The live music appears to be coming from the street, but the only busker in sight sits with his saxophone on his lap in front of the Portland Museum of Art. A few people look up and point to the silhouettes in the fourth floor window at 602 Congress Street.
Inside an old hotel, singer-songwriter Johnny Fountain and his friend Will Ethridge have organized an informal live show during Portland, Maine’s First Friday Art Walk. They call it the Tower of Song.
“John is a musician, and we would always look out the window and we’d say, ‘This is the perfect stage,'” Will says. “We thought, ‘Why don’t we open the windows and point the PAs in the opposite direction to give people an impromptu concert?'”
It’s the first Friday in January and the Time and Temperature building flashes 5:50. It’s 25 degrees in Maine’s biggest city (pop. 64,000) and the quiet, indie act Dead End Armony, off the local Peapod Recordings, is finishing up their set inside the apartment. Their drummer sits on the couch. After all, he doesn’t want to piss off the downstairs neighbor.
Aly Spaltro, the petite 19-year old singer from Portland’s prolific, up-and-coming duo, Lady Lamb the Beekeeper, makes a quick phone call to her mom.
“Take exit 7,” she says. “It’s at the corner of Congress and High.”
Minutes later, she’s in the midst of a song from her new album, Samples for Handsome Animals, with her friend TJ Metcalf on guitar. Tonight, the duo’s raucous, bouncy “Comet Flies Over the Underbelly” echoes throughout the streets of Portland.
“The Eastland Hotel and all the buildings around here act like this giant brick amphitheater,” Johnny says. “The sound fills out. It’s like the buildings are singing.”
The song ends. Inside, a few people clap and drink slushy, frozen beers (Welcome to Portland, where the fridge warms up your beer). The real audience is outside, walking around the eerie land of the frozen chosen, with their hands buried deep in their pockets, listening to the live show. A few hoot up at the show from the sidewalk.
When the three bands are done with their free, live show at the Tower of Song tonight at 6:43, they’re going over to One Longfellow, another Portland venue, to play another set.
“Thanks for involuntarily listening to me tonight,” Johnny says to the streets of Portland. Then, he unplugs the PAs.
CODA: Will Ethridge told me they’re going to do this once a month – and may even attempt an all-day event in May. The cops only come if there are complaints. So far, there’s been only one.
Audio from the Tower of Song: http://www.peterandreysmith.com/clip/towerofsong.mp3
More photos from the Tower of Song: http://www.natalieconnphotography.com/tos.small.html