"It's like the buildings are singing": the Tower of Song in Portland, Maine

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“It’s like the buildings are singing”: the Tower of Song in Portland, Maine
text: Peter Andrey Smith
photos: Natalie Conn

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

The Tower of Song website

Categories: ARTHUR TV, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

About Jay Babcock

I am the co-founder and editor of Arthur Magazine (2002-2008, 2012-13) and curator of the three Arthur music festival events (Arthurfest, ArthurBall, and Arthur Nights) (2005-6). Prior to that I was a district office staffer for Congressman Henry A. Waxman, a DJ at Silver Lake pirate radio station KBLT, a copy editor at Larry Flynt Publications, an editor at Mean magazine, and a freelance journalist contributing work to LAWeekly, Mojo, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Vibe, Rap Pages and many other print and online outlets. An extended piece I wrote on Fela Kuti was selected for the Da Capo Best Music Writing 2000 anthology. In 2006, I was one of five Angelenos listed in the Music section of Los Angeles Magazine's annual "Power" issue. In 2007-8, I produced a blog called "Nature Trumps," about the L.A. River. Today, I live a peaceful life in the rural wilderness of Joshua Tree, California, where I am a partner in JTHomesteader.com with Stephanie Smith.

3 thoughts on “"It's like the buildings are singing": the Tower of Song in Portland, Maine

  1. Pingback: Peter Smith | Work | It’s like the buildings are singing

  2. Pingback: Roundup, First Friday edition! (Feb. 28-Mar. 6) » Hilly Town

  3. Pingback: Inside The Tower Of Song » Hilly Town

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