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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 News Center Maine TV show “207” to talk about...music of course.

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Posted: May 6, 2019

The Fogcutters mark 10 years as Portland’s modern big band

Written by: Aimsel Ponti

Fogcutters at the Two Roads Brewfest Music Festival in 2017
Photo by Remi Paluszak at Goose Shack Photography

One of the most exciting bands to grace the state of Maine is celebrating its 10th anniversary, and there’s a Saturday night bash at Aura to mark the occasion.

The Fogcutters continue to take modern big-band music to mesmerizing, fun and sonically tremendous places. The bandleader is John Maclaine (trombone), and James Hebert (trombone) is manager. The rest of the horn section is Adam Montminy, Mat Leighton, Patrick Sutor, Tyler Card, Scott Ogden, Jamie Coploys, Matt Day, Matt Lagard, Steve Smith and Emma Stanley. Emmett Harrity is on piano, Owen Conforte is on guitar, Rafael Keilt-Freyre on bass, Dave Henault on drums, Chas Lester on vocals and percussion and Megan Jo Wilson on vocals.

“Flotsam” was released in 2016. Cover art image courtesy of The Fogcutters

In 2016, The Fogcutters released “Flotsam,” a full-length album of original tunes and also has a joyful holiday EP called “Jingle These Bells” from 2012.

The Fogcutters also released two live albums: “Big Band Syndrome, Vol.1: Live at the State Theatre” in 2012, followed by Vol. 2 in 2013. Both albums feature The Fogcutters playing with several local musicians performing big-band versions of their songs. Both albums are quite frankly legendary and some of the artists on them are Lady Zen, Andi Fawcett, Dan Capaldi, Zach Jones, The Mallett Brothers Band, Lyle Divinsky, Darien Brahms and Dave Gutter. There were three subsequent Big Band Syndrome shows at the State Theatre.

Syndrome shows gave way to The Fogcutters Super Fantastic Christmas Extravaganza, which has happened for the past three years. I’ve gone every year, and every show has been an absolute blast. In fact, a miracle occurred at the most recent show this past December: It started to snow inside the State Theatre. This is the kind of magic that only The Fogcutters could conjure up.

Here’s the Cab Calloway classic “Minnie the Moocher” performed by The Fogcutters and several special guests during Big Band Syndrome Vol. 1 at Portland’s State Theatre on 12/2/11.

At the moment, The Fogcutters are prepping to record an all-originals EP. The band has a dozen tunes ready and will spend the summer figuring out which ones to make the most sense to include in the EP and which ones to release as singles.

I asked Maclaine and Hebert via email to regale me with some Fogcutters trivia and stories, and they put their heads together and collaborated on responses.

First on the docket was the creation and evolution of their signature sound. The Fogcutters said they were never interested in simply playing familiar big-band tunes. Dating back to their early days, they’ve always put their own twist on classics by the likes of Duke Ellington and Count Basie. “Playing ‘safe’ means you don’t stand out,” they said. “Standing out and being something different is what we always strive for in The Fogcutters.”

John Maclaine, bandleader and trombonist of The Fogcutters.
Photo by Port City Photography

I was also curious about memorable gigs, and Maclaine and Hebert had a few gems to share. In the summer of 2016, The Fogcutters horn section backed The Temptations at a Maine State Pier show. “We rehearsed with the Temptations bandleader for only 40-45 minutes just prior to the gig! For most people that seems terrifying, but everyone in The Fogcutters is a professional musician, and so we walked on to the stage with the Temptations and absolutely slayed it.”

The Fogcutters also played with Chris Barron (Spin Doctors) and John Popper (Blues Traveler) during a 2013 show at Port City Music Hall. “It was an amazing experience getting to play with such talented musicians who were very influential during most of our childhoods,” they said.  A standout moment from that show was when Popper told the band how moved he was by The Fogcutters’ arrangement of The Blues Traveler’s song “The Mountains Win Again.”  This arrangement was done by the the late Fogcutters trombone player Dave Noyes who died unexpectedly in March.

Maclaine and  Hebert said that the band has no plans to replace the irreplaceable Noyes. “No one could ever fill his shoes. We press on with three trombones.” Among the things the band misses most about Noyes is his genuine, calm insight into whatever they were doing. “Everyone would always pause when Dave spoke and listened intently because whatever he had to say was for everyone’s benefit. We’re going to miss him so much, but that just gives us more passion to put into our playing and to remember him through our music.”

Fogcutters vocalists Megan Jo Wilson and Chas Lester
Photo by Wohler & Co.

The anniversary show at Aura is going to be a veritable showcase of all the things that make The Fogcutters such a terrific band. You can expect to hear the full spectrum of their music, including classic charts they’re dusting off. “We’re going to demonstrate to the audience the roots of where we came from, and who we are as a band today. There’s a lot of history and great arrangements that we’ll be showcasing.” The Fogcutters have a library of nearly 300 songs, all arranged by band members. “You can expect a night filled with wonderful, beautiful music that shows the growth of who we were as a band 10 years ago, and who we are now as a band 10 years later.”  Former Fogcutter Brian Graham left the band in 2015 to join Sister Sparrow, and he and his sax will be back in the lineup for this show.

Congratulations to The Fogcutters for hitting the 10-year mark. Here’s to many more decades of modern big-band brilliance.

The Fogcutters 10 Year Anniversary Bash
9 p.m. Saturday. Aura, 121 Center St., Portland, $15 in advance, $20 day of show, 18-plus. auramaine.com

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