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Arts, entertainment and culture in Maine.
Tuesday, July 27th, 2010, 3:47 pm

Making Nice Friends with a young independent record label

Courtesy photo
Jordan Stowell, at right, and Cam Jones are In The Audience

In a city where all-ages concerts have fallen out of frequency, making it as a young band in Portland can be a tough endeavor. There’s this strange age gap where some musicians are too old to get help from youth organizations like the Maine Academy of Modern Music, but not old enough to usher in the majority of fans at local Portland clubs because of age restrictions. And it’s considerably more difficult in the Portland music scene where connections can mean everything.

This is what Jordan Stowell, 20, says he’s up against as he operates his own record label, Nice Friends, and fronts the indie-pop band In The Audience.

Originally started as a side-project in 2008, In The Audience struggled to find permanent members until Stowell was recommended to Cam Jones as a drummer in the summer of 2009. “It didn’t really click that much at first — and Cam went away for a few weeks — but I didn’t really have many prospects and Cam seemed pretty skilled, so we gave it a shot again when he came home,” Stowell said in an e-mail interview.

After self-recording an EP and seeing some radio play on local stations, they decided to record another EP — this time in a professional studio. It started with a single called “Shine,” and right after the recording session they received an e-mail that changed everything. It was from a record label in Japan called MOORWORKS that wanted to release In The Audience’s first full-length album. Suddenly Stowell had funding and distribution for an album from the other side of the planet, but that meant he needed a way to bring the album to the States.

At the same time, an online contact of Stowell’s, Sonia Sturino, was trying to find a more legitimate way to promote and release her own music (under the name The Box Tiger) in Toronto. Stowell discovered Sturino’s music online and wanted to see if she could perform backing vocals on some of his songs. But from there, a greater musical relationship developed. It was this mutual desire to market and produce music that led Stowell to pitch the idea of running a record label together. It wouldn’t be anything complex, but it would be a means to helping each other out, along with other musicians in the future. Sturino agreed to the idea, and they set up shop as Nice Friends in December 2009.

As a record label, they began working on various releases including the forthcoming In The Audience album, the debut Box Tiger EP, an EP by Cam Jones, and a small Nice Friends compilation. The label didn’t have any funding besides the advance from MOORWORKS, so most of the money was coming out-of-pocket and from various shows the bands have played. Since the label is still in its infancy, they have yet to see any big results, but Stowell has been happy with progress so far.

“The releases we’ve done so far have been free digital releases for the most part,” Stowell said, citing “Drum Keys & Cymbal Trees” by Jones. “We’ve done these with little [to] no advertising and we’ve been pleased with everything so far.”

In addition to the recording projects, Nice Friends has been working on small marketing campaigns to increase the visibility of their artists. This includes more than just plastering the town with posters for upcoming shows. In The Audience played at a Maine Red Claws game to celebrate their first single, and a few months later they played on FOX 23′s Good Day Maine to promote an upcoming show with Canadian buzz band Land of Talk. “Doing things that are a little bit unusual can help spread the new and expose the band to audiences that might not normally attend a show,” Stowell said.

But despite the marketing and recording efforts being pushed by the label, Stowell feels that Maine’s music climate can be rather exclusive and hard to penetrate. “I started the label with no connections and it’s taking a long time to finally start making some,” Stowell said. “ A lot of people don’t care about what you’re doing and what you’ve done.”

He also envies other local bands that get larger opportunities, but never properly capitalize on them. “For young artists and people who really are trying to advance themselves and take becoming a professional musician very seriously, it’s endlessly frustrating. It’d be nice to see the big opportunities go to people who are looking to go beyond Maine and make a name for the state,” Stowell said. “It may sound very petty or obnoxious, but I feel it’s a very real issue.”

Notwithstanding Stowell’s pessimism about the local music scene, he has already accomplished a great deal as a 20-year-old musician and entrepreneur. With In The Audience’s debut album coming out in August and a set at the upcoming KahBang Music Festival in Bangor, Nice Friends might see some greater opportunities coming their way. After all, this is only the beginning.

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.

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, July 23rd, 2010, 3:44 pm

Hadlock Love, or an Ode to the Sea Dogs

Justin Ellis | Maine Observer
Hadlock Field, home of good baseball and a walking harbor seal

It started like any other baseball game would on a beautiful summer afternoon. The crowd hurriedly piled into their seats with various drinks and snacks, the national anthem was sung, and “play ball” was shouted by a local youngster.

While it’s a traditional opening, I felt the intangible magic of baseball more at Hadlock Field than I would at a major league park. It’s everything that is right, possibly forgotten, about baseball.

The Sea Dogs took the field and prepared for the bats of the Harrisburg Senators. My brother and I tried to figure out where Harrisburg is while the Dogs pitcher shakily delivered the first few pitches. As a pop fly is caught by our center fielder, a stranger sitting a row ahead informs us that it’s in Pennsylvania. A few friends are made in the top half of the opening inning, as the Sea Dogs managed to get out of an early jam.

Then the Dogs came up to bat. The first couple of pitches from our Pennsylvanian foes resulted in a home run from Nate Spears! The crowd erupted as the ball sailed over the wall, causing a smoke-emitting lighthouse to emerge from center field. I screamed “Sea Dogs and then you don’t!” as Spears rounded the bases. Please, feel free to use that line if you want.

The end of the first inning signaled the arrival of everyone’s favorite walking harbor creature, Slugger the Sea Dog. As far as mascots go, I feel like Slugger does a lot of work. He dances, walks through the crowd, rides on the back of a car, and races a child around the bases every game. Slugger does a great job of getting the fans, especially kids, involved in the game.

The game continued and the Sea Dogs started to fall behind the Senators. The crowd didn’t turn though, we were kept in good spirits by the love of our team and the mini-games played between innings. They ranged from a hot dog catching contest to musical chairs. The crowd cheered heavily for the contestants, especially during musical chairs.

My brother took notice of the bat boy. The kid was bat-collecting poetry in motion. We cheered him on as he flawlessly returned the bats. The bar has been set high for future bat boys, to say the least. I hope the scouts took notice.

Six innings in and it didn’t look good for the Dogs. I surveyed the crowd to see what their reaction was. I saw strangers talking, families laughing together, and a young man selling Sea Dogs biscuits. I witnessed the birth of a small community that was founded on the love of baseball. It was a sight that warmed my heart.

With an inning left, and the Dogs down, my brother yelled to Slugger as he was walking by. He told him to get out there and fix the situation. Slugger looked at him and merely shrugged his shoulders. I can see his point, I guess. He already did the YMCA, what else can a giant walking harbor seal do?

The final out is called, our hopes crushed. The Dogs lose this game 4-8. We say goodbye to our new friends and began to exit the field. While talking near the entrance, I noticed a young man in a Sea Dogs uniform. It was the bat boy! I yelled to him and signaled for a high five. Naturally, he did not leave me hanging. My family started cheering for him, and everyone else leaving followed suit.

That’s right, an ovation for a bat boy.

The smile on that kids face summed the game up perfectly. There is nothing better than a Sea Dogs game.

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.

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.

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010, 10:06 am

Sweet (local) music on the Maine Radio Project

Courtesy image | The Maine Radio Project
Radio Free Maine?

The people behind the fledgling (or soon to be fledgling) Maine Radio Project are sure hoping radio has a future as a medium.

Or, at least radio done right. Because in a world where music fans can discover new bands through Pandora, catch music videos on YouTube or grab single tracks from iTunes, radio could certainly be an afterthought.

Consider this: When was the last time you listened to the radio?

Maybe radio done right can change that.

“I don’t think it was ever conceived as a specific counter to commercial radio,” Jessica Lipton told the Signal over e-mail. “There was a noticeable gap between what is heard on the radio versus the music being heard in the venues around town. This station was conceived to fill that gap.”

Lipton, artistic director of the Sylvia Kania Gallery, is at the core of a small group of musicians and artists launching the Maine Radio Project this fall. As conceived the Maine Radio Project would be online radio, with music and other programming all from locals.

It’s grass roots, so much so that the project had an open house at Bayside Bowl on July 18 to help round up music. Artists were invited to come by to learn more about the project as well as offer up their services or their music.

Ideally once the project stocks up on music and allies they can begin programming a station, one that would feature your local favorites like Zack Jones, Confusatron, Phantom Buffalo, Lady Lamb the Beekeeper and more.

But Lipton said they want to go beyond the “just press play” mentality of radio and have unique shows and programs that highlight poets and playwrights as much as musicians. Lipton said she’s also open to collaborating with other groups, such as the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies.

“This station is envisioned with free form programming that allows for gallery reports, artist talks, philosophical debates, and any other kind of programming in between,” she said.

The idea for the project sprung like so many do around Maine, through observations, a few conversations and e-mails. The Maine Radio Project soon grew to encompass Lipton and others like Will Ethridge of Eternal Otter Records, Marc and Gina Bartholomew of Acadia Recording and musicians like Jay Basiner of the band This Way.

Maine is not without other independent (and online) radio outlets, including WMPG,  based out of the University of Southern Maine in Portland, WRBC at Bates College in Lewiston, Milled Pavement Radio and WERU in Blue Hill.

But Basiner said it’s the reach and reliability — to play local music — that will make the Maine Radio Project different.

As an independent, online station, the project would be beholden to no one but artists and listeners, he said.
Looking big picture, Basiner said the benefit of an Internet radio station is that it would give bands an international reach outside of Maine.

Of course the biggest hurdle the project faces is getting people to find them and listen.

“It’s gonna take a bit of retraining people to tune into a broadcast rather than shuffle through their iPods,” Basiner said.

Even though there are more options to discover music than ever, just being heard remains one of the most important things for bands, Lipton said. And with people being more careful how they spend their music dollars, offering a free way to hear bands is critical, she said.

In the short term the Maine Radio Project will tape some programs at Acadia Studios (also home to the recently launched Acadia Sessions) while they look for a permanent space. At the moment they’re still on the hunt for more local music as well as pitches for show ideas and hosts.

“The basic idea is that the Maine Radio Project is for us and by us as members of the creative community,” Lipton said. “And this is one more way to show the world what a great place Portland is to live.”

Justin Ellis is the editor of The Signal.

Monday, July 19th, 2010, 2:13 pm

Portland Slow Riders bike at their own pace

Mike Popovic | Maine Observer
If you plan to roll with Portland Slow Rider make sure to dress appropriately

In other cities when bicycles take to the street en masse they are cursed, honked at and crashed into. In Portland they are cheered, waved at and photographed. What is the Portland Slow Riders group doing right?

Several friends had encouraged me to check out the group’s Facebook page which calls all “mellow pedalers” to rides that include “picnics, friends, ice cream” and “pretty bikes”.

Fortunately all that is required for a Portland Slow Ride is a bicycle of some sort and a sense of fun. I had missed the Party Dress Ride and the Red Light Dance Party, but am out and about on this hot July night for the “United States of Awesome Ride.” Along with the bike riders, Monument Square is filled with street musicians, belly dancers and the usual Friday Artwalk throng.

A woman dressed as a flight attendant addresses two dozen bike riders, describing our route. I am standing between someone in a cape (no, not the person dressed as Superman. The other person in a cape) and a bike covered in purple fuzz and peacock feathers. A large speaker on a home-built bike trailer provides music. I consider my T-shirt, shorts, my un-festooned bicycle and little bike bell and feel woefully unprepared. At least I’d wiped most of the road grime off my bike. Maybe next time I’ll accessorize a bit.

We take to the road and start riding up Congress Street. I am not without worry. I ride my bike to work every day and am all too aware that there is a vocal minority of drivers who are not into “sharing the road.” They usually vocalize by honking their horns and revving their engines a lot. Surely this many bikes are bound to annoy somebody.

My worry proves groundless as we cruise up Congress and back and then circle around for another pass. Drivers are courteous, patient, amused and confused — or perhaps a combination thereof. In any event, we coexist peacefully. Meanwhile people on the sidewalks cheer, dance, sing and hoist their kids up for a better look.

As we bike toward the Old Port, someone yells out “Are you Critical Mass?” “Hell no!” someone shouts back and we laugh. We’re stopping for lights, signaling turns and obeying the rules of the road. We’re not riding to make a statement (unless that statement is “Biking is fun!”).

After lighting sparklers and cruising Commercial Street we stop off to stimulate the local economy via large drink and food purchases. Tales are told, friends are found and seeds of ideas for future rides are planted.

I bike home sometime later in the cooler night air. It feels somewhat lonely but in my mind I can still hear the music playing and the people laughing. I give my bell a ring and smile.

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

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

Friday, July 16th, 2010, 3:25 pm

Signal Watch: Obamas on vacay, Thievery Corporation on the pier and Steamer the Clam

Yarmouth Clam Festival | Courtesy photo
Shucked: When alone Steamer silently cries for his delicious, fallen brethern

Summer can be a beautiful, if not odd time in Maine. If it’s not a president coming to town, it’s a president going all Miami Vice with one of his boats on a Maine beach. And then there’s the terrifying giant clam come to life. And moose tours. All this and more in this week’s Signal Watch:

Somehow Lewiston is connected to Mel Gibson’s continuing campaign to light his career on fire and become the most hated man in the world. A Lewiston audio expert has been appearing on Good Morning America and Larry King Live to talk about the veracity of the now infamous recordings of the Road Warrior saying awful things about pretty much every religion, ethnicity, gender and worse. Arlo West, the audio expert, says the recordings were edited. Of course there’s still the matter of what was said…

While the current president was making plans for a stop in Maine, a former president was gunning the hull of his Chris Craft into the shoreline on Gooch’s Beach. The official line is that George W. Bush’s boat was too close to shore and an errant wave pushed the Fidelity IV onto the beach. We here at The Signal would rather hear your explanations…

It could be economic development or tempting fate, but Saddlebck Ski Resort and Sugarloaf Ski Resort are offering “moose tours” this summer to visitors. Since moose have been on the offensive this summer (and heading into more “urban” areas), should we be worried the moose are setting a trap?

POLICE BLOTTER: Thank the heavens for dumb criminals and Facebook, together you are a boon to modern policing. Asgard Tarick Gilbert, 36, (Asgard?) may face arson charges after police say he set his Benz on fire and naturally posted the photos on Facebook. Allegedly he was trying to sell the car. That would be a great CraigsList post: FLAMING S-Class for Sale. Must GO.

Screw YOU Money Magazine! Apparently not one city or town in Maine made Money Magazine’s Top 100 Best Places to Live. Eden Prairie, MN, was named No. 1. Having been to Eden Prairie, I can tell you Saco or Belfast are easily better. Still, don’t take my word for it, let the commenters on this story make their case.


The Tourist in Chief: THE OBAMAS ARE COMING. And every and all state (and national) news organizations are descending on Mount Desert Island to watch the First Family try and have a little time off. Lucky for all of us Gawker has a “guide to vacationing in Maine” for the president from a guy who spent summers on MDI. As a kid. How nice. (For more check out Politicator’s round-up of the Obama in Maine coverage)

Thievery on the Pier: The Maine State Pier shows are always highly anticipated summer events each year and that’s no different with this weekend’s Thievery Corporation show on Saturday. Making for an even better back-to-back bill, Ween takes the pier on Friday night. Proceeds from the shows will also benefit Preble Street Resource Center. Many folks still have found memories of Wilco’s pier show last summer, can Thievery and Ween top that?

Shuck Off: This weekend marks the 45th annual Yarmouth Clam Festival, celebrating a storied tradition of, well, clams. But also games, music, hijincks and a clam shucking’ contest. Also it marks the annual reappearance of Steamer The Clam, who is only slightly less terrifying than Oakie.

Munj it UP: Portland’s summertime affair with street festivals continues this Sunday with Munjfest on Munjoy Hill. Music, food, attractions for kids and a chance for your pooch to be crowned winner of the Munjminster Dog Show.

Let your Loon guide you: This weekend the state is offering up free admission to state parks and historic sites to anyone with a loon license plate. The special plates, which were created in 1993, help fund programs in the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands. So essentially you already paid your admission.

Justin Ellis is the editor of The Signal.

Thursday, July 15th, 2010, 12:13 pm

‘The Dirty Lew’

The Sun Journal’s Mark LaFlamme wrote up a delightfully tardy article on “The Dirty Lew,” a 2008 YouTube video from Auburn-resident and Lewiston-lampooner Thomas “Bummah” Gurney.

In the LaFlamme interview, Gurney credits the “mint green apartments,” and infamously ghetto “tree streets” of the Androscoggin adjacent city for the video’s inspiration, which has garnered over 10,000 views in its two years on the Internet.

“I made the song partly on high school principles — being an E.L grad, Lewiston hater — but mostly because I’ve lived in The Dirty Lew and spent a great deal of my adult life there drinking in various bars and apartments,” he said.

Gurney’s video includes drive-by interviews with Lewiston residents, to whom he poses the question, “how you diggin’ Lewiston today?” garnering reactions from “sucks! my building got broken into for the third night this week,” to “you better get that f****** camera out of my face.”

Choice lines of the Twin City ballad include:

“I’m okay with Lewiston, as long as Lewiston, stays over there. But it won’t be long, until i’m drunk, and I stumble right across the bridge into Little Canada.”

and the witty, if profane verse…

“I can see Lewiston, and all of it’s gore / Well down on Lisbon, a two dollar whore / she’s got more diseases than a New York pigeon / Just don’t do it buddy, you got to make the right decision.”

As a matter of disclosure, I’m also an E.L. grad, and while I’ve always found the Auburn-Lewiston rivalry a bit “put on,” it didn’t stop me from showing this video to darn near everyone I knew from the Twin Cities. It’s nice up here on my left bank pedestal, but for the record, the much maligned “Little Canada” ties pretty heavily into my personal family history as well.

Vive le twin cities!

Matt Dodge is a reporter for The Portland Daily Sun. He blogs at the Porthole.

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010, 3:32 pm

Support for local music at the heart of Factory Portland

Stephen Quirk | Submitted Photo
Factory Portland officially launches with a party at SPACE Gallery on July 23

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Stephen Quirk | Submitted Photo
Stephen Quirk and Megan Dougherty are the founders of Factory Portland

Ideally the work of bands begins and ends with music, whether it’s in the studio or sharing the stage at venues like Port City Music Hall. But the truth for many bands in Maine is that the work goes further, since promotion, booking and album art don’t just materialize out of thin air.

Sure they could call on their management team to get the production end done… but how many local bands can do that?

Enter Factory Portland, the newest entry into Maine’s support network for musicians. Created by Stephen Quirk and Megan Dougherty, Factory Portland wants to take on the behind-the-scenes work for bands, from website design and jump-starting promotion to photography and wrangling social networks like Facebook and MySpace.

“Most of the musicians in Portland aren’t doing this full time, so really it’s about any help I can offer,” Quirk told me over e-mail. “I consider myself a music fan before anything else.”

That probably has something to do with Factory Portland’s launch event being a party and musical showcase. On July 23 Factory Portland’s launch at SPACE Gallery in Portland will feature The No. 9, The Red F, Jose Ayerve (of Spouse), T.J. Metcalfe (of Cosades and Lady Lamb the Beekeeper) and a reunion show from Bullyclub.

Mark McDonough, a member of Bullyclub, is Quirk’s older brother and is partly responsible for getting him into the band aid game. ”He’s always been in one band or another, and I think I’ve photographed all of them,” Quirk said.

Aside from his connections to the local music scene, Quirk knows a thing or two about photography and technology. He got a degree in photography from the Maine College of Art, where he now works in the tech department.

But Factory Portland will go beyond show photos and publicity art — at least that’s what they hope. Along with Dougherty, a graduate of the Stern School of Business at New York University, Quirk wants to make a connection with bands to find out their specific needs, whether it’s finding a service to print CDs or coordinating shows and events. The group is already working with acts such as Gully, Spouse and Elli Gray, among others.

(As for the name, Quirk said: “I had lists of names I threw out and settled on Factory Portland as an homage to both Andy Warhol’s Factory and Tony Wilson’s Factory Records.”)

It’s not easy getting off the ground and making a name for a band in Portland, Quirk said. Since many musicians have other full- or part-time jobs, there’s often a need for help growing a following or even producing music, he said.

One aspect of Factory Portland that has the potential to break big is the online music database: a repository of musicians, side projects and bands past and present. Factory Portland’s database could become the one-stop tool to playing six degrees of separation on musicians and creating a clear picture of the web that connects so many local bands.

Quirk said he was inspired by sites like Portland Taps and Portland Food Map, which have generated a following by creating encyclopedic repositories for information that people around Portland need.

At the moment more than 378 artists are listed in the Factory Portland database, but more can be added through a submission form on the website.

Just as there is an ever expanding number of bands in Maine, there also seems to be a growing support network. From independent labels such as Peapod Recordings to music blogs like Hillytown and [dog] and [pony] as well as groups like the Portland Music Foundation, there are plenty of avenues for bands to get help. Quirk says it’s a testament to the music scene, that so many love it and what to see it succeed.

“I never feel like it’s a competition — we all have the same goal of sharing the great music coming out of Portland,” he said. “In general there’s a creative atmosphere in the city; whether it’s restaurants, visual artists or music.”

Justin Ellis is the editor of The Signal.

Thursday, July 8th, 2010, 7:21 pm

Signal Watch: Catholic radio, Man vs. Food and Moxie Fest

Michelle Souliere | Flickr
Alternative energy? At the Moxie Festival in Lisbon Falls the Moxie car is just the beginning.

Here on The Signal it’s our job to keep track of all things related to arts, culture and the rest of everyday life for the Maine Observer.

Not an easy task, which is why from time to time we’ll rely on the Signal Watch — where we can keep track on the stories, events, people and other things taking place in Maine.

This week we had an appearance from a food personality, new stuff from local musicians and on tap this weekend the one and only Moxie Festival. Let’s take a look back and a look ahead:

We all celebrated America’s birthday and inherent awesomeness Sunday night. Also, there was extra explosions thanks to a fireworks trailer catching on fire. But no one’s sure yet why it caught on fire. Could it have been the lighters or matches on hand?

A new radio station debuted in the Portland area this week, with WXTP “The Presence” replacing WHXR. Yes, a Roman Catholic radio station has replaced a rock station. Instead of Skynard and a morning zoo crew listeners can now expect Bishop Chat and plenty more religious programing on 106.7 FM.

That guy who can’t stop eating everything was spotted in Maine…eating. The Travel Channel’s Adam Richman, host of “Man vs. Food” was seen taking on gastro-feats at places such as Nosh (the Apocalypse Now burger) in Portland and Tradewinds Cafe (the Manimal Challenge) in Arundel. But did he go to the Fat Boy or Big G’s? And did he manage to piss off an important restaurateur in the process? (Mr. Bourdain I’m looking at you).

Is it possible one Maine man has brought the kombucha market to a halt? Maybe. The Portland Daily Sun talks with Chris Hallweaver, who bottles the beverage locally, and may have tipped off the feds to the drink’s above average alcohol content. Kombucha, a tea-like drink that is fermented by using live bacteria during bottling, is growing in popularity as homebrewers and beverage companies experiment with the organic drink. Hallweaver calls his drink “The Booch,” which sounds suspiciously close to “hooch.”

Ups and downs in music this week as the American Idol Live tour announced it was ditching Portland and a number of other cities from the summer tour. Awwwww. Luckily we’ve got a healthy music scene here and this week a few locals released new stuff, as Sontiago unveiled “Like Love,” a new track with Darrien Brahms and Phantom Buffalo has a new video out in advance of their new LP.

What to watch for:

Monument Square is about to start getting crowded again as the annual Alive at 5 outdoor music series kicks off in Portland on July 8. The showcase starts with the Eric Bettencourt Band and The Lucid.

The Maine International Film Festival starts in Waterville on July 9 and continues through the 18. Aside from screening domestic and international films, this year’s festival also features a day dedicated to making films in Maine and the people behind the scenes.

It’s time once again to celebrate that delicious tar-colored nectar of Maine, Moxie, at the annual Moxie Festival in Lisbon Falls starting July 9. Will there be a carnival, live music and parades? Yes. But more importantly there will be the Moxie Chug ‘N Challenge. There can be only one true winner.

Also this weekend: The Maine Potato Blossom Festival, the North Atlantic Blues Festival, SmuttFest and yes, the premiere Maine summer sport, lobster boat racing.

Justin Ellis is the editor of The Signal.

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010, 8:11 am

Immigrant family still uncovering Maine life

Levi Bridges | Maine Observer
Lamees Hanna immigrated with her family from Iraq to America as a young girl. Hanna currently lives in Hampden, Maine where she volunteers tutoring other immigrants with Literacy Volunteers of Bangor.

For Lamees Hanna, living in Hampden is like inhabiting a world of contradictions. Although Hanna, an Iraqi-born mother of two, has lived in the United States for 29 years, she still grapples with the process of acculturating to life in America and dealing with outside perceptions.

“Many people want to know if we eat pork in my family,” she said. “Oftentimes, they don’t know that there are Christians in the Middle East.”

Hanna and her husband, an Egyptian-born doctor who grew up in a minority Christian family in Egypt, have lived in Maine for the last eight years. The couple says they love Maine for its safety and the open-mindedness of the people here.

As an immigrant family, perhaps their appreciation for Maine differs slightly from most newcomers and tourists who are seduced by the state’s natural beauty and rustic charm.

The journey of Hanna’s family began when her father left Iraq as a young man to study statistics at the University of North Carolina. While earning his doctorate in America, he met Hanna’s mother, a young American philosophy student. The two fell in love and, after graduation, flew to Germany and drove to Baghdad in an old Volkswagen.

“My father’s family was very accepting of my mother even though she was Christian and he was Muslim,” said Hanna. “Iraq was a very different place then,” she added.

Hanna’s parents lived in Baghdad for thirteen years while her father taught at a university and the couple had three children. During Hanna’s childhood, Iraq was a flourishing country where different religious groups were openly accepted and great efforts were made to educate its citizens.

“I have pictures of my father with his students,” Hanna said. “Half of the students were women who wore sleeveless shirts and didn’t cover their heads.”

“In Iraq, my mom openly celebrated Christmas,” she said. “People there loved the tradition of a Christmas tree and Santa Claus. Back then, Iraqis tried to find a common ground instead of looking at differences.”

All that changed in the late 1970’s when Saddam Hussein came to power. Lively debates with friends had characterized the atmosphere of Hanna’s house. Suddenly, these gatherings ended. Hanna remembers that, at this time, military officers began coming to schools and bribing children with candy to make them admit what their parents thought of Saddam.

In 1981, Hanna’s mother fled to Jordan with her three children under the pretenses that they were going on vacation. They then escaped to America where Hanna’s father later joined them.

“My parents decided that they didn’t want to live in a society where you could no longer have conversations of any depth,” Hanna said. “So we went to America.”

Adapting to the English language and American culture was a tough transition for Hanna and her siblings. But Hanna studied hard, graduated college, and eventually moved to Massachusetts where she met her future husband. The couple moved to Maine when Hanna’s husband accepted a job at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor.

The differences between Maine and the Middle East continue to amaze the young couple. They see America as a place where the government doesn’t intimidate those who live here, and, in turn, encourages its citizens to be active members of society.

Hanna takes full advantage of this belief. In addition to raising her family, she regularly volunteers with Literacy Volunteers of Bangor where she tutors area immigrants.

“I see myself in my students when they pause or are afraid of making a mistake,” she said. “I tutored one woman from Pakistan and remain on-call if she needs help. It has been amazing to watch her progress to the point where she can do things like negotiate the price of getting her driveway plowed with a local.”

“America has so much to offer,” said Hanna. “We love how you really can make a difference here.”

Monday, July 5th, 2010, 3:23 pm

Slideshow: Nateva Festival

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Bryan Bruchman | Maine Observer
The entrance to Nateva.

Saturday at Nateva was a dream lineup for “indie” music fans, with a stacked lineup including Grizzly Bear, She & Him, and the Flaming Lips in the midst of electronic/dance acts (STS9 were wholly responsible for turning it into a proper dance party) and more reggae-based bands like John Brown’s Body and Roots of Creation.

Friday, the first full night, held some heavy hitters as well, with Austin’s Ghostland Observatory taking command of the hills with their smoke, lasers, and spastic jams — all just from two musicians. The festival is still going tonight with the Grateful Dead-bred Furthur headlining the whole shebang.

We’ll have full coverage of many of the 50 bands on the festival as well as lots of other fun (if you were there, I hope you got to enjoy the silent disco dance party as much as we did!) at over the next two days.

Bryan Bruchman blogs for