Welcome to Shangri-La

Maine's newest music fest begins Friday in Blue Hill
By CHRISTOPHER GRAY  |  July 30, 2008
AVETT BROTHERS: can do any style, any time.

Joel Raymond has been bolstering the music scene around Midcoast Maine for at least three decades. He's the man behind many of the bigger folk/rock concerts at Ellsworth's Grand, Rockland's Strand Theater, and the Opera Houses in Camden and Rockport. He's also the long-standing host of a Friday–morning radio show on community radio station WERU-FM. But of all his years he's been booking and promoting, 2008 has got to be his most satisfying.

Earlier this year, Raymond opened the doors of a club called Shangri-La, an intimate, 150-seat venue in Ellsworth located on the top floor of an old Masonic temple. The smaller venue allows him to bring both longstanding road warriors (recently, the bluesman John Hammond) and upstart roots bands (coming soon: the Wiyos and Gandalf Murphy & the Slambovian Circus of Dreams) to the area with the guarantee of a nearly full house. (Raymond says he's already attracting regular concertgoers from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.)

The jewel in Raymond's crown this year, though, is his realization of his dream to host a major Midcoast music festival. The first annual Shangri-La Festival, which will be held at the Fairgrounds in Blue Hill on August 1, 2, and 3, is just that. The event boasts an impressive lineup that spans generations and genres without missing a beat, and is approaching 2000 tickets sold in its virgin year.

The trick, it seems, is counter-programming. "The pool of talent in New England on August 1, 2, and 3 is immense," Raymond told me between radio appearances last week. Booking agents suggested that Raymond host a festival the same weekend as the big Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island. This might seem like a conflict, but the overlap actually opened up a lot of possibilities in terms of booking acts. Steve Earle and Allison Moorer play Newport on Saturday, then headline at Shangri-La Sunday evening. The Avett Brothers cap off Shangri-La's Friday opening-night program before a Sunday set in Rhode Island. And substantially cheaper ticket prices (Shangri-La maxes out at $40 a day, while Newport's Sunday lineup costs $89) are a further incentive to stay close to home for folk fans who might otherwise have made the trip south.

Raymond has reserved a chunk of the lineup to highlight some local artists who will play to some of the largest audiences they've seen, including North Haven roots sensations (and recent Phoenix Best Music Poll winners) the Toughcats and the thoughtful folk trio Tree by Leaf, and there's a 90-minute "Best of Maine" set Sunday morning, featuring a slew of locals (including Roy Davis and Seekonk's Shana Berry) playing two-song mini-sets. As for the national acts, here are five sets not to be missed.

AVETT BROTHERS, Friday, at 9:30 pm — One of the most popular young roots bands in some time, the Avetts have never met a harmony they didn't like; fortunately, they also haven't met a style they couldn't make their own, from bluegrass and zydeco to ’80s indie-inspired pop songs.

JUANA MOLINA, Saturday, at 4 pm — The incandescent Argentinean singer crafts lush songs from guitar and ambient loops. At a glance, they are pleasingly exotic, but they bloom and unfurl in hypnotic, unpredictable ways.

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