see what sort of work is being done in Maine. Through its always-expanding roster of yearly screenings (both in Maine and out of state), increased web presence and social networking efforts and top-notch presentation (see damnationland.com for proof), the “Damnationland” masterminds have solidified their position as not just legitimate Maine movie moguls, but Maine movie ambassadors.

A scene from "Storytime," a film about the residents of an assisted living facility telling scary stories at a Halloween party, framed all the films shown as part of this year's "Damnationland." Photo courtesy of "Storytime"

A scene from “Storytime,” a film about the residents of an assisted living facility telling scary stories at a Halloween party, framed all the films shown as part of this year’s “Damnationland.”
Photo courtesy of “Storytime”

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