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2016 – The year in review

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Looking back at another exciting year of The Maine Edge

As 2016 comes to a close, it’s nice to take some time to look back on the year that was here at The Maine Edge.

Here’s a quick glimpse of some of my personal favorites from among the hundreds of stories I filed over the past year.

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T.J. Jagodowski

Over the years, I’ve had the chance to interview a wide array of famous people. And for the most part, it has been easy to keep things professional. Even when I was a fan of the person’s work, I was able to focus on the task at hand.

But there have been a handful where that was really REALLY difficult. T.J. Jagodowski was one such difficulty.

Jagodowski is a legend in the world of improv; his “TJ & Dave” shows are wildly popular and he has developed a reputation as a sort of improviser’s improviser. So when I got word through ImprovAcadia’s Jen Shepard and Larrance Fingerhut that Jagodowski would be joining them for a three-week stint at their theater, I leapt at the opportunity to speak to him.

Not only did I get the chance to learn the history of his involvement in improv, but I was also given a sense of his own personal style and approach to the art form. It was a compelling conversation in a number of ways – not least because it was a chance to seriously geek out about improv. It’s rare to have an opportunity to speak at length with someone possessed of top-tier talent in a field in which you yourself are interested.

All that, plus I was able to introduce Jagodowski to an audience that potentially hadn’t yet been exposed to his work. Sharing something I love with the reader - one of the truly great things about my job.

Stuart Kestenbaum

Back in April, I had the opportunity to speak to Stu Kestenbaum about his recent appointment as Maine’s poet laureate. As a writer, there was something remarkable about speaking to someone who has so thoroughly honed and embraced the craft.

There was something thrilling about bringing someone like Kestenbaum to the pages of The Maine Edge. Our focus tends more toward the realm of popular culture as a rule; I relished the opportunity to do something a little more substantial. Don’t get me wrong – I love making snarky comments about bad movies and celebrities, but I got to speak to a poet laureate. I mean, how cool is that?

It was far more than a standard interview about the new gig. He took the time to really talk to me – about his experiences, about his creative processes, about his work – past, present and future alike. He talked about the future of poetry and the power of collaboration. It was a fascinating conversation with a fascinating guy.

John Cariani

I had actually been wanting to speak to John Cariani for years. The actor-playwright – who grew up in Presque Isle – has had numerous stage successes. For instance, his play “Almost, Maine” is one of the most produced theatrical pieces in the world. And he played Nigel Bottom in the musical “Something Rotten!” on Broadway.

It was that latter gig that finally got me to pull the trigger on getting in touch with Cariani. When I spoke to him in late June, he was just a few weeks away from passing the baton on that role and moving on to other projects.

What was striking about speaking to Cariani was his clear and obvious love for what he does. His passion for the theater was present in every answer he gave; he spoke freely and easily about the path he followed to get where he was. He talked about the process of making “Almost, Maine” happen and the slow build that resulted in the play’s current ubiquity. He also spoke of the combination of skill, timing and luck that led to critical acclaim for his work in musicals like “Something Rotten!” and “Fiddler on the Roof” (where his work as Motel landed him a Tony nomination).

John Cariani is an incredible talent with Maine ties – precisely the sort of person I strive to bring into the pages of The Maine Edge.

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I had plenty of other fun stories as well. I reviewed sixty-something books and nearly 100 movies along with loads of live theater. I talked harness racing with the folks from Hollywood Casino and got some great stories from the two-decade UMaine football broadcasting partnership of Rich Kimball and Bob Lucy. I covered the leadership transition at Robinson Ballet and wrote a from-the-road story about going to see the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes play.

But perhaps the biggest story of all – at least for me personally - was assuming the role of editor back in April. It certainly added a good deal of responsibility to my plate, but it was also an opportunity to more directly influence the editorial direction and overall voice of The Maine Edge – something that I’d like to think I’ve handled relatively well thus far.

All in all, 2016 has been a pretty good year here in our pages. I hope you’ll continue to join us to see what we’ve got in store for the next one.

Mike Dow’s greatest hits of 2016

For my best of the year roundup of favorite contributions to The Maine Edge, I’ve chosen music-related stories featuring interviews with four very different, but equally compelling subjects: Graham Nash, Todd Rundgren, Greg Lake and Big Star.

For the April 13 issue, I had the honor of interviewing Graham Nash prior to his visit to Maine for Record Store Day, an annual April event celebrating independent music stores which started in Maine with Bull Moose and has since spread around the globe.

Chris Brown, Bull Moose’s Director of Marketing, thought of me for the only interview granted by Nash to promote his then-upcoming appearance at the Bull Moose location in Scarborough. By the way, the idea for Record Store Day originated with Brown, but he is such a kind and humble man, you probably won’t ever hear him take credit for it.

When Nash called, he had just returned to his New York City hotel after spending an hour on the air with Howard Stern.

I’m not sure if it was Howard that had raised Nash’s ire or the fact that it was only 10 a.m. and he had been awake for four hours (an unnatural condition for most rock stars), but Nash was a bit surly.

Still, in his own gregarious and articulate way, Nash offered thoughts on his new music, the demise of Crosby, Stills & Nash (“It’s personal,” he told me of the split which had been revealed just days before) and a pleasantly surprising sequence in which he discussed his recent reappraisal of the legacy of that other band for which he was an integral member – The Hollies.  

“I’m very proud of the energy and the purity of some of The Hollies’ songs,” Nash told me. “My goodness, we were pretty good. We were a fine band.”

In the August 31 edition, I had an interview with another of my musical heroes, Todd Rundgren. I’m not one of those “Todd is God” guys, but I’ve gone through phases where I will only listen to his music (or music that he produced for other artists). Todd Rundgren has carved a singular and unprecedented career. His contribution is profound and unequalled.

I was a little nervous before he called, but he put me at ease when, during the intro, I rattled off all of the various formats in which his latest release, “Live at the Ridgefield,” was available (five in total).

“Sorry we didn’t make the Betamax release,” he interjected in a classic Todd-deadpan voice.

The rest of the interview was entertaining, informative and had a nice surprise at the end. When I asked if he would ever consider writing his autobiography, he revealed, for the first time, that he had just finished it and that we could expect it in the spring of 2017. When Rundgren shared the interview on Facebook, his fans (known to be a tough lot) were very pleased.

On September 8, I interviewed Greg Lake, formerly of the progressive-rock supergroup Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Calling from his home in England, Lake was a joy to speak with as he explained the circumstances surrounding the recording of his first solo albums (reissued this year with bonus material) and the all-star band that he put together for them.

We also spoke of Lake’s indelible yuletide perennial “I Believe in Father Christmas” and what the song, and Christmas in general, means to him.

Sadly, Lake passed away exactly three months after our conversation. He had been quietly battling cancer for some time but few knew it. We lost many legends this year and Greg Lake was one of the most legendary of them all.

The story that I wrote this year that probably generated the greatest response - at least in terms of email comments from readers - was my November 23 cover story on Big Star, the endlessly-influential and belatedly-celebrated band from Memphis.

Omnivore Recordings had just issued “Complete Third,” a comprehensive collection of every known demo, outtake, rough mix and finished master, for the band’s third album – a record that had been previously issued in several versions but was still shrouded in mystery and legend. 

In late October, I spent nearly an hour speaking with Jody Stephens, Big Star’s drummer and sole survivor. Stephens is Business Development Director at Ardent Studios in Memphis, where Big Star’s three 1970s albums were crafted.

Being able to talk Big Star and Ardent Studios history with Stephens was one of the highlights to date of my time here at The Maine Edge. The fact that the Edge not only allowed me to do the story but encouraged me to expand it for the issue’s feature story is a testament of their commitment to offering readers something they won’t find anywhere else.

Bring on 2017! I can’t wait to see what happens next.

 

 

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