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December is here, and hence the holiday season is in full force. The snow has started falling, the lights have started shining and the shopping has started in earnest. Hopefully, you’re out there shopping local whenever you can – a thriving community depends on consumers buying from their neighbors.

But shopping local doesn’t end with retail. You should shop local when it comes to your Yuletide entertainment as well. And here’s the thing – you can do that, because there is an embarrassment of riches out there for locally-offered holiday performance.

Sure, you could sit at home and watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” for the umpteenth time or run through your Christmas Spotify playlist. But where’s the fun in that?

Especially when you take into account that our region is absolutely jammed with possibilities. There are stage shows and concerts galore. There is comedy and drama and so much music. There are holiday classics and brand-new creations. All of it right here in your backyard.

Look, if you want to stay home and drink hot toddies in front of a roaring fireplace, that’s perfectly OK. No judgment – sounds like you’ve figured out what it is you want from the holiday season and life in general. But if you’re looking to be entertained, well … you’re in luck.

In recent years, it seems as though every December has had a wealth of options. But this year more than ever, it feels like there really is something for everyone out there.

Please note that this isn’t even close to everything out there. I’ve just chosen a handful of options that might pique your interest. Keep your eyes open and your ears to the ground, because there is just so much out there, with so many people celebrating with their own joyful noises.

Wednesday, 27 November 2019 11:15

The year in books: 2019’s recommended reads

Written by Allen Adams

It has been yet another fantastic year for the written word, with many tremendous literary offerings hitting shelves in 2019.

Reviewing books is one of the best parts of my job. As part of that job, I’ve read dozens of books over the course of the past year. I freely admit that I tend to seek out works that I know will resonate for me – and hence usually enjoy the books I review – but even with that degree of curation, there’s no denying that there are always some that particularly stand out.

This is not your traditional “best of” list – that’s not my style. Instead, consider this a collection of recommendations. These are suggestions; I enjoyed them, so I thought that you might as well. I’ve also included selections from my writings about these books (please note that the full reviews are available eslewhere on our website). Bear in mind that this is not a comprehensive list. I’m just one man – there are scores more books out there, exceptional works that I simply never got a chance to read.

So are these the best books of 2019? I don’t know – it’s all subjective. What I can say is that every one of these works captured my imagination and my attention … and perhaps one or more of them will do the same for you.

Here are my recommended reads from 2019.

As we come to the end of another cinematic year, certain elements of the Hollywood machine are ramping up.

We’re entering into prestige season, where studios have traditionally trotted out their awards contenders in order to ensure that they are fresh in the minds of voters when balloting takes place.

Granted, that has changed somewhat in recent years – the combination of an expanded Best Picture field and a willingness to recognize more mainstream and commercial fare has led to less specificity with regards to where a film lands on the calendar. As such, there are a number of prominent prestige films either already in theaters or already come and gone.

Plus, there’s the recent entry into the fray of the streaming behemoths. We’ve also included a few movies from Netflix and Amazon, films that received limited theatrical releases in order to qualify for these awards but whose REAL release date is when their availability for streaming arrives.)

On the flip side, this late part of the year has also become a sort of summer redux as far as blockbuster fare. Films expected to do massive box office are no longer just the purview of June and July – November and December have now become perfectly acceptable spots to drop your nine-figure franchise powerhouse, turning the always-popular holiday movie season into something truly huge.

What follows is a look at some of the upcoming films that are closing out 2019. We’ve got some movies looking to win awards, others just looking to have a good time. As for what YOU are looking for? Well – whatever it is, you might well find it somewhere on this list.

It’s been 25 years since Kenny Wayne Shepherd stepped into a recording studio, giddy with anticipation over the sessions that would become his platinum-selling debut record “Ledbetter Heights.” Barely 17 years old at the time, the Shreveport, Louisiana guitar-slinger had been labeled heir apparent to the blues-rock throne, or alternately, simply “The Kid,” for years. Keenly aware that an army of brow-furrowing blues purists were prepared to pounce upon anything they perceived as inauthentic, Shepherd opted to let his fingers do the talking.

After nine albums (including seven #1 blues records), many hundreds of performances, world tours, five Grammy nominations, Blues Music Awards, Billboard Music Awards and stages and studios shared with his heroes, Shepherd long ago ceased the need to prove his worth to others, but he says he’ll never stop trying to create the best music he’s ever made.

Tuesday, 05 November 2019 12:13

Improv ME Festival says ‘Yes, and…’ once again

Written by Allen Adams

BREWER – Some of the best improvisational comedy groups from all over the state of Maine are descending on the Next Generation Theatre in Brewer this weekend.

On Nov. 8 and 9, local improv troupe The Focus Group will once again be playing host to the Improv ME Festival. Sessions will take place at 8 p.m. on Nov. 2 and at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Nov. 3.

Now in its fifth year, Improv ME is the largest annual assemblage of improv talent in the state of Maine. With three sessions over two days featuring seven different groups, audiences will get the chance to experience some of the best improv that Maine has to offer. The producing sponsor of the Improv ME Festival is Geaghan Brothers Brewing Company, a role they have filled since the festival's inception. The media sponsor is The Maine Edge.

Joining The Focus Group will be: Bar Harbor’s ImprovAcadia, Farmington’s Teachers Lounge Mafia, Orono’s Improv In Sanity, Camden’s The Cool Kids’ Table, Bangor’s Queen City Improv and southern Maine’s You Should Smile More.

In addition to the groups listed, the festival will close out with an improv surprise featuring players from a variety of different troupes; expect the unexpected even more than usual from Improv ME’s final set.

BAR HARBOR – An icon of stage and screen will soon be treating a local audience to a gamut-running concert extravaganza.

The legendary Mandy Patinkin is bringing his show “Mandy Patinkin in Concert: Diaries” to the Criterion Theatre in Bar Harbor on November 3. The concert is set to start at 3 p.m.; tickets are available at the Criterion’s box office or by visiting their website at www.criteriontheatre.org.

Patinkin will be accompanied by Adam Ben-David on piano. The show will include a wealth of songs pulled from his ongoing musical project “Diaries,” recorded as a sort of digital diary over the course of many months. His new album “Children and Art” – featuring some of the songs from these sessions – was released by Nonesuch Records on Oct. 25; it is Patinkin’s first album in over 15 years.

Few performers have achieved the kind of varied success that Patinkin has over the years. You might know him from his eight years as Saul Berenson on the Showtime series “Homeland” or his well-regarded stints on shows like “Chicago Hope” (for which he won an Emmy). Or maybe you know him from his time on the Broadway stage, winning acclaim for his work in musicals such as “Evita.”

And of course: he was Inigo Montoya, the swashbuckling Spaniard from the beloved film classic “The Princess Bride.”

(Editor’s note: Real talk, don’t sleep on 1988’s “Alien Nation” – he’s legitimately fantastic in that.)

In the following conversation, Patinkin offers a glimpse into his process. He talks about how “Diaries” came about and what led him to want to tour, as well as some insight as to how much music means to him and his well-being. And don’t worry – there’s a little “Princess Bride” talk in there as well.

Tuesday, 22 October 2019 13:15

Halloween happenings 2019!

Written by Allen Adams

Autumn is most definitely upon us. The leaves have undergone their chromatic transformation and largely fallen from the trees. The warm winds of summer have given way to the chilly breezes of fall; even days with above-average temperatures have a bite in the air.

And of course, as October comes to an end, we come to Halloween.

While the celebration of the holiday has certainly expanded well beyond the day itself, with events taking place throughout much of October, these last few days will see a particular flurry of fantastic and frightening events leading up to the 31st.

Bangor has plenty going on in this lead-up to Halloween. There are interesting events taking place a bit farther afield as well. Here are just a few of those happenings from both near and far.

BLUE HILL – A celebration of the written word is set to mark its third year in Blue Hill.

The Word. Blue Hill Literary Arts Festival is taking place October 24-27 in venues around Blue Hill. There will be speakers and panels and workshops galore, all dedicated to the joy of words. There will also be a number of other events – poetry crawls and art installations and community dinners and more.

Every bit of it dedicated to a celebration of all things literary.

The event has seen a number of acclaimed authors and literary types come through over the past two years, but this year’s festival looks to be bigger than ever, with notables from all walks of writing life participating over the three days of Word.

Here’s a quick look at some of what we’re talking about:

There will be a number of conversations featuring literary types. Journalist Dave Cullen and local student organizer Abigail Jakub will be interviewed by Brook Ewing Minner. Novelists Joe Hill and Elizabeth Hand will chat, as will New Yorker TV critic Emily Nussbaum and Blue Hill Books owner Samantha Haskell. In addition, there will be a panel on ethics in memoir courtesy of Maine Writers and Publishers Association, featuring Gibson Fay-Le Blanc, Elizabeth Garber, Linda Buckmaster and Jaed Coffin.

The New York Times children’s books editor Maria Russo will give a talk on “How to Raise a Reader”

As for workshops, well … wow. Music legend Noel Paul Stookey will offer one in songwriting and Richard Blanco – Obama inaugural poet - will offer one in poetry. Cynthia Thayer has a workshop on helping writers get unstuck, Elizabeth Minkel offers up something about writing fan fiction and Katherine Koch takes on memoir.

There are some all-ages workshops as well. Mia Bogyo will teach some bookmaking fundamentals, while Charlotte Agell (Catch an Idea) and Ellen Booraem (Lightning Round for Writers Young and Old) lead workshops that offer different forms of writing guidance.

The Poetry Crawl will feature former Maine Poet Laureate Betsy Sholl and fellow poets Sonja Johanson, Kifah Abdullah, Mark Statman, Marie Epply and Elizabeth Garber.

Plus, we have Word.Art, the annual show of word-related art at Winings Gallery. This year, the show features Mark Statman, Katherine Koch, Katy Helman, Kristy Cunnane and Buzz Masters.

All that, plus the festival will feature the debut of a new collaborative words-and-music performance piece courtesy of Paul Sullivan and the aforementioned Richard Blanco.

Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? That’s because it is; it’s an incredible amount of literary excitement to be packed into just three days, but there are a lot of people who work incredibly hard to make sure that it all comes to fruition.

Tuesday, 08 October 2019 14:11

Here’s to Octo-beer!

Written by Allen Adams

BANGOR – Here in 2019, the beer scene continues to shake things up.

The craft beer landscape in the greater Bangor region is as robust as ever these days. Over a dozen breweries are plying their trades in the vicinity, bringing their delicious and diverse beers to the masses. Plenty of thirsts are being quenched as these businesses – some just a few years old, others with decades-long histories behind them – offer up a wide variety of tasty brews.

And make no mistake – this boom is good for business, too. These breweries, large and small, are helping to drive the area’s economic engine. They’re providing jobs and spending money and paying taxes. They’re drawing people in, and not just to their tasting rooms – there are plenty of local restaurants and bars that have taps pouring locally-sourced suds.

Tuesday, 01 October 2019 15:48

New to view 2019: A fall TV preview

Written by Allen Adams

Fall TV premiere season is upon us!

Granted, the whole concept of the “new fall lineup” has increasingly become less of a thing with the proliferation of streaming services willing to drop entire seasons in one go and networks becoming more and more flexible with regards to when a series can and should debut, but whether it is by design or simply through inertia, we still see a whole lot of new material hit the airwaves in the autumn.

As per usual, this preview addresses only those shows entering their debut seasons. This isn’t about all the exceptional television that is returning for a second or third or fifth or tenth season – this is about stuff we haven’t seen before. It’s a chance to look ahead at what’s coming and think about what content – if any – we might be willing to invest our limited leisure time into.

It’s a mixed bag for sure. We’ve got broadcast and we’ve got streaming and you’d better believe we’ve got HBO. We’ve got comedy and drama. We’ve got prestige fare and we’ve got mass appeal. We’ve got highbrow, lowbrow, middlebrow – all the brows you could ever desire.

Will all of these shows be good? Absolutely not. Should you watch them all? Also – no. And this is far from everything. But if there’s even one or two gems among the flotsam, that’s a big win. And honestly, it looks like there might be a couple of winners here.

Or maybe it’s all just poorly-conceived adequately-executed entertainment detritus. Who can say?

Let’s have a look at a few of 2019’s fall TV premieres.

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