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The Maine Edge Year in Review 2021

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BANGOR – Well … that was a year, huh?

2021 certainly presented its share of struggles and obstacles to be sure, as the world sought to push its way back to some semblance of normalcy – an effort upon whose success the jury is still very much out.

But this isn’t about the struggles. Hell, The Maine Edge isn’t about the struggles; we’re about sharing what’s good and interesting out there with you, the reader. And so we thought you might enjoy taking a look back with us as we revisit some of our favorite stories of the past year.

Thank you for reading. Here’s a look back at a few slices of the year that was, both from me and from the pen of the inimitable Mike Dow.

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United Way brings ‘Hopeful’ message to Bangor

This most recent story on our list came to my attention via Jesse Moriarity of the United Way of Eastern Maine. It was the culmination of a lengthy effort to bring this piece of beautiful public art – conceived by artist Charlie Hewitt – to the City of Bangor.

I wrote the feature in November, featuring interviews with Moriarity and the delightfully engaging and ever-so-slightly-bonkers Hewitt. The sign went up just a short while ago, shining its light down the length of Bangor’s Main Street and offering up a welcome message of hope to all who see it.

It was one of those pieces that came about due to a confluence of circumstances – I’ve known Jesse for years and she had been talking about “Hopeful” for some time. Not in a “please cover this” kind of way, but rather a “this is so cool” kind of way.

It’s also a genre of story I love, a unique artistic happening in our region that is all about positivity.

Chris Bohjalian

I’m usually good for two or three authors on our cover over the course of a year – I do love books – but for whatever reason, we only managed a couple in 2021.

But Chris Bohjalian was a big one for me.

I’ll admit that I was a little late to the Bohjalian train – he was already over a dozen books deep into his career, before I picked up the first one of his that I read – but I have been riding with him ever since.

We spoke in tandem with the release of his excellent novel “Hour of the Witch” – you might recall having seen it on our Recommended Reads list; it’s REALLY good – and discussed that book, but also his process and some more general thoughts about writing and what it means to be a writer. His answers were thoughtful and considered; there’s something great about interacting with someone who is so talented while also being humble about that talent.

One of the most satisfying aspects of this job is the ability to share books with the world. And when the authors of those books are willing to share some of how those books came about? So much the better.

Tim Cotton

This summer marked the second time that Tim Cotton, the poet laureate of the Bangor Police Department, has graced our cover. I spoke to Tim about his new book “Got Warrants,” a follow-up to 2020’s successful “The Detective in the Dooryard.”

It’s always fascinating to talk to someone like Tim, someone who has stumbled into a rewarding avocation. Anyone who has read the Bangor PD’s world-famous Facebook page – a page whose fame is a direct result of Tim’s sense of humor and general authorial panache – knows that he’s a man with a gift. The fact that he has found an outlet for that gift while also continuing his good work with the Bangor PD is particularly impressive.

Tim’s self-deprecatory attitude is apparent anytime you communicate with him for more than a few moments – he refuses to take any of this seriously. Well – the surrounding stuff, anyway. The actual writing is important to him, something about which he is passionate and proud (though he’d never admit it out loud).

The new book is good. As was the first book. And when the next one comes out, well … that’ll probably be good too. Here’s hoping he’ll be on our cover again to talk about it.

A decade of ‘Downtown with Rich Kimball’

Of course I was going to mark the auspicious anniversary of the best damned drive-time radio show on AM radio in Eastern Maine. Particularly since Rich and company have been foolish enough to put me on their airwaves twice a week since the show’s inception.

As someone who was there from the beginning, I knew a fair amount of the story behind the show. But it wasn’t until I spoke to Rich directly about it – not to mention every one of the show’s producers (Bryan Stackpole, Ryan Waning, Carey Haskell) – that I understood just how it came to be.

Obviously, I’m not involved enough to really know the entirety of the show’s goings-on. But as someone who’s in the room for an hour or so every week, I have borne witness to the amount of work and passion that goes into sending that show into the region’s radios every day.

This was a fun one, a chance for everyone out there to know some of what I knew about the inner workings of what is, for all the host’s self-deprecation, an exceptional radio program.

Bari Newport bids goodbye to Bangor

This one marked another opportunity for me to write about someone that I consider a friend.

Bari Newport’s tenure as Artistic Director of Penobscot Theatre Company came to a close in the spring. I took the opportunity to write a story about her, a retrospective of her time spent as one of the creative stalwarts of the region. These sorts of farewells are difficult, to be sure, but they are also a chance to celebrate memories.

PTC saw a lot of organizational growth over the course of Bari’s tenure. She made it a point to try and present work that was both creatively and commercially satisfying – an effort that was largely successful.

All told, I myself was in seven shows that Bari directed and reviewed more than that. She was a major part of the cultural fabric of our area for nearly a decade … and we were lucky to have her.

I’ll be honest: I don’t enjoy saying goodbye to these friends when they move on. This is the second of these stories I’ve written, having said so long to Bari’s predecessor Scott Levy in the same way. Again – I don’t enjoy saying goodbye, but I sure am glad that I have the opportunity to help them say their own goodbyes to Bangor.

Paying a visit to ‘Mr. Ben’s Playhouse’

This was actually our first cover story of 2021, but it was such a lovely one that it has withstood the test of time to land here amidst the memories.

Part of Penobscot Theatre Company’s innovative Digitus Theatrum season (a pivot to streaming that remains as successful as any that I’ve noted from any regional theatre in the country, by the way), “Mr. Ben’s Playhouse” was conceived as a throwback-type of programming, hearkening back to a time when Saturday morning television was king.

I spoke to the creatives involved – Ben Layman, Brad LaBree, Kat Johnson – about the project and what it meant to undertake such an endeavor in the midst of such challenging circumstances. Their passion for what they made was clear and the story was a joy to write.

Stirring the pot

As a rule, I don’t generally do newsy-type stories. It’s not really the space that we occupy.

However, when it occurred to me that the six-month mark of legal recreational marijuana would line up almost precisely with April 20, well … I couldn’t resist.

What followed was a fascinating look at the exponential explosion of retail marijuana throughout the state. At the time of my writing, there were only a handful of licensed shops and other facilities that had opened, though there were literally hundreds of licenses pending various levels of approval.

It was a look at the significant revenue stream that had been unlocked by the legalization effort – a stream that has only deepened in the months since. Maine has always had a robust pot economy, but now, that business has emerged from the shadows into full legitimacy (although my research for the piece ALSO indicated that the black/grey market for pot was still very lively and promised to be so for the foreseeable future).

There are probably still those out there who disapprove, even if the sky didn’t wind up falling. And that’s OK – people didn’t want alcohol prohibition to end either. But legal weed is here now, big business that is only going to get bigger.

And more!

There are plenty of other stories from the past year that I love.

I got to talk to folks about the Word Literary Festival and the Bangor Comic & Toy Convention. I spoke to the wonderful weirdos of the PortFringe Festival. I did a piece on the Portland Sea Dogs in advance of their opening day this year that was great fun to write.

I wrote a baking story for the summertime and an unconventional side dishes story for Thanksgiving. For Valentine’s Day, I did a deep dive into the movie realm, assembling a century of cinematic romance – one film love story from each of the past 100 years.

And I put all of us into a Stephen King story for April Fools’ Day.

All that, plus the usual previews and reviews, looking ahead at what was coming and then telling you what I thought after its arrival. Hundreds of stories, stories I enjoyed writing and – I hope – you enjoyed reading.

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Mike Dow’s Year in Review

Before Guy Lombardo’s ghost hangs up his red tuxedo, I’d like to share a few personal favorite moments from the past year here at The Maine Edge.

Most of my stories and interviews are music-related but sometimes an opportunity pops up that allows me to interact with a figure whose cultural impact transcends genres.

William Shatner

Did I actually interview William Shatner twice this year? I’m still astonished that it actually happened. The 10-year-old me would have traded a kidney for the opportunity to say hello to Captain Kirk just once. Glad I waited!

We first connected in early January for a story focused on his History Channel program “The UnXplained,” where Shatner explores some of our planet’s most confounding mysteries. I can’t say for certain but I have a hunch that he appreciated the fact that I didn’t shift gears to ask a tired question connected to his Star Trek years. Whatever the circumstance, that initial conversation led to a follow-up interview just two weeks after Shatner returned to Earth from his life-altering trip to the edge of space in a Blue Origin rocket.

Most of the discussion dealt with that experience and how it affected him emotionally. It was truly a surreal experience to sit alone in my studio with tape rolling as William Shatner unrolled an extemporaneous six-minute monologue to an audience of one describing how he’d been profoundly moved to tears by the mission and how it differed greatly from what he’d expected.

“I’ve studied space as much as I can,” Shatner said. “I’m Captain Kirk, I’m supposed to know about space…the stardust, the birth of stars, the death of stars, galaxies billions of years away, it’s romantic. Not there. What I saw was blackness and death and the deep coldness of space…then I looked back and saw the curvature of the Earth…”

William Shatner is more than a global treasure, he’s a celestial one. Live long and prosper, sir.

Other highlights from my year that was here at the Edge included interviews with legendary songwriter and performer Paul Anka, singer-songwriter A.J. Croce (gifted son of the late Jim Croce), blues guitar great Jimmie Vaughan, Stevie Van Zandt, and the always hilarious virtuoso keyboardist Rick Wakeman of YES.

Along with Mr. Shatner, the stories and interviews that meant the most to me on a personal level included my cover story about author Peter Guralnick’s incredible book “Looking to Get Lost: Adventures in Music and Writing,” which includes a spellbinding 70–page chapter on Maine’s Dick Curless. I believe there is no greater writer of music subjects than Guralnick and his memories of being in the studio for Curless’s final recording sessions were so vivid, you feel as a reader as if it’s unfolding in the present.

Anyone who knows me well will tell you that I have a deep abiding love for one of America’s most enduring but vastly underappreciated bands, NRBQ, led by the inimitable Terry Adams. My November cover story about the band’s new album “Dragnet” included a very funny and wide-ranging interview with Adams. It was my first opportunity to connect with him after more than three decades of seeing shows and listening endlessly to NRBQ’s output.

When I shared with Adams that I’d made many friends over the years through NRBQ, he replied that he knew of people who’d married and had children after connecting through the band’s music. I asked him how that made him feel.

“It does feel good, but I don’t really know how to describe it,” he said. “Some people have said they’d tried to bring a friend to see the band, but they just didn’t get it. Or they brought someone that did get it. I always ask what it was they did or didn’t get. I never know because it’s just music, it’s not meant to be a puzzle or anything. We play organic music for the right motive, and I think maybe fans of the band can feel that, they need it.”

My goal for the next year is to bring you similarly substantive stories and interviews with people you may already know and some that you don’t that I feel are deserving of your precious reading time.

Last modified on Wednesday, 22 December 2021 12:57

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