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The Maine Edge Year in Review: 2020

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I’ll be honest – after the seemingly unending bizarreness of 2020, I strongly considered giving our annual Year in Review edition a miss. Was this a year that people wanted to look back on? Did I want to look back?

Ultimately, I decided we should go forward. After all, even as we continue to deal with the ongoing issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic, life has gone on. It has gone on differently, rife with challenges both large and small, but it has gone on.

We here at the Edge encountered our own challenges, including shutting down our print edition for over three months, from mid-March to the end of June. However, we kept producing new content for our website and generally refused to go anywhere. We resumed printing in July, spending a couple of months as a bi-weekly publication before finally resuming our usual weekly run this fall.

We also bore witness to just how hard it was for our longtime partners, the many local businesses who have been loyal advertisers, the arts and cultural organizations who have been in many ways our raison d’etre and – of course – our readers, without whom we wouldn’t be here. This year, more than any other, we want to express our gratitude for the support we’ve received from so many.

And so, here are a few of our favorite stories from the past year.

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Arts and Culture Conversations

Some of our most important stories of 2020 were the ones where we were able to speak to arts and cultural leaders about the actions they were taking in order to adapt to pandemic circumstances. Sharing these conversations with our readers was our small way of trying to contribute to the cultural conversation and raise awareness of the Herculean efforts undertaken by so many to keep the arts alive in our region.

I spoke to artistic director Bari Newport and interim managing director Jen Shepard from Penobscot Theatre Company about the theatre’s pivot to the digital realm. PTC’s 47th season has been dubbed Digitus Theatrum, featuring a number of curated and commissioned offerings designed to create an engaging and thoughtful – albeit unconventional – theatre experience.

We also previewed the unconventional season put forward by Bangor Symphony Orchestra, speaking to the BSO’s musical director and conductor Lucas Richman and executive director Brian Hinrichs about the orchestra’s adaptations. The digital season that they developed offers a chance to continue their mission of engaging their patrons with the world of classical music.

In addition, we took a look at the many changes and pivots undertaken by the powers that be at the Bangor Arts Exchange. Josh Gass, managing director of the BAE-based arts incubator Launchpad, and his team spent loads of time finding ways to manage the ever-shifting COVID protocols and trying to ensure that the venue – a true jewel of the area’s creative scene – could remain a part of our town’s cultural fabric.

We also explored the pivots made by Waterville’s Maine International Film Festival (partnering with the Skowhegan Drive-In to present a truncated program) and Blue Hill’s Word Literary Festival (shifting to online readings and events), among others.

Author Interviews

One of the things about this job that gives me incredible joy is the opportunity that it provides to engage with books and the people who write them. My belief in the importance of books is deep and abiding; getting the chance to introduce our readers to the people who write them is something that I find to be incredibly rewarding.

Three authors have graced our cover in 2020, sharing their thoughts about their books and other things with us. We’ll start with the writer closest to home.

Back in July, Tim Cotton gave us “The Detective in the Dooryard,” a collection of short pieces – fiction and nonfiction alike – that reflected his time here in Maine. The majority were bult around Cotton’s experience as a police officer – specifically as an officer with the Bangor Police Department.

You’re undoubtedly familiar with Cotton’s work; he’s the one who turned the Bangor PD’s Facebook page into a social media behemoth, with a following that far outstrips the entire population of the greater Bangor area.

In our interview, he talked about how the book came about, but also about how manning the BPD Facebook page helped him grow as a writer. He also spoke about the ways in which his other life experiences influenced him going forward. Cotton’s a good interview and a very good writer; if you like him on Facebook, you’ll love “The Detective in the Dooryard.”

Next, let’s talk about Kerri Arsenault and her exceptional book “Mill Town.” Aresenault is a native of Maine, having grown up in the town of Mexico. The book is the good kind of undefinable – it’s a memoir and an environmental treatise and a work of industrial investigation, all rolled into one.

The book tells the story of Arsenault’s town and its generational connection to the local paper mill, discussing the positives and negatives of the symbiotic relationship and how the town’s ultimate reliance on the mill leads many residents to forgive and/or ignore the larger health and environmental issues raised by the mill’s presence.

Arsenault was an incredible interview, forthcoming and thoughtful about the book and the lengthy process of writing it. She spoke about how “Mill Town” evolved as she was writing it, shifting and changing with every new revelation and idea. It was fascinating to learn about what it meant to write about a subject that she held so close to her heart.

Lastly, I was thrilled to get the opportunity to speak to Claire McNear about her book “Answers in the Form of Questions: A Definitive History and Insider’s Guide to Jeopardy!” McNear has been writing about the beloved game show for years at the sports and culture website The Ringer among other outlets.

As someone who has appeared on the show (you didn’t really think I’d let a chance to remind everyone about that fun fact pass unnoticed, did you?), I found the book to be a thoughtful and fascinating repository of “Jeopardy!” info. It’s a smart and thoughtful deep dive, one that includes conversations with all manner of “J!” notables, up to and including the late Alex Trebek himself.

Our conversation might not have been quite as exciting as many of those, but it was still a great chat about the show and a chance for me to reminisce. The book fully captures the experience of being a contestant, from the online test to the audition to competing on the show itself.

What is Love?

Lastly, I wanted to spend a little time talking about what was my absolute favorite story of 2020. Every year, I offer up some sort of Valentine’s Day-related cover to coincide with the holiday, but this is far and away the best I’ve ever done. With the help of some local luminaries from the worlds of art and science, I attempted to answer a simple question: What is love?

The insight provided by these brilliant people – given no guidance beyond that basic question – proved illuminating and wildly entertaining. So many smart, talented people gracing our pages at the same time, all in service to exploring one of humanity’s fundamental questions. Yes, it was all the way back in February – approximately a thousand years ago, it sometimes seems – but it remains, undeniably, my personal favorite.

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We thank you, in this of all years, for choosing to spend some small part of your week with us. We are eternally grateful for your support and we look forward to hopefully shaking some hands and dishing out some hugs in 2021.

Stay safe. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Be well. We’ll see you soon.

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Mike Dow’s 2020 highlights

As much as I’d like to take the year 2020 out to the woodshed for a good old-fashioned punch-up, I’ll leave that to others better suited (and with more muscle) for such altercations.

Looking back at some of the stories I submitted this year, a few highlights popped out that I’d like to share with you in this space. If you missed them the first time around, you’ll find the full versions at www.TheMaineEdge.com.

I interviewed an abundance of interesting people from the worlds of music, movies and TV, including four-time CMA winner Martina McBride, who shared her fondness for Maine and her fans who live here.

“It’s one of my favorite places to have a vacation,” McBride said of Maine. “The first time I can remember playing there was many years ago in Bangor with Marty Stuart. I remember the reaction we got from the audience because they were so warm and welcoming to us. We were just starting out and that is one of the shows that stands out in my memory from the thousands of shows we’ve done.”

During a surprising sequence, Ahmet Zappa, son of the late music genius, composer, and all-around maverick, Frank Zappa, also shared his passion for Maine, even though he has yet to actually visit. “I’ve been obsessed with (Maine) since I was little,” Zappa said during an interview about “Zappa,” a powerful documentary about his father’s life and music.

“Maine is like my unicorn and I feel that if I were ever to go there, I would never return to Los Angeles,” Zappa said, adding “I’m jealous of everyone in Maine (laughs) and I want to live there, I love you guys.”

Radio legend Rowdy Yates has owned Saturday night for decades. His request show “The Original Country Gold with Rowdy Yates” originates from Texas and airs around the world but his audience in Maine, thanks in part to the powerful signal of WQCB, Q106.5, is an especially active one. Countless Mainers tune in to hear him play their classic country requests each week. Rowdy told me how he shocked some Maine listeners, whom he now considers friends, by showing up in person at their West Lake home.

“In all the years I’ve hosted this show, they’ve always called me every Saturday night. I said no tweeting, texting or Facebook,” Rowdy explained. “I just want this to be about you and your buds, just like when you call me every week. When we showed up, you’d have thought they were looking at aliens.”

Some of those folks have since vacationed in Texas where Rowdy and his wife Kim welcomed them into their home. “They’re not my fans, they’re my friends,” he said.

Actor William Hurt (“Altered States,” “Body Heat,” “The Big Chill”) spent some time reminiscing about Maine during an interview for his most recent film “The Last Full Measure.”

“When I was 13, I spent the summer in Waterville in a dilapidated old farmhouse that my father rented,” Hurt told me. “He wanted to experience a rustic summer with his sons so we went up to Maine and spent the summer in this wreck of a house with no TV and no indoor plumbing. This place had an outhouse so bedraggled, water would drip on our backs, but it was one of the best summers of my life.”

Some of my favorite interview moments from the past year involved musicmakers, including Martin Barre, Jethro Tull’s lead guitarist for more than 40 years. Martin is a gifted musician with a wicked sense of humor and a truly down to Earth disposition. I asked him if the guitar still held any secrets after all this time.

“Oh sure, music is infinite,” he responded. “It’s a bottomless pit of information of which I’ve only managed to scrape the surface, and that’s why playing the guitar is still so exciting for me. You’d think its simplicity would be very restricting but I’ve never found a restriction and I play every day.”

Other personal favorites from the past year include conversations with Oscar-winner Sigourney Weaver, Micky Dolenz of The Monkees, Kathy Valentine of The Go Gos, a cover story on Jimi Hendrix’s 1970 Maui concert, finally released after 50 years, and an exchange with Joe Elliott, guitarist with Def Leppard and his side project band Down ‘n’ Outz.

Joe speaks from the heart, especially when it comes to the other musicians in his bands. On the fact that the members of Def Leppard get along so well after more than 40 years together:

“Shouldn’t that be how it is for everybody?” Elliott asked. “I never understood how that initial excitement of being in a band and making music together, and getting somewhere and trying to sustain it, somehow goes away with some groups. Every band has arguments but we deal with them in a real adult way, I suppose.

We didn’t so much remain successful, we regained our success. We’d lost it but we weren’t prepared to let it go. We worked very hard to get back to where we are now because we believed in what we did. We know that we can’t do it without each other, and that’s the beauty of it. There’s a lot of love and respect in this band.”

Thank you for making The Maine Edge a part of your life this year. Let’s raise a glass and share this vintage Irish toast:

May your troubles be less and your blessings be more, and nothing but happiness come through your door.

Last modified on Wednesday, 30 December 2020 10:50

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