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All Roads lead to Belfast once again: Five great years of Maine music

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BELFAST – Maine’s many musical roads are once again converging on the midcoast.

The All Roads Music Festival is returning to Belfast on May 17 and 18, bringing one of the state’s largest collections of Maine-based musical talent into one place for two jam-packed days of sonic celebration. Spread across five different venues, All Roads is playing host to over 30 acts and something like 150 individual musicians. It’s a scene unlike any other in the state – one fully and utterly devoted to putting forward a cross-section of what Maine’s music scene has to offer.

There will be music from across all genres – whatever you like, you’re almost certainly going to be able to find it on one festival stage or another. In addition, All Roads is playing host to the always-wildly-successful Maine Songwriters Circle, where a group of talented songwriters get together and share a little of their collected collective wisdom.

For tickets, a full schedule or more information about the festival, visit the All Roads website at www.allroadsmusicfest.org.

The driving force behind All Roads is the Bangor-based arts incubator Launchpad; Meg Shorette and Joshua Gass serve as the organization’s executive director and managing director, respectively. Both are co-founders of All Roads and have played major roles in bringing the event to life once again this year, the festival’s fifth.

Shorette and Gass were kind enough to make time for an interview with The Maine Edge; our conversation took place at the Bangor Arts Exchange, where Launchpad makes its headquarters.

Building an ongoing event that lasts five years is an impressive feat. When that event is a creative endeavor – particularly one with as many moving parts as this one – it’s even more so. So my first question was about what it means to have arrived at the five year mark.

“I think the first few years kind of flew by, to be honest with you,” said Gass. “We did the first year and we had a really good response, so we definitely wanted to do the event again. And then it just kind of felt like the first couple of years just kind of came and flew by. We were able to replicate the basic layout of the festival pretty easily, but I really feel like during the early stages it was the interest from artists that really made it sing.”

And that interest carried over after that initial festival, when Maine musicians realized just how positive an experience All Roads would be.

“After the first year, when everyone had a really good experience, we were hearing from artists hearing that they were excited about coming back and doing it again, whether they were performing or just attending,” Gass said. “Obviously, we had designed the festival to showcase Maine music artists, but we didn’t really anticipate that buy-in right from the get-go upon them coming to the first year.”

Such a large gathering of artists – artists that were aware of one another and orbited one another, but perhaps didn’t get many opportunities to experience one another – meant chances to enjoy the work of others that many of these musicians rarely get. 130 artists. It’s a remarkable number to think about – particularly when you take into account that it’s incredibly rare for this many musicians to be in the same place at the same time. According to Shorette, it’s an opportunity that the participants fully embrace.

“You could just sort of sense this real uniqueness in terms of the fact that they’re often performing and maybe once in a while they'll perform together or they're generally aware of each other,” said Shorette. “Some of them are really connected or they're friendly outside of performing together, but they don't really have another event that brings them all together where they both perform themselves AND get to watch their friends perform.”

“That’s really why we’ve been able to keep doing it,” added Gass. “If the artists weren’t interested in what we’re doing, we wouldn’t be able to make it happen. They bought in early to what the vibe of the festival is.”

Part of that vibe comes from the eclectic and unexpected venues that play host to the various bills of fare during All Roads. In many cases, they are quirky and/or unconventional.

Each year, we've had similar venues, but sometimes they've changed,” he said. “We have a new venue this year, in fact, and even that venue, the minute I saw it, I knew it fit right into what we're doing.

“These are not really traditional music venues,” he continued. “We’re not in a single music venue or a concert hall. They're all either public gathering spaces or used for theatrical purposes or other things; some of them do host music but these weird, unique venues have also been a draw.”

One change from recent years is the addition of another day to the festival. All Roads has expanded to include a more robust opening event on Friday evening, one featuring some of the biggest names in Maine music. Seriously – the lineup is Kenya Hall, Paranoid Social Club, Spose and God.Damn.Chan. That’s a hell of a party right there … and that’s just for starters.

Putting together a schedule for an event like this one – putting together the puzzle pieces and figuring out the logistics of who plays where and when – is a delicate dance.

“It’s a tricky thing because there are so many bands in Maine and I’m not sure people really realize the depth of talent we have here,” said Shorette. “There’s a balance I try to strike. You want all the heavy hitters everybody loves, but then you also want to bring in smaller, lesser-known bands and you want to bring in as many different genres as you can to really round out when you're presenting to everybody.

“So I was excited at the Friday additions, because let me add four bands that I would've had to cut,” she continued. “I think if I could get away with it, I’d book 50 bands but I cannot. But that's basically what it is. And then I start again after the festival with a list; if I see a band around town or hear good things, I write them down and we just go from there – who’s new, who’s played a bunch, who’ll sound good in this venue.”

Shorette went on to share some thoughts with regards to putting the actual schedule together. Long story short, it’s tougher than you might think. Consider the fact that in a scene as

“I think both Josh and I would agree that the schedule is the part of the festival that stresses me out the most. We try really hard not to have sets overlap too much; you don’t want to book too many bands. But then there might be a band who fits perfectly in one venue, but there’s a complication because that band shares members with four other bands. You have to put them in a slot that you wouldn't necessarily think that they’d end up in, but you have to because of the different conflicts that the bands have.”

(A quick note for those readers who might be in a band looking to possibly play All Roads in the future: Your best bet is to get out there and play. “We do get a lot of inquiries every year about how people can play the festival,” said Gass. “That's something that's been growing and is something long-term that we would like to continue to work on. But we tell bands that the best thing that you can be doing is playing out and performing. I think that steers them in the right direction. Because if we see bands out anywhere in the state, that's something helps put them on radar and probably a discussion about them.”)

Again – five years is a landmark anniversary. As with anything, All Roads has grown and evolved as time has passed. And while it has become a bit of a mainstay in the local cultural landscape, it didn’t necessarily start out that way. There were definitely some growing pains.

“The first year we decided to do this festival, it started with me reaching out to some of the bands that I had a connection with through other music experiences,” Shorette said. “And a lot of them didn’t reply. My pitch was basically ‘Hi. Be in my music festival that doesn’t have a name yet and doesn’t have a website.’ So some of them were like ‘Get the f—k out of here.’ But it was the early adopters – the Mallett Brothers and Spose and Spencer Albee and Lady Lamb – that really helped make that first year and put us on the map. Once that lineup came out, 50% of the bands that had ignored me immediately e-mailed me and asked if there was still time for them to be part of the festival. And it’s only grown since then.

“It’s like Josh said,” she continued. “With 150 musicians in one spot, what has happened is what I always wanted to happen, which is that bands that don’t get booked on the lineup still wind up coming anyway, just for that shared experience.”

And an All Roads slot has definitely become a valued pursuit in the Maine music scene, with bands reaching out months in advance with the hope of making it onto the lineup. But there’s only so much room, leaving some difficult decisions to be made.

“There are so many bands that I wish I could add to the festival,” said Shorette. “Every year, there are multiple great bands that I just can’t fit into the puzzle. And we make an effort to keep it varied; we aren’t looking to put the same bands out there year after year. Yes, there are the heavy hitters that people want to see, but at the lower end of the lineup, I really seek out newer bands, bands that maybe have only been around for a couple of years. It’s a chance to expose them to new audiences, because people just don’t know they exist.

“My parents still listen to the same music they listened to in high school,” she continued. “And I think it’s the same way with Maine music. Some people just aren’t seeking out new bands that are coming up, they aren’t looking around for them. So this is a great opportunity for people to make discoveries.”

That said, with this being a milestone year, the goal was to really embrace the idea of bringing back festival alumni. And they have, with some of Maine music’s biggest names taking to the various stages. They couldn’t get everyone back – bands like Lady Lamb and Weakened Friends are otherwise engaged, touring here or abroad – but there are still some dynamite representatives of festivals past.

“I don’t ordinarily do it like this,” Shorette said. “But for this year, I really wanted to bring back as many past headliners and fan favorites. But even so, if you look at the lineup, you’ll still see plenty of bands that you might not know. I was really happy to be able to strike a good balance between the legendary bands of Maine and all these up-and-comers. And they’re all incredible.”

And again, both Gass and Shorette emphasize the importance of the relationship they have built with the city of Belfast, singing the praises of the town that plays host to All Roads.

“We’re trying to build this into a sustainable entity that could go on for 15, 20, 30, 40 more years,” said Gass. “Once you start thinking in those terms, I mean – five years went by fast, but now we’re going to have to look for even more coordination to keep it happening year after year.

“I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again – the city of Belfast has been just a tremendous partner. I don’t think we could do this in a lot of other places and have the same kind of reception and participation from the locals. Just in terms of putting on the festival, yes, these are non-traditional venues, but just the fact that these places exist – and are so eagerly willing to work with us each year – is absolutely incredible. Whether it was coincidence or good planning or whatever, Belfast has turned out to be a great home for us.”

Ambitious undertakings like this one are gambles. They’re risky propositions. So to see one not only survive, but thrive as the years pass is impressive. The work that Shorette, Gass and all the artists and volunteers do to make something like the All Roads Music Festival happen never really fully stops. And there’s a lot more that goes into it than you might think. Keeping so many plates spinning for five years is worth celebrating.

All Roads meet in Belfast. If you’re a fan of Maine music – or great music in general – you really shouldn’t miss out.

(The All Roads Music Festival will take place in Belfast on May 17-18. For tickets, a schedule of events or other information, you can visit the All Roads website at www.allroadsmusicfest.org. To learn more about Launchpad, visit www.wearelaunchpad.org.)

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Schedule of Events

FRIDAY, MAY 17

Legion Hall Stage

Kenya Hall – 7 p.m.
Paranoid Social Club – 8 p.m.
Spose – 9 p.m.
God.Damn.Chan. – 10 p.m.

SATURDAY, MAY 18

Legion Hall Stage

Earl Mac – 2:15 p.m.
Joel Thetford Band – 3:30 p.m.
Johnny Cremains – 4:45 p.m.
Armies – 6 p.m.
The Mallett Brothers Band – 7:15 p.m.
Murcielago – 8:30 p.m.
Rustic Overtones – 9:30 p.m.
The Ballroom Thieves – 10:45 p.m.

The Colonial

Maine Songwriter’s Circle - noon
Dave Conley – 1:45 p.m.
Greasy Grass – 3 p.m.
Brzowski – 4:15 p.m.
Max Garcia Conover – 5:30 p.m.
Sarah Violette – 6:45 p.m.

The Bazz

Mouth Washington – 2:30 p.m.
Wait – 3:45 p.m.
John Hughes Radio – 5 p.m.
Jason Ward & The West End Mules – 6:15 p.m.
The Breakfast Cowboy – 7:30 p.m.
Five of the Eyes – 8:45 p.m.

The Fallout Shelter / Waterfall Arts

Nice Life – 12:30 p.m.
Capture the Sun – 1:30 p.m.
Borderlines – 2:30 p.m.
Crunchcoat – 3:30 p.m.
Lemon Pitch – 4:30 p.m.
Covered in Bees – 5:30 p.m.
Cadaverette – 6:30 p.m.

The Church Stage / The First Church in Belfast

Janaesound – 3:15 p.m.
Katie Matzell – 4:30 p.m.
Sibylline – 5:45 p.m.
Sugarbush – 7 p.m.
Jacob Augustine – 8:15 p.m.

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