Local live music: ‘The customers love it’
FORT KENT, Maine — In recent years, people looking for live music and a place to go dancing in the St. John Valley have found a growing number of opportunities. Offerings include everything from solo acoustic acts to multiplayer bands kicking out rock music, and from deejay’s spinning techno dance tracks to players bringing back traditional folk tunes.
Those acts are not limited to bars or dance clubs, either. In Fort Kent, a small local downhill ski area has earned a reputation as a place to catch local talent and some exciting live acts.
“It wasn’t a big thing when we started,” said Lonesome Pine Trails manager Mike Voisine.
Three years ago the organization decided to add some local musician sets on Friday nights during the ski season, as a way to help increase membership, Voisine said recently.
In the fall and summer the ski hill’s lodge is rented out for weddings and parties. During the winter, it is often jam packed with children and adults who are taking a break from skiing. When the live music was added, the lodge had already been serving food and alcoholic beverages for some time. Adding live entertainment and staying open after the slopes closed seemed like a good idea.
“It’s been very good,” said Voisine. “We have had full houses. People love the place.”
Unlike a bar or pub, Lonesome Pine lodge remains open to those under 21. This means parents can come for some adult socializing, while their children either ski or visit with friends at the snack bar.
Those under-age patrons were evident recently, when a Valley band comprised of high school students played a guest set. It was standing-room-only thanks to the large gathering of classmates and parents.
Pubs and lounges, though, are more the norm when it comes to live entertainment. Nestled in a small space among downtown Fort Kent’s brick storefronts, Walker’s Pub, brings together the cozy atmosphere of a small bar with good food and an eclectic mix of acoustic acts.
“The same musicians may play at other places,” said Walker’s co-owner Steven Daigle. “It feels different at different venues.” Daigle owns the restaurant with Joy Walker Theriault.
When Daigle opened Walker’s Pub last year, he had live music in mind, but not necessarily rowdy rock bands.
“We wanted a small, quiet atmosphere. Having acoustic music draws people together,” Daigle said. There are no television sets at Walker’s and Daigle said he rarely sees people spending much time on their phones while at the pub.
“We have food and beverage, and that’s it,” he said. That formula has worked for Daigle and the pub has helped to keep downtown busy on the weekends.
Another venue that offers acoustic and low-key musical entertainment may be found in Madawaska at the Inn of Acadia’s Voyageur Lounge.
“When we opened up the inn and the restaurant, we wanted to keep it local,” said owner J.J. Roy. “That was a big thing for us, to showcase local talent.”
That has meant a core of regular customers for Roy. And, because the inn is located on the same floor as the restaurant and lounge, guests who are visiting on vacation or business travelers staying at the inn will often come down and listen, Roy said.
Unlike other venues, the lounge at the Acadia closes between 10 and 11. This allows patrons an opportunity to explore other entertainment options in town.
“Each place is different,” Roy said, adding that it is good for all the businesses in town to have people coming out to listen to live music and check out the region’s nightlife.
A few years ago, Madawaska native, Ricky Nadeau returned to his home town and renovated an abandoned nightclub in the heart of downtown. Today, County Connection/Big Rick’s Wigs & Burgers, regularly offers live music, dejays and comedy entertainment.
“To me, you have to give people a reason to come out and spend money,” Nadeau said. “You need more than just a place to drink to get them here.”
The Connection hosts live music acts every two to three weeks, and has added Comedy Nights, with comedians from throughout New England and New York.
“I try to bring a wide range of music, which brings a diverse crowd,” Nadeau said. Those acts have included hard rocking Kindred, rowdy country band Tennessee Haze, the more laid back acoustic Adam Ouellette and local cover-band favorite French Toast.
For Nadeau, the live acts have been a bonus for business. Although Nadeau said hiring bands adds to his expenses, the investment is worth it.
“The customers love it,” he said
Lonesome Pine’s Voisine agrees.
“My favorite part,” he said, “is when you see someone new come in.” Known previously as just the ski hill and a place where young people gathered, the venue’s musical acts are a surprise to some.
“They look around, and never knew this was here,” Voisine said. “It’s here. Come and see it.”
Other local venues that feature live music include Trackdown Kennels & Lodge in Wallagrass, The Mooseshack and Bee-Jay’s Tavern in Fort Kent, The Lakeview Restaurant in St. Agatha and Eureka Hall in Stockholm. Also, some local American Legion and VFW halls offer Dance Nights with live music.
As a business strategy, Vosine and the others said including live music has been a good move. Even with other venues in the area doing similar things, there is still enough to go around.
“You can’t have it all,” Voisine said. “It’s nice to see people are doing stuff like this.”
Daigle said that live music does give people another reason to visit Walker’s and to stay longer, which is good for his bottom line. Some customers may have dinner somewhere else before stopping by, or some may grab a bite there before heading out to see a band at another bar.
Like Roy, Daigle said he sees no reason why multiple restaurants and bars cannot all be successful in small St. John Valley communities.
“If all these businesses are busy, that’s a good thing,” Daigle said.