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Happy 90th birthday to Portland’s State Theatre

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Happy 90th birthday to Portland’s State Theatre (photo courtesy State Theatre/Joshua Frances)

Some of the best musical moments of my life have been experienced within the ornate surroundings of the historic State Theatre on Congress St. in Portland. The iconic venue celebrates its 90th anniversary this month.

When the State Theatre debuted on November 8, 1929 (literally days after the stock market crash that launched the Great Depression), its bronze doors opened for a screening of “The Trespasser” - the first “talkie” for silent film star Gloria Swanson.

In the intervening decades, the State Theatre stage has served numerous functions, including a first-run movie house, a venue for vaudeville shows and plays, cartoons, radio quiz shows, and until 1990, an adult film theater.

In 2010, after lying dormant for several years, the State Theatre was restored to its former glory with a $1.5 million investment and has become one of Maine’s busiest concert venues. With 1,900 seats, it’s large enough to draw legends and small enough to offer great views from every vantage point.

I remember catching Bob Dylan at the State when he was in the mood to play songs by the Grateful Dead in 1996 and watching Ray Davies of The Kinks deliver an unforgettable “Storytellers” show from the first row in 2001. I somehow managed to be up front again for the Trey Anastasio Band in 2011 and was also present earlier this year when the Phish guitarist purposely chose the State Theatre to launch his stunning Ghosts of the Forest project.

One of my first stories for The Maine Edge was a review of a State Theatre solo show by Jeff Tweedy of Wilco.

Tweedy brought Wilco to the State Theatre in 2018 when the band could have filled a much larger venue. Why? Because the State is gorgeous, the acoustics are excellent and it’s operated by people like Lauren Wayne, the venue’s general manager and talent buyer, who are dedicated to providing the greatest of concert experiences for fans and artists alike.

The Maine Edge: What is it about the State Theatre that makes it a concert destination of choice for both fans and artists?

Lauren Wayne: We take pride in what we do, and the most important part of that is to provide the best concert experience possible for people coming to the theatre, and that includes a great light and sound show. They did a fantastic job when they built this theatre. Of the three or four original theatres in Portland, we’re the only one still around. The State Theatre is more wide than narrow, so even with 1,900 people in here, it still feels intimate and unique. You can get as close to the stage as you want at the State Theatre.

The Maine Edge: There is so much history contained in those walls. If only they could talk. Have local patrons shared some of their stories of the venue’s history with you?

Lauren Wayne: They have, actually. In our current state, we’ll be celebrating our 10th anniversary here next year, and you’re right that this place is full of history. We had a free open house 10 years ago with local artists performing over a period of 8 hours. We had guests who had been here as kids to see Disney movies in the 1930s and 1940s.

The Maine Edge: On a personal note, could you share some of your favorite concert memories from the State Theatre?

Lauren Wayne: There have been so many incredible shows performed here since we took over a decade ago. Some of my favorites have been the Wilco show (January 27, 2018). Trey Anastasio is an epic part of our history here. MIA was big favorite, The Kills was a personal favorite, as was Queens of the Stone Age. I could keep going but there’s been a lot of them.

The Maine Edge: Out of curiosity, since there is so much history with that building, have there been any rumors about the State Theatre being haunted?

Lauren Wayne: We’ve hosted a few ghost hunters over the years that would come in to spend the night and do some recordings. I don’t know what the results were, but there have been many rumors about this place being haunted. I can tell you that if there are spirits here, they are kind and considerate during shows. They don’t disturb people in the audience, and they don’t turn amplifiers up to 11 (laughs).

Last modified on Tuesday, 19 November 2019 06:53


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