I don’t know about you, but I’ve been experiencing a lot of angst about live music and I don’t mean just missing it. It’s the fact that even with some live music happening, I have felt weird and uncomfortable about going to see most of it.
Here’s the good news: I found a beacon of light last weekend and it’s Maine Craft Distilling, which recently started putting on outdoor shows that follow CDC guidelines and can accommodate up to 200 people, such is the vastness of their real estate.
Incredibly, the Brooklyn, New York-based Americana/indie-folk/alternative country act The Lone Bellow played there on Saturday night. The last time I saw them was on the main stage at the 2018 Newport Folk Festival and the last time they were in Maine, they headlined The State Theatre. I’ll get to how they happened to play a much smaller space in a bit.
Other than one 45-person outdoor Lady Lamb show that I saw in August and part of a Don Campbell parking lot show in early June, I haven’t felt truly OK with seeing live music because I go back and forth about whether I feel safe. Moreover, I’ve come to develop something I’m calling “pandemic guilt,” a feeling that I shouldn’t be doing anything fun and that I truly love during such dark, uncertain times.
I’ve also felt that if I can’t see live music the “right” way, I don’t want to see it at all. This is where things get complicated. What is the right way? Does it have to be standing shoulder to shoulder with people or seated in tightly packed rows? Does it have to involve singing and dancing and sometimes mingling with the artist at the merch table afterwards?
Simply put: No.
Maine Craft Distilling, like every other business, has been impacted by the pandemic, but they stepped up in a big way. They have been making their We’ve Got This brand of hand sanitizer since the coronavirus hit, and they started offering outdoor live music in September. The two previous shows were Town Line and Muddy Ruckus. CEO Luke Davidson said the company really wanted to figure out a way to make live music happen. After witnessing it firsthand, I give the distillery high marks as mask wearing and social distancing at the concert were de rigueur.
The duo Muddy Ruckus played an outdoor show at the distillery on Sept. 3 and have another show scheduled for Oct. 17. Drummer/singer Erika Stahl said she and singer/guitarist Ryan Flaherty felt very safe. Given that Stahl received a kidney transplant in May, she doesn’t take safety lightly. “The tables were spaced out very well, and every one of the staff and patrons wore masks and were very respectful and observed safety precautions,” she said, adding that there was hand sanitizer on every table. It was the duo’s first concert since March and Stahl described it as laid-back with a sweet vibe. “Everyone seemed really grateful for the music,” Stahl said. “We were very impressed with everything they’ve done at Maine Craft Distilling to make it a comfortable and safe place to enjoy a meal and live music during this time.”
In fact, hearing all of this from Stahl was what made me feel OK about going to see The Lone Bellow. In my experience, everything she said was true.
But how on earth did a band as big as The Lone Bellow end up playing at Maine Craft Distilling for free? When I saw the event posted on the company’s Facebook page a few days before the show, I honestly thought the page had been hacked or that the announcement was a hoax. Davidson said that he, too, was surprised to get a phone call from the band. Apparently, another show The Lone Bellow was supposed to play had fallen through. They were already going to be in the general area, and they’d heard about the distillery from the booking agent for Maine act The Ghost of Paul Revere, which is playing (an already sold-out) ticketed show there on Oct. 18.
I was able to keep my distance and turn my phone’s voice memo app on for a quick, masked chat with The Lone Bellow’s Zach Williams after their sound-check. He told me that the Portland show was just their third since the pandemic hit. and their first in Maine in that time. Williams said he and his bandmates were happy to have found a way to play live shows safely, and added they never pass up an opportunity to play in Maine. “Anytime we’re invited to Portland we come. We love this city. It rules!” The other two members of The Lone Bellow are Kanene Donehey Pipkin and Brian Elmquist.
Truth be told, I should have dressed a bit warmer for the show that night but hot French fries paired with hot cider helped take the edge off. Then I got chills of an entirely different type — the sort induced by seeing a band I love play live. The Lone Bellow played several songs from their most recent album,”Half Moon Light,” released in February, including “Good Times,” “I Can Feel You Dancing” and “Wonder.” They also played three sensational covers: John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery, Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” and Paul Simon’s “Slip Slidin’ Away.”
The Lone Bellow ended the show with “Green Eyes and a Heart of Gold” from their 2013 self-titled debut album. The song repeats the line “It’s alright, it’s alright, it’s alright, it’s alright” several times, and as I stood there alone to the right of the stage on a cool October night I got teary because I really did feel alright.