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Musical memories: Maine Edge readers recount their Top-10 Waterfront Concerts

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Here at The Maine Edge, we really miss the live music experience, and you’ve told us that you really miss it too. Most stages, venues and concert halls have been quiet for more than a year and that silence is deafening. We miss the intimate in-person shows at Bangor Arts Exchange, the magic of live theater at Penobscot Theatre, the symphonies and concerts at the Collins Center in Orono – and we miss seeing legends take the big stage downtown.

We asked you to tell us about the best shows you’ve seen at Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion, presented by Waterfront Concerts. The votes are in and your picks are fascinating to say the least.

Before we reveal the list of your favorite shows, let’s look back at the rise of Waterfront Concerts and the effect it has had on the area’s economy and entertainment landscape.

It’s been nearly 20 months since Waterfront Concerts last staged a show at Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion, a venue that was preparing for its biggest season to date when Covid cleared the schedule for 2020.

Over 10 seasons, from July 2010, when Celtic Woman was featured as the inaugural concert at Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion, through August 2019, when Breaking Benjamin performed with four support bands, Waterfront Concerts staged 152 shows that brought well over one million concertgoers to downtown Bangor. In the process of entertaining all of those folks, the greater Bangor area’s entertainment landscape was transformed as a direct result of the concert series, which some believed to be an unworkable prospect.

Brand New Day

Waterfront Concerts founder and owner, Alex Gray, recalls the naysayers.

“It’s bittersweet to do this in my home community,” Gray said, when asked to look back on the first decade of Waterfront Concerts in downtown Bangor. “Conventional wisdom said this had to be in southern Maine at the very least, and many thought it wouldn’t work at all in the state,” Gray said.

Maine was sort of an afterthought for many larger touring acts, Gray recalled, citing the venue options available in Maine prior to the formation of Waterfront Concerts.

“Acts were passing us by back then,” Gray said. “The Cumberland County Civic Center didn’t have a lot of the modern frills of new buildings, and Manchester, New Hampshire, was in its heyday with Verizon Wireless Arena. Maine wasn’t a place artists came to play unless you’re talking about agricultural fairs.”

That began to change in 2010 when Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion opened with its original configuration that had the capacity to host a maximum of about 10,000 fans.

“In 2010, we were back by the old railroad site in that nook, somewhat on the front doorstep of where the new Bangor Savings Complex is now,” Gray said.

A variety acts performed at the venue in its first three seasons, including Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Charlie Daniels Band, Keith Urban, Def Leppard and Journey, to cite a few of the bigger names.

By 2012, when Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan appeared together at Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion, artists began to take notice that the biggest acts could play here in Bangor, according to Gray.

Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes

Following the 2012 season, the Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion concert site underwent significant construction that saw the site and stage reconfigured and spun around to its present location aside the hill along Main Street. This allowed maximum capacity at the venue to increase by nearly 60%.

“The improvements took us to about 15,000 and change for maximum capacity,” Gray said. “We call it 16,000, but it’s a little below that.”

The first big test of the new and improved facility came on July 3, 2013, when Phish opened its summer tour with their first performance in Bangor since November 1994. The band spent the week leading up to the show in rehearsal down the street at the newly constructed Cross Insurance Center, christening the beautiful new building with sweet jams two months before it opened to the public.

Prior to Phish’s 2013 appearance at the redesigned Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion, recent heavy rain had turned the freshly lain sod into lush green grass. Gray recalls that the rain proved too much too soon for the new sod.

“We got something like seven and a half inches of rain in three days and the sod was rolled up like ribbon candy at the front of the stage barricade at the end of the show,” Gray said.

All was well when Phish returned for back-to-back shows at the venue in 2019.

Yes, there were growing pains, but they were addressed, such as the stage relocation, not only to accommodate larger crowds but to alleviate complaints of noise from nearby downtown neighborhoods.

The relocation and expansion of the site wasn’t the only improvement to Bangor’s waterfront in 2012 and early 2013. A 10-foot wide paved and illuminated walkway was constructed along the waterfront, extending from the intersection of Railroad and Front Streets to Hollywood Casino.

Right on the Money

The financial impact of Waterfront Concerts on the greater Bangor region is a subject that has seen regular examination, especially over the last nine years, since University of Maine economics professor, Todd Gabe, first fielded a study measuring the effect of the concerts on the local economy.

Gabe’s statistics revealed that in its first three years of operation, Waterfront Concerts made a $30.4 Million impact on the Bangor region’s economy through the presentation of 41 concerts. $18.72 Million was spent directly by concertgoers at local restaurants, hotels and motels in the area, and another $11.8 Million was spent indirectly.

Gray says that Gabe has continued to update his data to measure the financial impact of the recent and more expansive seasons of shows presented at Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion.

“We did an analysis at the end of 2019 to share with our sponsors and key members of the community,” Gray explained. “We saw our one millionth fan that year, and our impact had increased to about $141 million through the 2018 season. That’s about a million and a half per show put into the local economy.”

Gray says the $1.5 million per show pumped into the local economy is “free money” for the area, citing the fact that a comparatively small percentage of the audience actually comes out of Penobscot County and that Canadian concertgoers are so vital to the business.

“People tie their trips into what’s happening on the waterfront and plan their excursions to Bar Harbor accordingly,” Gray said.

According to Gray, Gabe conducted a separate study to reveal what Bangor area residents gained annually as a result of Waterfront Concerts.

“The figure was something like $7 million or $8 million that stayed in the local economy because Bangor area concertgoers didn’t need to drive to Boston to see a show,” Gray said. “They didn’t need to take a day off from work or rent a hotel room in another community.”

Based on those figures – and taking into account the fact that 2020 would have been the biggest season to date for Waterfront Concerts – it’s easy to extrapolate that the area lost out on a figure that sits somewhere between $25 million and $30 million as a direct result of the pandemic, according to Gray.

Tomorrow’s Song

What happens next? When will the venue stage its next concert? Will it be possible to add further shows for this year? Gray says he wishes he knew the answers to those questions now.

There are currently three concerts scheduled for Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion in August, all makeup shows that were postponed last year. Luke Bryan is scheduled to perform on August 5, KISS on August 19, and Thomas Rhett on August 20.

Gray says he should know by mid-April or May whether or not it will be possible to add shows to the schedule for this year.

“Everyone’s holding until then in terms of ‘go or no-go’ for this summer,” he said. “I think everybody wants to see if the vaccinations can move in the right direction, and everyone is watching these variants in the virus. Cases are going up and the question is, are states going to roll back openings and start reapplying restrictions? So much can happen in the next 60 days, good or bad.”

Gray admits it’s a very trying time for his organization.

“We have a lot of heavy lifting to do with the city to figure out how this is going to work,” Gray said regarding the return of concerts at Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion.

“There will have to be a lot of creative methods to keep the music playing on in downtown Bangor. We’ll have to be very creative on how we come out of this, and what it is we do to really get us through the next 10 years.”

Joy of My Life

In March, we asked you to tell us about the best Waterfront Concerts you witnessed during the first 10 seasons of shows at Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion. We’ve had a blast pouring through the entries and reading your memories of the shows you loved most. We compiled this top 10 based on the most frequently cited shows by readers of The Maine Edge.

#10 – Bob Dylan (with special guest, Leon Russell), August 20, 2011

Dylan is no stranger to Bangor. He performed numerous times at the old Bangor Auditorium, including a show with his legendary Rolling Thunder Revue on Thanksgiving Day, 1975. Maine Edge reader Joe Meijer writes that he currently lives in Cherryfield, but was living in New Brunswick in 2011 when he discovered that his idol was scheduled to play in Bangor. After a five-hour drive, he walked into the venue for the first time. “The audience was older, but all pretty hip, and the atmosphere of anticipation was vibrant,” Meijer wrote. He says he’ll never forget Dylan’s encore that night: “There was the organ riff I knew all too well. I lost all inhibition, got up, and ran to the front. There is Bob Dylan and he’s playing ‘Like a Rolling Stone!’ It was one of the highlights of my life!”

#9Kid Rock, “Red Blooded Rock ‘n’ Roll Redneck Extravaganza tour,” August 3, 2018

“It was the first show of his tour, which meant that Kid was in town all week. He wanted a closed soundstage so he rehearsed with his band at Cross Insurance Center,” Alex Gray recalled about this wild show. Kid’s 2018 concert in Bangor received a number of votes from Maine Edge readers, including Daniel Hindes: “He put on a hell of a show,” Hindes wrote in his email. “It was a jaw-dropper to see the man live that I used to walk down the hallways at school singing along with on my walkman.”

#8 – Steely Dan, “Jamalot Ever After” tour, August 29, 2014

Fagan, Becker and company blew the audience away with a varied set-list of hits and rarities, mostly performed close to the original arrangements. Concertgoer Thom Osborne of Brewer summed up this stunner of a show best in his email: “Gorgeous summer night, surrounded by friends, seeing my favorite band for the fifth time. I didn’t want the night to end. Perfection.”

#7Jimmy Buffet, “I Don’t Know” tour, August 18, 2016

Bangor came alive for Buffet and his band in 2016. Alex Gray recalls this show as one of the fastest sellouts in the history of the pavilion. “If you listened to the whir of the city that day, you could have sworn you were in New York City,” he said. Carol Reilley of Fredericton, New Brunswick told us she’ll never forget it. “It was the greatest concert of my life,” she wrote. “He did all of his songs that we wanted, plus songs by The Eagles and Van Morrison. We sang and danced non-stop!”

#6Phish, June 25 and June 26, 2019

Concertgoer Brett Slater of Wiscasset cites Phish’s June 25, 2019 show in Bangor as one of the band’s most underrated shows of the year: “The version of ‘Simple’ was a standout, and my wife was pleased to get a ‘Mike’s Song/Weekapaug Groove’ medley, her personal favorite. We met with old friends and got to know some new ones as is so often the case at a Phish show,” he wrote. Alex Gray says he’s “definitely a fan” of these legendary jammers. “They are all amazing musicians and their production is over the top,” he said. Bangor concertgoer Joe McCaffrey says Phish is first with him. “Their ability to transform their music and light show is nothing short of otherworldly,” he wrote. “All four of these men feed off of each other so incredibly, it almost can’t be explained unless you’ve seen them or heard their live music. This special dynamic is the vehicle that transforms the Phish live concert experience to an unmatched level of brilliance.”

#5 – Zac Brown Band, “Down the Rabbit Hole” tour, September 28, 2018

These Georgia-based country-rockers draw from a huge fan-base. Alex Gray says the eight-piece band’s first appearance at the venue, on June 2, 2012, helped prove the strength of Bangor’s ticket-buying public. “He’s an artist that freewheels and has so much fun,” Gray said of Brown. The band returned in June of 2015 and came back in 2018 for a show cited by a number of readers, including Bryan Brackett, who says he’ll never forget the band’s surprising cover of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.”

#4 – Toby Keith, “Hammer Down” tour, September 2, 2013

Toby Keith performed in Bangor under the stars in 2016 in “One of the best nights ever,” he wrote on social media after the show. A number of readers cited Keith’s “rain concert” at Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion from Labor Day, 2013 as their favorite show of all. “God, did it rain at this show,” Alex Gray recalls. Several inches of rain only served to fire up Keith and his band, as they delivered nearly 30 songs to soaked fans. Vanessa Boynton wrote that she’d been celebrating her birthday with friends when they surprised her with a ticket to this show. “We still talk about how much fun we had that night,” she wrote.

#3 – Van Halen, July 30, 2015

It was an unforgettable night on the waterfront best summed up in this email from concertgoer Adam Osborne: “I had seen Van Halen twice before. On both occasions, I was in the nosebleeds and Eddie was clearly battling demons. But in July of 2015, he was in my hometown, healthy, grinning and playing like it was 1981, and I was third row, center stage. Eddie Van Halen was as influential a figure in my life as anyone could be; I own two of his guitars, three of his pedals and stacks of magazine covers. His passing six months ago hit hard, and I'll be forever grateful that I was able to witness his greatness as intimately as I did on the Waterfront.” Thanks to Osborne for also sharing a fantastic photo of EVH he took that night.

#2 – Kenny Chesney, “Trip Around the Sun” tour, August 16, 2018

Kenny Chesney clearly enjoys performing in Bangor. Chesney has brought his band to Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion four times, most recently for this 2018 show cited by a number of readers, including Vickie Wyman, who writes “So happy I had the opportunity to see one of my favorite country artists. I’ve been to every Kenny Chesney show in Bangor and am so glad I don’t have to drive to Boston anymore!” Gray says he recommends music fans take in a Chesney show even if they don’t consider themselves country music fans. “Kenny loves Maine and he loves playing here. His boat captain is from Maine and he has a big lobster feed backstage for all of his Maine contacts when he’s here.”

#1 – Luke Bryan, “Kill the Lights” tour, July 17, 2016

Chances are Bryan recalls this show as fondly as the 13,122 fans in his Bangor audience on July 17, 2016. It was Bryan’s 40th birthday show, a concert that opened with “Rain is a Good Thing” and wrapped more than two hours later with “Country Girl (Shake it For Me).” This show received more fan votes than any other in our contest. Alex Gray remembers it was a special night for fans, and also for Bryan: “This show was bananas,” he said. “It included a curfew penalty because Luke was having so much fun. Luke and his wife had all of their friends here to celebrate his birthday. They made great use of Maine during their visit, with Luke’s wife and her friends heading to Bar Harbor while he and his buddies went fishing up in the Allagash.”

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Thanks to everyone who submitted an entry for our contest. The prize package, courtesy of Waterfront Concerts, includes a pair of ticket vouchers that may be exchanged for a future show of the winner’s choice, a 10th anniversary Waterfront Concerts hoodie and a premium seats water bottle. Our winner, selected at random from all entries, is Patti LaVoie. Congratulations Patti!

You told us in your emails how much you miss the live music experience. While it’s still too soon to know when concerts will able to resume at Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion, and at other venues, Alex Gray says we can all help the situation now by supporting our local arts organizations.

“I’m thinking of organizations like Penobscot Theatre and the Bangor Symphony Orchestra,” Gray said. “The best thing music fans and lovers of the arts can do right now is to support them. Buy a membership and subscribe to the arts. Look at other states that have given out large grants from the original Cares Act directly to arts organizations and you’ll see how it helped. Some think of the arts as expendable. The arts are what make the colors of life happen.”

Last modified on Wednesday, 07 April 2021 11:04

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