Peter McLaughlin is the music programmer at the wonderful SPACE Gallery in Portland, Maine, runs the Pretty Purgatory label, and has played, recorded, and/or toured with Family Planning, Jacob Augustine, the Milkman’s Union, Lisa/Liza, Wesley Hartley & the Traveling Trees, Lady Lamb the Beekeeper, Bad Braids, and some other gentle souls.
Holy guacamole, that year happened. Google says it wasn’t a leap year, but I feel like some extra time got stuffed in there somewhere. Here are 2,014 things that I’m thankful for:
1. The Oak & The Ax
The O&A was a one-of-a-kind music venue and community space in Biddeford, Maine, full of unfathomable amounts of warmth, love, joy, and altogether positive feelings. It opened in fall of 2010 (the same time I moved to Portland) and closed in fall of 2014. It was run predominately by Greg Jamie and Kristin Kellas, with the help of a great and happy family of volunteers, friends, dreamers, lovers, etc. Over its remarkable four-year run, it hosted some of the best concerts I’ve ever been to: Michael Hurley, Mount Eerie, Josephine Foster, Ed Askew, Brown Bird, and so, so many more. It provided a space where I and so many others could always go and feel safe, and more, feel that things were truly right in the world. I’m lucky to have gotten to play there some twenty-odd times. I’m lucky to call so many of that extended O&A family my friends. If you never made it there, you really missed out on something special. It’s okay though. I never made it to Death by Audio, and dang was that dumb. So next time you hear about a beautiful community space, go and support it (!), because it might not be around forever. Beautiful things can be ephemeral, y’all . . .
2. The Year of Big Blood
I live spitting distance from the high priests of don’t-call-it-psych-freak-folk-new-weird-whatever-because-it’s-just-transcendent-goddamn-music, yet before 2014 I had only seen BIG BLOOD twice. It wasn’t my fault, though. Up until last August, they hadn’t played in Portland in three years. Then, they came out of hiding, playing Empire with Alvarius B, the Nest Fest (more on that) in Kennebunk, and The Oak & The Ax’s final weekend in a collaborative juggernaut with Video Nasties. But that wasn’t enough, so they dropped Unlikely Mothers, perhaps the darkest and heaviest batch of transcendent-goddamn-music of their career.
3. The Existence of Tom Kovacevic
I’m not always right, but when I say that the best record of 2014 was recorded in South Portland by oud player and Arabic music cognoscente Tom Kovacevic (Tom K, for short), you’re going to have trust me. It was released on Immune Recordings (home to records by Steve Gunn, Death Vessel, and Mainer Micah Blue Smaldone) and features some of the most spare and beautifully idiosyncratic songs ever committed to tape. You don’t own another record that sounds anything like it, because one doesn’t exist. You can stop reading this if you go buy it.
4. The Nest Fest, Colby Nathan, and the Quest to keep Maine WEIRD
The Nest Fest was the party of the summer. All-day free music next to a cranberry bog in Kennebunk, Maine, featuring Guerilla Toss, Big Blood, New England Patriots, id m theftable, Follies, Saralee, Yairms, Tom K, Video Nasties, and a gajillion other bands. Are you kidding me? Nope. Thank you, Colby Nathan, you handsome freak. Thank you for making music that makes me nervously smile, laugh, dance, feel feelings, and sometimes cry. Thank you for fighting to keep Maine weird, even when you’re not always around. We couldn’t do it without you.
5. Ryan Harrison, the Red Door & the Kittery Massive
Sometimes I leave Maine. Usually it’s to go to the Red Door in Portsmouth, NH, where the smiling, skins-smashing, pizza-connoisseur/king-of-the-scene Ryan Harrison holds court (and books shows). The shows happen every Thursday and the bills never disappoint. Ryan and the Red Door/Salty Speaker-ians have cultivated a phenomenal thing that more cities need. Props are also due to the across-the-bridge neighbors at BUOY Gallery in Kittery, Maine. Yes, music from the likes of Mary Halvorson, Battle Trance, Ryan Power, Gem Club, Chris Weisman, and Dirty Projectors sometimes happens in a little oceanside town in Maine . . . thanks to Al Mead and Nat Baldwin (who also released a freakin’ amazing record in 2014). Damn am I glad I don’t live in one of the lame 47 states without a Dirty Projector in it!
6. Brown Bird
So many beautiful things have been said and written that I’ll just say this: I’m so god damn lucky to have known Dave Lamb.
7–23. My Pretty Purgatory Family
2014 will forever be the year that I realized my lifelong dream of starting a record label. It’s all any kid wants, right? Mine is called Pretty Purgatory. So far we’ve released albums by Butcher Boy, Lisa/Liza, Family Planning, Jacob Augustine, Bad Braids, and the Milkman’s Union, with the help of some amazing artists, including Niki Taylor, Devin Ivy, Jakob Battick, Savanna Pettingil, and Cory Zingg. That’s a lot of incredible people, and I’m so dang thankful that I know them. We’ve got a lot of exciting things on the horizon. 2015 looks GOOD.
24–35. More Mainers Who Helped Keep Maine Beautiful and/or Weird
As you know, a state is only as good as the albums it produced in the last 12 months. Luckily, Village of Spaces, Caethua (as Clay Camaro), Plains, Greg Jamie and Colby Nathan, Nat Baldwin, and if & it all released phenomenal records that I listened to a lot this year.
36–2,014. Poland St and Everyone Who’s Ever Come Through It
The men of Butcher Boy and few other ramshackle geniuses signed a lease on Poland St in the same span of months that the O&A opened and I moved to town. It was a triangulation of spirits and I am infinitely lucky to have been caught in the crossfire. Happily, 53 months later, Poland St is still standing, still home to ramshackle geniuses, and still hosting shows that couldn’t happen anywhere else. God damn am I thankful for that.
Here’s to a strange and beautiful 2015!