A Port City State Of Mind
By: Sean Moore/ Photos By: Kenneth Coles
The office space for the full-time employees of State Theatre, Thompson’s Point, and Port City Music Hall operations is in a nondescript building on Congress Street. In fact, you probably have to know exactly what you’re looking for, in order to go there. It is two floors above the iconic State Theatre, and upon entering, looks less like a “business” office and much more like a comfortable, co-op work space in a building that has been standing on the corner of Congress and High streets since 1929. There are a few open boxes of music and/or concert related materials on the floor and strew on tables, as well as a handful of tour posters to commemorate several of the bands that have played in Portland.
Meg Shorette, talent buyer for Port City Music Hall, and Lauren Wayne, talent buyer for State Theatre and Thompson’s Point, graciously accepted an offer to meet and discuss some of the history behind the venues, their own history within the music industry, as well as some of the ins and outs of their jobs. We head to a room in the State Theatre office that doubles as a kitchen area for the staff as well as a large green room for artists to hang out and relax prior to hitting the stage. There is a long, rectangular table, book shelves, a couple of vintage couches, and tour posters on the walls. Lauren and Meg open the discussion with how they came to work in the music industry, more specifically, in Portland.
Lauren Wayne came to work in Portland by way of Boston, where she was the director of marketing for Live Nation New England, working for Don Law, a job she started in 2001. Her current position became a reality when the State Theatre was purchased by Alex Crothers in partnership with The Bowery Presents (Jim Glancy and John Moore). As we spoke about the history of the building and how it became a music venue, it becomes clear that Lauren understands the music industry and just what the State Theatre in particular, means to the city.
“here’s $500, because it’s going to happen, Dave’s going to smoke on stage.”
As a venue, it seems that the State Theatre was disregarded and perhaps mismanaged for years, as it went through several phases of closings and re-openings since 1929, most recently shutting the doors and operations as a venue in 2006. It remained untouched and vacant for the next four years. Until, Crothers saw an opportunity, hooked investors with his idea, and brought Lauren Wayne in for her vast, intimate knowledge of the music scene. The new ownership decided some major renovations were overdue and necessary to create an inviting atmosphere for everyone, from the audience to the artists. Included in the renovations, Lauren explains, “we lifted the stage 18 inches, renovated the bathrooms and the green rooms for the artists, ripped out many of the seats in order to have plenty of general admission standing space in the front, and built two more bars.” The capacity of the venue is now 1,929, which Lauren smiles and laughs saying, “you know, the same year it was built.” Something that remained untouched through the renovations, though, are the original hemp ropes that adorn the large curtains on stage. Lauren tells a funny, anecdotal story about the regulations involving no alcohol and/or smoking on stage related to the hemp ropes, which of course are highly flammable.
When Jane’s Addiction played the State Theatre in 2012, Dave Navarro’s agent approached Lauren backstage and said, “here’s $500, because it’s going to happen, Dave’s going to smoke on stage.” The $500 was in reference to the fine they would inevitably incur. She is able to laugh about it now. Back then, she did not know what to say, after all, it was Dave Navarro.
When it reopened in October of 2010, My Morning Jacket played a sold out show to an incredibly enthusiastic crowd that was happy to have the historic venue back in action. Although, Lauren admits, “it was extremely difficult to book shows that first year back in business.” She was only able to book a handful of shows, but then word traveled fast within the industry, because ever since 2011, it seems like there is an opportunity to experience a wide variety of entertainment almost any day of the week when you look at the monthly calendar. When asked about the potential to hold another music festival, the likes of Mumford & Sons’ “Gentlemen of the Road,” Lauren explains that she doesn’t feel like it’s a necessity, because “with the amount of music happening on any given night at all the different venues in Portland,” the city does not need something like a festival to garner attention. Along the same lines, when asked where she sees the music/concert industry going in the future, specific to Portland, Lauren explains that she believes it has a “bright future, with the influx of people coming to Portland, either through tourism or moving”. She did point out that Portland needs more young people to move into the city, to keep the music scene vibrant and fresh.
When the discussion turns to what goes into “talent buying,” Lauren explains that it begins with a relationship between the agents and herself that includes “about 80% trust, mutually” and because of her nearly two-decades history in the industry, she can proudly say she’s earned the respect of colleagues, competitors, agents, and the “talent” she pursues. Ticket pricing was also a topic of discussion from here and she explained that it is commonly a part of the negotiations with agents, and that you often work backwards through the process. “Agents may bring a price to the table. Often times, I suggest a ticket price in the process,” explaining that she can tell an agent she has a background with what specific talent can garner a ticket price, and again, she says, it is about the “mutual trust” in the relationship.
One incredible success story we talk about involves the band Lake Street Dive. They are a band that has seen a massive influx of attention and support among the music fans in Portland. They have gone from playing the smaller venue, Port City Music Hall, to multiple sold out shows at the State Theatre, to a sold out show at Thompson’s Point, the largest of the Portland venues, with a capacity of about 5,000 people, last summer.
When I inquire about how important local music is to the thriving scene in Portland, Lauren began talking about the impact Dave Noyes, a local musician who recently passes away and established several projects including Rustic Overtones, had on the community as a whole. In fact, the State Theatre held a benefit show for the Noyes family and Lauren was astonished with the support and turn out that night. Lauren also states that one of her very first “music friends” when she moved to Portland was one of Dave Noyes’ really good friends, Spencer Albee, whose Beatles Night tribute has seen massive success over the past decade and has now become a three-night extravaganza at the State Theatre. Lauren explains that for most bands that come to the State Theatre, headliners and openers are booked together, as a packaged deal, and it is a rare part of her job to add local acts to a specific bill, aside from a few exceptions. The risk-taking and leeway, in that regard, falls more in the wheelhouse of Lauren’s counterpart, Meg Shorette, talent buyer for the State Theatre’s sister venue, Port City Music Hall.
Meg’s story into the music industry here in Portland is slightly different than Lauren’s. To hear her tell it, Meg had graduated from University of Maine in 2006 with an elementary education degree and was a BHP in schools for “about 5 minutes,” while also bartending in Bangor, a gig she’s continued at Geno’s Rock Club here in Portland. She became involved in the Kahbang! Music and Art Festival around 2010 and fell in love with the music industry. She became the founder/executive director of Launchpad, with Joshua Gass, which is a non-profit “Arts Incubator with a focus on developing the arts and creative economy in Maine.” Through Launchpad, Meg has been able to curate the Central Gallery and in 2015 start the All Roads Music Festival in Belfast. Meg has clearly earned the respect and trust of Lauren. Meg states that Lauren is a role model and she knows she can look to her for guidance and support.
Meg’s position allows her to get creative and take more risks when searching for talent to play her venues. She recalls booking somewhat of an internet-sensation act, Marc Rebillet, recently and Lauren thinking she was crazy. He wound up nearly selling out Port City Music Hall. Meg also gets to showcase many of the talented local bands on any given night, sometimes included as an opener or even together as one bill. One band that Meg explained as a “surprise” was King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, who seemingly blew up overnight soon after playing Port City Music Hall; and most recently, one of the most entertaining acts to grace the venue’s stage, Meg said, was Tank and the Bangas.
With these two knowledgeable, respected, witty, and well-intentioned women at the helm, the city of Portland has become a must-play destination. Lauren even hints at something in the works in the near future with one of the most-loved acts to frequent Portland. For now, they both want everyone to enjoy the variety of shows and entertainment they’ve booked through the summer and already deep into the fall. Whatever you enjoy listening to, they boast an impressive calendar for a wide audience.