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Tuesday, October 12th, 2010, 10:15 am

Confessions of a late night STRUTter: A lesson in bringing it.

Author Courtesy Photo
Panic, terror and pasties: Our author "Candy Sprinkes" makes her debut at STRUT!

As a woman on a firm trajectory toward her mid-thirties who packed on an extra 30 lbs. 2 years ago and is still using “I got divorced” as an excuse for her somewhat doughy physique, one might not guess that I’d be jumping at the chance to get mostly naked in a room full of strangers. Two months ago, I probably wouldn’t have guessed that either. But then, burlesque happened.

With an unimpressive one strip club, you wouldn’t necessarily peg the Portland metro area for being big on the T & A. But if you peeked in a little closer, you would see that just because we aren’t huge consumers of the pole dance, that does not mean that we don’t still need a little full figured wiggle and bounce every now and again. But in Portland, we’ve got class. And maybe we don’t always want fishnet Mandi shaking us down for a lap dance. Here we want our tits with a little more art, a little more humor, and a lot more tease (and a lot less need for $2 for dollar bills). As of late, we have shunned the oiled up g-string in favor of the rhinestone pasty. All of the sudden, Portland has officially become burlesque boomtown.

With no fewer than four resident companies ranging from the classic fan dances and tassel swingings of the Whistlebait Burlesque, to the saucily absurdist performance art of The Dirty Dishes (not to mention a yearly full scale burlesque Nutcraker, fetish acts like PV Scene, and countless drag queens and kings also getting in on the action), this city is busting at the seams with good old fashioned bawdy fun. Part theatre, part peep show, burlesque is mesmerizing in its melding of the whimsical with the lusty. It’s infectious.

So when Atomic Trash, the self proclaimed darlings of Portland’s underbelly, decided that they would invite the public to compete for the chance to join the party, it was clearly a very good idea. And thus, STRUT was born. Never girls to do things half way, the amateur competition spans over 6 months, with five chances to make it to the final round and win the grand prize of $100 and the opportunity to be a featured performer in the upcoming Atomic Trash 2 year anniversary bash.

Liberation, libation and “Sheer Terror”

How did I get there? Was this really the most efficient way for me to make $100? Maybe not, but opportunities for your Average Jane to get up on stage and shake it like a showgirl don’t exactly arise on a regular basis. To be that liberated, to get those bragging rights, to get up on stage and bare all regardless of the consequences… well, it’s a gift. Admittedly, it was a gift that I was too terrified to take at first. A dear and exceptionally brave friend took the first shift and brought home the light-up tiara with her brilliant BP oil spill themed number (it involved stripping down from a Haz-mat suit, and then writhing around in a kiddie pool full of chocolate syrup in her scanties). She was an inspiration. Seeing her fly high on that wild – albeit sticky – moment made me realize that I didn’t want to let this one go. Two Old Fashioneds and an email later, I was signed up for the August competition. It was T-minus 30 days and counting.

There’s an interesting thing that happens when you agree to do something crazy a long way into the future, and then that day finally arrives. I believe it’s called “sheer terror.” Up until a week before the big event, I had virtually nothing more concrete than a good idea and a can-do attitude. Slowly as the week progressed, I managed to scrape together bits and pieces of what would eventually become my STRUT routine, but all whilst maintaining a sense of complete denial that it was ever actually going to happen. But it was happening, and in four short days I would need somehow to construct a pair of gut concealing red satin underpants and matching break-away mini skirt, find a pair of 4 inch hot pink heels that I could safely booty drop in, and locate a gentleman with a booming voice willing to yell something misogynistic at a girl in a crowded bar.

As each day dwindled closer to kick off time, my level of panic rose higher and higher. I don’t think I slept more than 3 hours a night, or ate anything solid for 3 days. I listened to nothing but my music on repeat every waking hour of the day (which at that point was most of them), and am fairly certain that the people on my morning walk to work thought that that I was having some sort of psychotic break as I danced my way down Congress Street. In short, I had become a complete crazy person. Consumed with the desire to put on the most perfect burlesque spectacle that this city had ever seen, I had lost a little bit of my grip on reality. It was Go Time.

Candy Sprinkles BIG NIGHT

Once I got to Geno’s, things got really blurry really fast. There’s something exceptionally weird about stripping down to your underwear in the sticky graffiti covered bathroom of a dive bar where patrons routinely throw up in the sink (no disrespect Geno’s, I still love you!). I did my best to try and make nice with the other contestants (“Your boobs look GREAT!”), but they seemed relatively unimpressed. I can only assume that they were currently in the center of their own terror spiral and had no time for pleasantries- and neither did I.

It was mere moments before they herded us onto stage for a little pre-show ogling and to pick numbers to determine the performance order. Mercifully, I picked number one. I think if I had been forced to wait a second longer I likely would have either popped a brain vessel or a bladder. It was time for Candy Sprinkles to make her big debut.

I had stayed up until 4 am the night before putting the finishing touches on my props – a giant envelope addressed to my burlesque alter ego, and the equally giant heart shaped valentine card contained within. My piece started with a very excited (ok, terrified) Candy rushing onto the stage to tear into her valentine (to the tune of Ralph Wiggum saying “You choo-choo-choose me?”), and then doing a joyful and jiggly happy dance to the Marylin Monroe version of “I Wanna Be Loved by You”. Then, things got dark. Just as I was punctuating the first portion of my number, my audience plant yelled out “Get off the stage and make me a damn sandwich!”. Thunder clap. To the tune of Leslie Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me”, I proceeded to angrily rip up the heart, and then rip off my clothes- including and especially the giant red satin bow covering up a very sparkly pair of red heart shaped pasties that I had made myself. What I had spent days preparing for and agonizing myself into sickness about, was over in the flash of a thigh high.

I can only assume that this is why people do amphetamines. Who said you have to throw yourself out of an airplane in order to be truly extreme? There’s a rush that comes with taking your top off in front of a room full of sweaty hooting strangers that puts bungee jumping and motocross racing to SHAME. It didn’t matter what the judges had to say, I had made it through my routine without breaking my legs and/or peeing my pants, and I was zooming through outer space at the speed of spandex.

The only negative comment I received was that at times I kind of blanked out and lost my eye contact with the audience- which seemed fair enough seeing that I didn’t actually remember anything from the time I stuck on my pasties (they make special tape for that!), and the moment where I fell off my shoes during my dramatic exit. But even so, I felt like I had made a strong enough showing that I might actually have a chance of taking home my own light up tiara and $50 cash prize. That was of course, until the final contestant made her stand.

Sure, I had mixed together four unique sound clips with GarageBand, hand made all components of my costume, and performed 3 minutes and 53 seconds of near flawless choreography…. but it couldn’t compete. Jesus himself could have snapped on a banana hammock and still not come close. Two words- ROLLER SKATES. The winning contestant (who was also sporting a supernaturally perfect rack) skated around in circles on the Geno’s stage to the Happy Days theme while stripping, smiling, and winking like she was merely taking a casual stroll. It was miraculous. And the very minute she shot a wad of glitter confetti out of her cardboard jukebox, I knew that I was through. I put on my best Miss America smile and prepared myself mentally for the parade of losers.

Inspiration from a “Hot Mess”

The next few days were tough. After all the build up, having to tell everyone in my life that I had failed (to a mythical creature who would come to be known as Rollertits), was a little awkward. “I’m just proud that I made it through!” was my general go-to, but “A once in a lifetime experience!” also made the rounds. And then of course there were my sweet friends telling me that I had been robbed, and that Rollertits’ piece was too short and simple to adequately meet the judging criteria. And for a minute, I believed them. I had made my own costumes! I had audience participation! My tits were good too! But flashing forward a month to the last STRUT competition on September 9th, I would finally come to realize that this was not even a little bit true.

When I first arrived to the spectacle there were only 2 registered players- a prior losing contestant hoping that the fourth time was the charm, and a mystery male (their first ever in the competition). He went by the name of “Twisted Cookies”, and did a little strip number to Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love” that incorporated a straight jacket, breakaway pants, a package of oreos, a container of milk, and a pair of hot pink hot pants with the words “HOT MESS” emblazoned on the ass. It didn’t look particularly choreographed, and in many places was quite sloppy, but the combination of the humor, the shock value, and foremost his amazing energy made me hoot and holler like a middle aged lady at a Chippendales show. We spontaneously clapped along with the music and screamed until our lungs were raw. It was a sight. It was magical.

And then, something really weird happened. Possibly all smacked out on the high voltage from Twisted Cookies, women from the audience started to sign up to participate with no preparation, no costume, and no choreography. All they had were whatever songs they could find on the DJ’s computer, and the cojones to get up and shake it knowing that they probably weren’t even wearing their date night underwear. Even more weirdly, the majority of them were really good. REALLY REALLY good. They were fearless, and sexy, and they rocked those Maidenforms like they were Agent Provocateur.

And that’s when it hit me.

I had choreographed and practiced the life out of my piece. I was so afraid of screwing up and looking foolish, that I had sucked out any spontaneity and fun, and replaced it all with rigid memorization and paralyzing anxiety. All the flawless hand sewn costumes and perfectly executed booty pops in the universe wouldn’t have made any difference for me. Twisted Cookies and Rollertits had soul and spirit. They made connecting with the audience their number one priority, and brought the house down with gusto.

Well, a girl can’t learn an important and sexy life lesson without a chance to mend her past mistakes. I originally had no intention of repeating my efforts if I didn’t win in the first go, but now I find myself wanting a chance to prove that I have the spark to bring a dive bar amateur burlesque contest audience to it’s drunken feet. There is one more STRUT competition slot open on October 14th before the big finals on November 11th, and I’m gonna be there. I’ve got a hilarious idea, a scandalous costume, and some borderline obscene props.

Oh, and I plan to kill it.

Allie Munier is a writer who lives in Portland and creator of the Broke 207 blog. She can also be found on

Thursday, September 30th, 2010, 6:45 pm

From Bob Marley to Kate Schrock: A conversation with Glen DaCosta

Courtesy photo
Sax player Glen DaCosta played with Bob Marley, and now Kate Schrock and Todd The Rocket

When you sit down for lunch with Glen DaCosta, it’s hard to have the kind of normal, banal, mealtime banter that’s so typical when you’ve got friends and food in front of you.

It’s hard because DaCosta shared about the same small, intimate space with Bob Marley, an outright legend in reggae, if not music history. But it’s not just the proximity that makes for a surreal experience. It’s the stories of a lifetime in music, of living in one of the more vexing countries in our hemisphere, and yes, being a member of Bob Marley’s band.

And now the sax player is about to lunch on some taco’s at El Rayo, trying to figure whether a fork or hands are the best course of attack.

DaCosta is in Maine this fall for concert dates with Kate Schrock and Todd The Rocket Richard, the biggest of which being a CD release and party at Port City Music Hall in Portland on Oct. 2. Doors open at 7:30 p.m., tickets are on sale for $10, or $18 for the VIP treatment.

Combining their powers as Kate and The Rocket, the singer/songwriter and percussionist (and DJ) are releasing “PCMH,” an EP of a live performance at Port City this spring. The limited-edition EP (only available at shows and a small number of stores), is something of an appetizer, a sneak peak of a full-length album Schrock and Richard are working on.

A notorious grinder when it comes to touring, Schrock met DaCosta years ago while playing shows in Kentucky and a mutual admiration society was formed almost instantly. DaCosta guested on Schrock’s last album, “Invocation,” and made the way to Maine to play shows with Schrock after its release.

As he considers his chicken taco and El Rayo’s “Mexico City Style” corn, DaCosta says he was taken aback by Schrock’s talent and the positive vibes she gave off.

“She’s a great songwriter and a genuine person,” he said. “She has inspired me as well.”

High praise from a man who shared stage and studio with Bob Marley. DaCosta, who has also played horns for artists like Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight and Lou Rawls, is credited with playing on albums like Kaya and Exodus, as well as the Survival Tour, one of Marley’s last before his death in 1981.

But it was more than just introducing a new style of music to the world that made Marley an icon. As DaCosta tells it, it was the way Marley used the music, sometimes as a rallying cry, and others as a weapon of protest, that made him stand out.

“When Bob died, everything went wrong,” he said. It was a difficult time, one where a succession of promoters and others tried to find ways to capitalize on Marley’s legacy and members of the band were left to choose sides. There were times when DaCosta found himself in a world famous band, but with little money and at one point no place to sleep. It’s a period that still makes DaCosta tear up when he talks about it. Even still, it’s an important time, as DaCosta is working on a book about his days with Marley and the Wailers.

DaCosta’s happier to be focusing on nothing but music, and happy to be in the states. While tastes have changed in his native Jamaica to more dancehall and DJ-centric music, the same openness and hunger for new music and new artists that welcomed Marley and the Wailers still exists in America, he says.

“American has a little better musical appetite,” he said. “Here you can spread your wings.”

It’s why Richard says he’s happy to have DaCosta in Portland, which has it’s own ever-changing musical identity. The Oct. 2 show not only features Schrock, Richard and DaCosta, but also later sets by ATOMIK and The Butter Bros. They also plan to record the night’s performances to be used on the forthcoming album.

“It’s a local effort to make this happen,” he said.

For as much as the world of music has changed thanks to things like iTunes and Pandora, one thing remains constant: live performance. For DaCosta, taking the stage remains the ultimate test for musicians.

Even with months of practice and routine, knowing songs down to the final note, performances all come down to doing it right just once. And even for a musician who has experienced as much as he has, that’s reason to pause.

“I still get nervous like a child going to school for the first time,” DaCosta said.

Justin Ellis is the editor of The Signal.

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010, 9:20 pm

Crowdspotting with Lady Gaga at Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell rally in Portland

Kevin Brooks | Maine Observer
Lady Gaga's politics and "Hilary Clinton-ian" suit weren't the only things on display Monday

Lady Gaga’s visit to Portland was as fabulous and moving as one might have imagined it would be. Adorn in a striking, black, mid-90s Hilary Clinton-ian power suit, Gaga delivered her powerful “Prime Rib Speech,” which you have likely already consumed (Ha) via one source or another.

I spoke with Cecil Marlique, a self-identified queer 18-year-old who felt inspired and uplifted by Gaga’s presence in the city and representation of the cause. I heard a very similar sentiment from Brett Faulkner, a young man who I saw preform a routine to Gaga’s mega-hit Alejendro under the stage-name “90 Minute Blonde” at the Dirty Dishes Burlesque Review a couple of days back. And I talked with Brian Cyr, a former soldier who faced a military discharge he claims was related to his sexuality a year before Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was enacted.

However, and not to undermine any of the powerful content of the DADT rally in Deering Oaks Park, other stray observations offered themselves to the astute (and not-so-astute) observer. These include, but are not limited to:

  • At rallies highlighting celebrities who have rabid fan-bases labeled with a particular moniker – let’s say “little monsters” – you can expect to hear elected representative dropping said moniker approximately every 30 seconds (presumably as a means of resonating with “The Kids.”) Hearing Mayor Nick Mavodones, who was, by the way, particularly eloquent and direct in his denunciation of DADT, stuff LM into his prepared remarks felt about as natural as that time President Obama referred to ass-kicking, or when Ahmadinejad wears something other than a Members-Only jacket.
  • Terry Richardson – who was presumably at the event in the role of documentarian – is not nearly as creepy as I expected him to be. In fact, despite many, many allegations of being a sexually aggressive letch, his hands were smooth (not sticky), his handshake firm (not molester-y), and his manner polite and sincere. Further, in my brief interaction with him, he was warm in a way that one would think impossible of someone as seemingly close with Vincent “I’ll sell my sperm to Jews because it ups their chances in the entertainment industry” Gallo would appear to be.
  • At every single rally – every. single. rally. – no matter the cause (well, maybe not anything Tea Party related), there is a topless (or nearly) topless young woman and a young man who’s naked body is provocatively wrapped in something – often caution tape – to prove some point. Yesterday was no exception. It is worth asking, dear readers, what is an adult, particularly the most evil kind of adult in the world (white, straight, 20ish men) to do in these situations? Do we look at the intentional attention grabber, or do we politely look beyond it out of fear that any stare might be misinterpreted by said exhibitionist or the line of police next to him/her? I am all for the queering of straight, white male society, just so long as coming along for the ride does not land this passenger in jail.
  • Ninety-five percent of crowds comprised mostly of people under 25 don’t know most/all of the words to the national anthem.
  • Hometown hero Bunny Wonderland was not kidding when he suggested that drag queens fart glitter. If you are at a rally at which the queen quotient increases by 5000% as compared to what is typical for the geography in which it is held, there will be signs fashioned out of posterboard and glitter. We’re here. We’re queer. Glitter is everywhere.

It goes without saying Lady Gaga – a flesh and blood Madonna / Marilyn Manson mashup – embodies a substantial piece of the gender/sexuality cause. A brief discussion with the aforementioned Mr. Cyr led to his drawing of this conclusion: If you’re a teenager and you attend a rally to see Gaga and not necessarily “the cause,” it doesn’t matter. She is the cause, which is to suggest that whether or not kids are well versed in equality issues and legislation – and a lot of those who were present were – doesn’t particularly matter. The fact that kids are idolizing a queer icon who has baked into her popularity a queer aesthetic is itself powerful.

So just remember, the next time you hope to “ra ra roma ma ma” for the cause little monsters (shudder), take off your clothes, put on your glitter, and consider impressing your friends by learning the National Anthem (“Wow. You memorized all of that?”). Queer the system by demanding your prime rib with a undeniable fabulousness, and – should he be present – admire Terry Richardson from afar, for safety’s sake.

Alex Steed is a teacher, activist, consultant, and an unabashed pop culture junkie. He can be reached on Twitter @AlexSteed and by email

Friday, September 17th, 2010, 1:21 pm

Local music finds new home at Portland Public Library

Justin Hoenke
Borrow Local? Now you can get local music at the Portland Public Library

“Have you listened to my band’s new CD yet?” your friend asks you for the umpteenth time. Why no, you respond. You simply haven’t had the time nor money allocated for such delicacies. Considering your ever-expanding Kenny Loggins collection it might be a lame excuse, but an excuse nevertheless.

Within the next month your excuse may no longer be valid. The Main Branch of the Portland Public Library is adding a collection of approximately 100 CDs from bands around Maine. The collection mainly features more recent bands to the scene including Marie Stella, Marion Grace, Gypsy Tailwind, and Honey Clouds, but there are also older staples to the scene: Rustic Overtones, Twisted Roots, and Covered in Bees among others.

The one thing that might strike people a little strange, at least the local music hipsters, is the local music collection will be stored in the teen section, right next to young adult novels. The reason? This initiative is being set by the library’s teen librarian, Justin Hoenke, the same guy who brought video games to the library and helped create the new teen section.

While Hoenke may not be a native to Maine, he says he has always tried to be supportive of the local music scene wherever he lived. When he moved to Maine, he was inspired by the sense of community in the area.

“Everyone’s trying to help each other out,” Hoenke said. “I’m not used to this.”

It was when Hoenke received a $10,000 grant for the teen section’s opening day collections that he was finally able to put his ideas into action. The only problem was that Hoenke was a stranger to the local music scene.

Luckily for him though, new friend and library clerk Kurt Baker is more than familiar with the music scene; in fact, he’s a major contributor. From rocking the mic for the world-touring Leftovers to his own solo efforts and DJ sets at SPACE and Empire, Baker has more than a working knowledge of the music scene.

So with a fraction of the grant money, Hoenke entrusted Baker to call the shots. “Go wild,” Hoenke told him. And so he did.

Baker said he chose to get all of his music at Bull Moose, because they have the best selection of local music, and the consignment deals for the bands “are really great.”

“Not only will the titles be available for free at the library,” Baker said. “But by buying the records through Bull Moose, I knew that each artist would be getting paid.”

And Baker used a simple criteria for the CDs he collected: For the most part he looked for bands that were actively playing and releasing records.

“Whether it be a group that I’m friends with, or even a death metal or hip-hop group that I’ve seen fliers for around town, chances are [...] they are most likely going to be included in the new collection,” Baker said.

But this didn’t stop him from getting some oldies.

“Having grown up listening to local bands in town, they had a huge influence on me and my friends,” Baker said about the older bands, some of them defunct. “And if it weren’t for those older bands, none of us would have gone on to start our own bands.”

While Baker was able to score some oldies-but-goodies like albums from Eggbot and Harpswell Sound, there are a few out-of-print albums that would only be attainable from the bands themselves. He said that it would be a matter of the library reaching out to them, but it “would be a great thing to do in terms of archiving the local history of music in the town.”

Since the local music collection will be found in the teen section, this may be a unique opportunity to bridge the gap between teens and local bands.

In fact, Hoenke is open to booking local acts for teen concerts in the library’s Rines Auditorium. He said bands should contact him via phone ( 207-871-1700 ext. 772) or e-mail ( for more information, and while they may be dubbed as “teen concerts,” he says that he’d “be happy to let all ages in at first.”

And just because the local music will be stored in the teen section, it doesn’t mean adults are forbidden to lend them out.

“I think some adults may be scared away at first, but I try to send out the message that while this is the teen library, everyone is really welcome here,” Hoenke said. “The library is for the community.”

Dylan Martin is a Media Studies student at USM and a staff writer for The Free Press. He also writes a blog on called Geek Street.

Friday, September 10th, 2010, 11:36 am

Fresh food and perspectives at Portland’s Farmer’s Market

John Gjika | Maine Observer
At the Monument Square Farmer's Market you learn the stories behind the food

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John Gjika | Maine Observer
Mary Ellen Chadd of Green Spark Farm knows her customers as well as what she grows

Every Wednesday as the summer sun rises over Monument Square, dozens of independent Maine growers unload their vehicles and set up stalls to sell local products: fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, cheese, bread, honey and flowers. They are here for the farmers market that transforms Portland beginning at 7 a.m. every week from May through November.

Located directly across from the Portland Public Library and surrounded by the high-standing buildings of corporate offices, the market is hard to miss. You know you’ve entered it when you see the reusable shopping bags decorated with cheerful images of trees and animals. Stamped messages like “I am a plastic bottle” or “I am earth-wise” gloss over the underlying goal of buying and grown locally: to personally meet your food’s producer and to pollute less.

On a recent trip I wanted to discover why the food sold here is more expensive than our standardized, homogeneous grocery stores, and what consumers or producers can do to make those prices comparable.

Upon meeting Mary Ellen Chadd of Green Spark Farm in Cape Elizabeth, my misconception was immediately challenged. Though we meet in the last hour of the market, Mary Ellen is warmhearted, friendly and energetic. I ask what makes the prices at the market so expensive.

“Are prices actually expensive?” she counters with a smile. She points to her $4 cauliflower and asks me to compare it with what’s offered at Hannaford. Shaking her head, she suggests that high prices are one of the biggest misconceptions shoppers have about products sold at the farmers market.

She points to her cauliflower and begins telling me the journey its taken to finally arrive at the Green Spark stand in Monument Square. The seeding process began in April, which was followed by fertilizing, two hours of planting, six hours of weeding, and the application of pest-control, which then breaks down in two to four hours — much quicker than the one used in conventional farming, Mary Ellen points out. She tells me that independent farming takes time, and the costs include purchasing farming infrastructure, but more importantly, labor. At the moment Mary Ellen employs only one worker twice a week. But if she needs to extend her production due to increased demand, she could hire more employees to work longer hours.

While we talk Mary Ellen is interrupted several times, as customers ask questions like what variety is the salad mix and how to cook the chard. She calls her customers by their names, gives cooking tips and even compliments their outfits.

Ultimately, this is the true genius behind buying local products. Customers can meet the producers of their food, learn about their work ethic and ask cooking questions. Mary Ellen’s face lights up when she begins talking about the personal exchanges and learning experiences that come from buying from the local farmer’s market. She wants customers to be able to approach her, ask questions and really help themselves by taking a more active approach to the food they buy.

In this way the farmers market is a more customized and personal shopping experience, not the place to learn the nutritional value of food by reading the print on the back of a box.

Meeting the hopeful, hard-working farmers here caused me to reminisce about some of my own childhood memories from growing up in Albania. Though a relatively poor country, every Albanian city had something that many American cities lack: a community-based exchange of local food. Growing up, I was able to buy grapes at the farmer’s market from Monday to Sunday, 6 a.m. until 6 p.m. I knew what produce was in season, I always joked with the “Lemon Lady,” and I loved the oranges that the lady sold at the end of the street. That’s the true value of your local farmers: they’re people – not boxes, not machines. Buying local food requires effort and planning, but heck, the fresh blueberries are so worth it.

John Gjika is a writer studying economics in Portland. He can be found on Twitter as @MrJohnG.

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010, 6:45 pm

Pinball fever? Here’s where to catch it in Southern Maine

Kevin Brooks | Maine Observer
Devoted to pinball? Then you need to know where to go?

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Kevin Brooks | Maine Observer
Steve Grimmel is one of many pinball lovers familiar with The Skybox Bar & Grille

I’ve been infected with a rare disease known as Pinball-alaria-itis. Symptoms are listed as playing pinball constantly and having fun. Some of the infected have even been known to ignore all other types of games completely, only focusing on pinball. People are generally introduced to a machine containing the virus from those who are already infected. The state of Maine has issued a health warning at several locations, which I decided to visit to document the growth of this disease further.

The Fun Box Monster Emporium, Geno’s and Pizza Villa

There are three places, within walking distance of each other, in Portland that have pinball machines available. Pizza Villa and Geno’s each have one machine, while The Fun Box Monster Emporium has two. Out of of the four machines, there’s really only three different types because Pizza Villa and The Fun Box each have a Monster Bash game. Which is good. Since that game is so awesome, there’s room enough for two. The Fun Box also features an Earth-shaker machine, which shakes during multi-balls. It’s a personal favorite of mine. Geno’s has an Indiana Jones machine that combines all of the movies, including the Crystal Skull. Keep in mind that does mean that Shia LeBouf is in this game. While that is devastating news, it does have an eight ball multi-ball which balances the scales. Each location is welcoming to players, though The Fun Box was the most comfortable in which to play. I was able to strike up conversations at each location with other people infected with the virus. VERDICT: The rate of infection is high at all three locations.

The Twilight Zone

The Twilight Zone arcade (or as their marquee says “Twili ht Zone”) in South Portland has only one pinball machine. They’ve got an Indiana Jones machine as well, but it’s not nearly as fun as the machine at Geno’s. But there is no Shia LeBouf in this one. I understand that can be a deal breaker for some of you. The machine is decent, but the environment is uninviting, almost sterile. It was the opposite of what I felt when playing in-town Portland. It does explain the handful of apathetic teens hanging out there though.
This place has the lowest success rate of transmitting the virus.

Palace Playland

The arcade at Palace Playland in Old Orchard Beach had a sizable collection in the back. You won’t see these from the street. You need to navigate past the kids snacking on fried dough while playing DDR (which seems counter productive) to get to them. They have five machines available, including Lord of the Rings, Shrek, The Simpsons, Funhouse, and Star Trek: The Next Generation. The Star Trek and Funhouse machines were broken, so no viruses there. Out of the remaining three, Shrek was easily the most fun. The Simpsons and LOTR machines were decent, but left me feeling abused by their difficulty. Wait, I liked Shrek, but I didn’t like The Simpsons? What type of bizarro world did I enter here? Despite this pop culture paradox, I really enjoyed the atmosphere of the arcade. The only drawback is that this location is only open during the summer. VERDICT: The infection rate for the virus is high when the arcade is open.

The Skybox Bar & Grille

The next stop was in Westbrook, at the Skybox Bar & Grille. When I drove up to this place, I noticed it violated a rule I have about bars: Don’t enter a bar that has almost no windows (i.e. Rockin’ Ricky’s Tavern). This wasn’t about me though; this was about cataloging a virus. I went in. They have six machines available at this location: Elvira, Tales from the Crypt, Whirlpool, Elvis, Johnny Mnemonic, and a Terminator 3 machine. The only three that were working were the T3, Elvis and Johnny Mnemonic machines. This was a disappointment, as Elvira and T.F.T.C. looked awesome. The Elvis machine was a lot of fun, and the T3 and J.M. machines were easily better than the movies they are licensed from. The environment is dicey, but thankfully the classic rock cover band made things more comfortable. Pinball just isn’t pinball if you don’t hear someone singing “Turn the Page” by Bob Seger. Once you settle in, the place starts to feel welcoming. They also host a pinball tournament every Tuesday at 7 p.m. for three bucks. VERDICT: This place spreads the virus like warm butter on a biscuit.

Pin Maine-ia

The last stop is where, I believe, the virus was cultivated. The Pin Maine-ia tournament in Gorham. This is an annual pinball tournament arranged by John Reuter. It’s located at his house and currently features 104 machines available for play over three days for an entry fee. Reuter also rents out these machines to local businesses. The level of competition at Pin Maine-ia is fierce. These pinball players made me look like I had no motor functions. In other words, it gets real, real fast. The amount of free play you receive with admission is enough to infect anyone with the virus. The environment is crazy, and you end up learning so much from the more seasoned players. It’s really a great deal and an amazing experience.
The chances of contracting the virus at this location are currently at 100%.

Overall, Maine has several locations that are capable of spreading the virus at an alarming rate. Those who are opposed to fun and being social should avoid these situations at all cost. Visiting these locations may also result in you making new friends via a new-found common interest. The state of Maine urges you all to proceed with caution.

Chad Pennell has been a Portland native for the past ten years, and plans on never leaving. He is a student at Southern Maine Community College in the New Media program, specializing in digital imaging. He also writes a comic book opinion blog for Portland-based comic shop Coast City Comics. You can follow him on Twitter @Chadventure.

Friday, August 27th, 2010, 2:28 pm

Biking, courtesy and applied physics on Portland’s roads

See a bicyclist on the road? May be best to stay quiet.

I’m not much of a conversationalist, but even I know better than to try and start one while traveling twice the speed of my intended conversant.

As I vaguely recall from high school physics, something happens when velocity meets frequency with the end result of sound waves being stretched and smooshed as an object making noise passes by. It’s called the Doppler Shift and it explains why so many of my daily on-bike conversations sound like someone shouting “HEYWHARRRNNNDDERRRGRPH!”

If I manage a translation it often turns out they are yelling something about a bike lane, and how I should be in it. And by “bike lane” they usually mean “shoulder.” But along with making them sound funny, my slower speed offers me a different visual perspective — while they see a black blur I see a lane full of gravel, branches, roadkill, broken pavement, glass and other surprising objects. Once, a live turkey. Recently, an office chair. These were on the same road. Maybe the turkey is setting up shop.

There’s yet another perspective shift to consider. Drivers turning from side streets don’t expect anything faster than a pedestrian to be traveling in the shoulder. I don’t like surprising drivers. It tends to lead to things like me flying over my handlebars as they turn out in front of something moving much more quickly than they expected.

Thus, I find it’s a lot safer for myself and drivers (and turkeys) if I avoid the shoulder entirely. Maine law agrees with me here, and states that shoulder use is completely optional. In fact use of actual bike lanes, where they exist, is optional as well. This is fortunate as bike lanes are often full of the same debris you’ll find in the shoulders, or in a direct line of fire of parked cars opening their doors. Rather than play “guess if someone is in that car about to door you,” I prefer to keep my eyes on the road ahead for the safest possible ride.

With over 10,000 crash-free miles of biking around Portland, this strategy is working well. Most drivers don’t have a problem with it either. Sure, there are a handful who feel compelled to shout something as they pass me. But thanks to Doppler I don’t really have to listen to them.

Mike Popovic rides his bike in and around Portland every day just so he can eat more doughnuts. Contact him via or on AIM: mik3pop

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010, 11:18 am

Five unique finds at Picnic Portland 2010

Bryan Bruchman | Maine Observer
Sure you can find T-shirts at Picnic. But what about capes, BBQ and mustaches?

It’s the tail end of summer and around Portland that typically means a few things: Tourists are starting to depart, somewhere the smooth sounds of Michael McDonald can be heard at Yacht Rock, and Picnic is just around the corner.

This is the third year the Picnic Music + Arts Festival is taking place, and they promise over 100 different crafters and artists will be pushing the kind of goods you can’t find elsewhere.

Of course the festival on Aug. 28 in Lincoln Park also promises treats (the kind you eat, courtesy of Verbena Cafe) and music, including Foam Castles, if and it, aLEX kEATON, Wood Burning Cat and more.

But what should you expect from this year’s festival? We all know there will be plenty of paintings and prints as well as a wealth of T-shirts and handmade jewelry. But what else? Let’s take a look at five unique things you’ll find at this year’s Picnic:

1.) Skinny Cart BBQ

Have you met Ron Gan? Have you heard about what he does with meat? Bad jokes aside, the man and his cart have been turning heads, winning stomachs and getting a lot of attention this summer. The Skinny Cart BBQ is something of a mythical figure, partially because you never can expect where to find it. Days it may be on India Street or Congress Street, at night it’s wherever the hungry drunks are. The other reason for the Cart’s mystique is the delicious, but simple offerings, which include pork sandwiches and meat-related “bongs.” Ron, the cart and the meat will be at Picnic. Prepare yourself.

2.) Phantom Buffalo

Arguably one of Portland’s most loved bands, if not one that has been together the longest, Phantom Buffalo will be playing the outdoor stage at Picnic. Yes, they’re on the bill with a number of other bands, but this month Phantom Buffalo released it’s newest album, A Cement Postcard with Owl Colors. So let’s recap: Phantom Buffalo, outdoors, new music. Sound good?

3.) Pillows and plushies

We can all say we want to grow up, but truly, how many of us are buying things like toys, action figures or plush beasts for “our nieces and nephews?” Face up to it, you’re buying (at least some of it) for yourself. And that’s OK. Because you want a Yeti Foot Throw Pillow. Why? Because it’s fuzzy, huggable, menacing and really ties the room together.

And if Yetis aren’t your thing, maybe plush mustaches are. Yes, a plush mustache, from the people at Fuzzy Inc. So much softer and approachable than your regular mustache.

4.) Capes, wizard hats, brain slugs and Burt Reynolds

Crafters and artists have a sense of humor and seem to know there audience well. So yes, if you are in need of a cape, for your LARPing, costume parties or… worse, you can get that and a wizard’s hat at Picnic. If the wizard’s hat is too pretentious, there’s always the brain slug cap, which is cute, but also practical in case the brain slug invasion actually happens. And if you need to send a note to someone after an evening cape stroll, or for the gift of a brain slug hat, you can say thanks the Burt Reynolds way. Or at least with letterpressed Burt Reynolds Thank You notes.

5. Hippie stink in soap form.

This is a real thing: Hippie Stink Vegan Cold Process Soap. It comes from the folks at Long Winter Farm, and they promise “This soap reeks of hippie goodness!”

Justin Ellis is the editor of The Signal.

Thursday, August 19th, 2010, 2:59 pm

Portland’s five architectural wonders that could disappear next

Bryan Bruchman | Maine Observer
Is Franklin Towers a "fine example of Soviet Sentimental architecture" worth saving?

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Bryan Bruchman | Maine Observer
Is the fate of this beloved "disco-era behemoth" up in the air?

Historically-minded Portlanders often wax nostalgic about the city’s lost architectural heritage – specifically buildings and neighborhoods that were victims of mid-20th century urban renewal. The late Union Station on St. John Street is the poster child for this list of lost gems, which also includes the Grand Trunk depot on India Street, the Falmouth Hotel on the corner of Middle and Temple Streets, the old classically columned post office, and the neighborhoods that were razed to make way for the Franklin Arterial and I-295.

The strip malls, office towers, and parking garages that arose in place of these stately structures and tight-knit communities are subpar replacements indeed. Surely Portland would be better off if all the urban renewal era architecture was replaced with something just a little less ugly?

I’d be careful with that wrecking ball. Just because this generation might not care for the aesthetics of 60’s and 70’s architecture doesn’t make buildings of that vintage irredeemable. Previous generations had similar attitudes about buildings of Victorian and Art Deco vintage and one doesn’t need to be a Mad Men fan to notice the recent craze for Mid Century Modern style. Even buildings that outlive their function can be repurposed into something new – witness the swank condos that have breathed new life into many a dead mill. With that in mind, I offer up the following post-war Portland landmarks as places that could use a little more love in case they need saving in the years and decades to come.

1.) The Cumberland County Civic Center

The civic center may be only 33 years old, but according to some it is already obsolete. While both the Libra Foundation and CBRE/The Boulos Company have offered to build a shinier new civic center only to be shot down, the chorus of voices calling for something to be done about its shortcomings won’t die down. In 2008, Janet Marie Smith – the architect responsible for the renovations of Fenway Park and Camden Yards – developed a plan to give the civic center a similar makeover. Last year the Civic Center Joint Task Force invited the consulting firm Brailsford and Dunlavey to look into the economic feasibility of a face lift for the building. The debate continued this summer when the Portland Press Herald reported that Jason Snyder – the developer behind the proposed Stroudwater Place shopping center in Westbrook – announced his interest in building a sports and entertainment arena next to his as yet non-existent shopping plaza. Because part of Snyder’s vision includes luring the Portland Pirates to this new arena, the vacated civic center would be ripe for conversion (by Snyder) into a proper convention center. In short, the future of this disco-era behemoth is currently up in the air. If the renovationist camp comes out on top, the building can expect a new lease on life. However, if the apologists for an entirely new facility prevail, keeping the Cumberland County Civic Center from joining Union Station and the Falmouth Hotel in landmark heaven may be a tall order.

2.) The Maine Mall

Dead malls are becoming such a familiar part of the American landscape that there is a website devoted to them. Will the proprietors of that site ever find a reason to eulogize the Maine Mall? A year ago that appeared to be a distinct possibility when General Growth Properties, the mall’s parent company, filed for bankruptcy. The mall was already reeling from the loss of tenants like Filene’s, to say nothing of the host of smaller tenants that are no more. If this death spiral continues, will the mall become an epicenter of suburban blight, or will it’s vacant shell share the happy fate of refurbished New England mills and be adapted to new uses, such as mall farming?
Such a fate for the Maine Mall would be a sort of full-circle journey, considering the land on which it sits was once Dwyer’s pig farm.

3.) The Wyman power plant in Yarmouth

Kicking the fossil fuel habit is not proving to be an easy task for our civilization. Addictions are rough beasts and the threat of an overdose remains uncomfortably real. But let us suppose for a moment we do wean ourselves off of the corpses of dead dinosaurs. Places like the the Wyman plant will be decoupled from the power grid, letting tidal, wind, or solar power do the hard work of running our air conditioners, fueling our meat vats, and charging our cochlear phone implants. A major cleanup will be called for to undo decades of contamination and the temptation to knock everything down in the process will be great. That would be a pity because it has the potential to be one majestic ruin. What they lack in usefulness, ruins make up for in mystique and fun. Peaks Island’s annual Sacred and Profane art installation is creepy and awesome because the organizers set it up inside the crumbling shell of Fort Battery Steel. Just think of what strange rituals might take place in the ruins of the old Wyman plant.

4.) The Maine Medical Center Parking Garage

If the citizens of Portland are ever moderately successful in weaning themselves away from automobile dependence – say through mass transit or car sharing – the need for so many parking garages will abate. Repurposing them into new uses presents a unique challenge due to much of the floor being sloping ramps. If I was an ambitious gallery owner I’d buy one for a song and turn it into a home for funky art installations. Other than that, I don’t see much of a future for the parking garage if automobiles do somehow become less ubiquitous. Frankly, it won’t be much of a loss if they go the way of tanning yards and garbage dumps. Even so, I would miss Maine Medical Center’s parking garage at the corner of Congress and Gilman Streets – not the new one but the slightly older simple concrete structure that reminds me of a ziggurat, only not shaped like a pyramid. Without the automobile it would be utterly useless. I don’t care – it looks cool and I hope future generations have a chance to enjoy or be puzzled by it.

5.) Franklin Towers

This massive residential block next to Franklin Arterial conjures up images of soul crushing housing projects like Chicago’s Cabrini Green or St. Louis’s Pruit Igoe. (Christian MilNeil, a local advocate for livable cities and well known figure in the Portland blogosphere, once described it as “a fine example of Soviet Sentimental architecture.”) Love for residential superblock’s like Franklin Towers is hard to come by. Then again, the same was once said of working class neighborhoods like the one replaced by this slabby tower. Aesthetic incorrectness should not condemn a building to rubble just because poor people live there. MilNeil, despite his jab at the tower a few years ago, wholeheartedly agrees:

“Yeah, we can’t tear down Franklin Towers – even if most people think it’s ugly, it’s also home to hundreds of people who have the ability to walk to work and errands. Besides, I don’t even think it’s that ugly – it’s certainly no worse than the Portland Harbor Hotel down on Fore Street, or the Holiday Inn, or any of the city’s high-rise parking garages.”

The Franklin Towers neighborhood may very well undergo radical and welcome changes in the near future if plans to rebuild it’s namesake arterial go through. Even so, the Tower itself is not in any real danger of meeting the same fate as the neighborhood it replaced. No need to panic. Yet.

After all, it’s worth remembering that the neighborhoods razed to make way for Franklin Towers and Franklin Arterial were secure in their existence in 1950, but gone by 1970. Let’s hope the whims of aesthetic correctness don’t doom Portland’s finest example of “Soviet Sentimental” architecture to a similar fate.

Patrick Banks is a Portland-based writer who sees the past and future in Portland's present.

Monday, August 16th, 2010, 6:44 pm

KahBanged: OK Go and B.o.B wrap a big second year for KahBang Festival

KahBang photo pool | Courtesy photo
B.o.B. brought down the house to end the KahBang Festival's sophomore year

Walking home early in the morning in downtown Bangor is usually a quiet experience, save perhaps for the occasional drunk or fire truck racing down Main Street.

This past Sunday morning was different as people were still roaming the streets long after the bars and clubs had closed down around West Market Square, still buzzing about what had finished only hours earlier. Bands chatted with each other and their fans, recapping their different Saturday night experiences, and all commenting on the event that had brought them together: the second annual KahBang Music & Art Festival. This year’s event was a completely different beast from the previous year’s concert on the Bangor Waterfront and outdid the first version in every conceivable way.

Saturday afternoon kicked off the second main day of music programming and by the time the night had finished almost 6,000 fans had come through the gates, not only to catch headliners OK Go, and Atlanta hip-hop artist B.o.B., but also groups from New York, Boston, and even Bangor. It was evident, even from the first set I caught from Brooklyn-based The Yes Way, that the crowd was almost double the size of the previous afternoon. Other rock performances from The Aviation Orange and The Holy Boys Danger Club were solid, but the bands didn’t really stand out from each other.

That all changed when Boston quartet Bad Rabbits hit the stage to start off the final night. Their energy-fueled funk had the crowd excited, and their great dance moves just ratcheted the energy up a notch further. Their set was followed by the aptly named Philadelphia band Free Energy, whose dance-infused rock and great stage presence had the crowd really ready for what most of the attendees had likely shown up for – OK Go and B.o.B.

OK Go showed that they’re more than a group that makes great videos, as they did everything from playing a song accompanied by a choir of church handbells, to a hilarious impromptu staging of a scene from the musical “Les Miserables.” Their musicianship was solid, and while their songs could be considered derivative by any serious music critic, they’re a band who knows their audience. And they didn’t disappoint, with tightly arranged pop-rock that had the crowd dancing and singing along with each number.

While being a performer during the “KahBang @ Night” portion of the festival was a wonderful and unique experience, it forced me to miss headliner B.o.B., as I left to set-up for my own DJ set as he took the stage. The shouts of “B-O-B! B-O-B!” filled the air as I headed away from the festival. From all accounts, his performance was nothing short of amazing, blending genres and featuring a very talented backing band.

After the festival itself had ended, the evening continued, with four different after-parties for packed crowds throughout Bangor, featuring the hip-hop of Akrobatik, local band the BarSTuARDS, the fourth set in three days from Louisville band, Cabin, and my DJ set, each at a different venue.

This year’s festival was a giant leap forward from the one day concert organizers put together last year. For those music fans in Bangor whose taste doesn’t fall in the country or classic rock genres, seeing a live act almost always means driving to Portland or Boston to catch a show. The younger crowd who gathered over the course of the last week and a half from all over Maine hopefully showed that a festival like this is not only viable, but something that the Bangor community needs to have happen.

The unique blend of local, regional, and national acts also set KahBang apart from other music and art festivals around the country by giving exposure to more unknown local artists in a setting where they were sharing space with larger, more famous acts. While Bangor has a live music scene of its own, the sheer number of acts and larger audience – due to the festival’s promotion – combined with the work of club owners, set apart these shows from “the norm.”

KahBang wasn’t just about music this time around though. For the first time they introduced a film festival, and, true to their overall mission, did a great job of balancing films from local and national filmmakers.

Maine films (full-length features, documentaries and shorts) were shown throughout the week, and Film Festival director Josh Winery and KahBang Creative Director Joshua Gass did a great job of highlighting those films. No matter the size or budget, films were given equal attention, putting smaller works alongside films that had already received exposure at nationally renowned festivals like Sundance and the AFI-Discovery Channel Silverdocs Documentary Festival.

The biggest offerings of the film portion of the festival were two films that couldn’t have been more stylistically different. “The Red Riding Trilogy” (See our review from earlier in the week), was a disturbing and powerful drama presented by British television station Channel Four. Later in the week another audience crowded into the Bangor Opera House to see “Blood Into Wine,” a so-called “comedic documentary” about Tool/Perfect Circle frontman Maynard James Keenan and his foray into winemaking. The documentary also featured comedy stars such as Patton Oswalt, Bob Odenkirk and the duo of Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim (“Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!”) providing laughs as Keenan played the role of straight man. The film was followed by a wine tasting of Keenan’s wines courtesy of the Bangor Wine and Cheese Shop.

By all accounts the festival was a success, and all indications point to the possibility of KahBang 2011 being closer to a reality than a pipe dream. Total attendance figures for all of the events aren’t available yet, but suffice to say, the final day of the festival drew a crowd just slightly smaller than the Lynyrd Skynyrd show held at the same venue only weeks earlier.

The KahBang organizers showed it’s possible to bring a focused, well-programed, independent festival to northern Maine (as well as music, film and art fans). The only question now is, can they top themselves next summer?

Thom Cosgrove is a musician, writer, DJ, beer and wine enthusiast, foodie, and video game junkie living in Bangor, Maine. In his spare time he's the IT Director and teacher at a local school. He loves sunsets, long walks on the beach, tacos, and is a closet Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan.