Posted by: cannedcumulus | January 17, 2009

The Tragic Demise of the State Theater

The lights suddenly go off.  You and a sellout crowd of 1,500 are plunged into darkness as screams erupt from all around you.  Silhouetted figures take their places in front of you on a monstrous stage.  No, this isn’t a horror or disaster movie, in fact, quite the opposite.  This is a live concert of your favorite band and you are mere feet away from the lead guitarist.  It doesn’t get better than this.

When I was but a young lad in high school, I remember with fondness the memories of the ultimate destination for national touring bands to come to Mainestate_follow_inside and rock the city of Portland.  Concerts were my lifeblood and the State Theater was my favorite intimate venue, due to its relatively close proximity to my town, its reputation and history as a real concert hall as opposed to a bar with a stage, and the multi- tiered standing room.  Seats were not for sitting; to see the band, you had to go on the floor and earn your spot.  The relatively small size of the venue allowed you to be as close to the bands as you truly desired.  Everything about the venue seemed to be just perfect and bands and comedians loved to perform within its hallowed halls, including Guster, Moe., Thursday, Reel Big Fish, String Cheese Incident, My Morning Jacket, Sigur Ros, Stephen Lynch and Mitch Hedberg.  In fact, Guster liked the venue so much they played a two- night stand at the State for 175095_1_fthe filming of their 2004 DVD, Guster on Ice.  I remember being at the Friday night show, helping some of my friends hold up a sign requesting a song.  The lead singer, Ryan Miller, read it from the stage and the band proceeded to play it.  I’ve never seen the DVD but I’ve always wondered if my beaming face made it onto the final cut.  The thrill of seeing one of your favorite bands, coupled with the possibility of being on their film is a huge rush and one of my favorite memories of this wonderful venue.  Below is a video of one of the songs from the DVD set, “Happier.”  I think it really captures the spirit of the Theater and the adrenaline that flowed when songs got into full swing with the audience singing along.  If you don’t want to watch the whole song (which you should, it’s a great song!), at least view a part with a shot of the audience and stage.

Even when I was in high school, however, the Theater had its problems.  It was shut down for a short period in 2004- 2005 when it encountered a problem with fire hazards.  I spoke to the manager, Chris Morgan, during an interview for my high school newspaper.  He seemed optimistic that it would open again soon and indeed, it opened by the spring of 2005, ready for more concerts.

I left for college in the fall of 2005 and when I returned for the summer of 2006, I looked forward to a summer of concerts at the State.  I was sorely disappointed when I realized that it had closed indefinitely with no plans to reopen at the time.  I assumed it was for those pesky (but absolutely necessary) fire codes again.  However, it was actually due to a dispute between Morgan and the property owner, Grant Wilson of Stone Coast Properties.  Since then, the State Theater has remained closed and national touring music in Maine has been all but non- existent.  Bars like the Asylum up in Portland will sometimes get a decent touring band, but these dates are few compared to the glory days of the State and are usually not well publicized.  The Space is a very small dedicated arts venue for gallery and music use, but the bands they get are usually very small and indie, whereas the State Theatre would usually get already established acts or civiccentercolorsmall1up and comers.  The Cumberland County Civic Center will sometimes host very large arena concerts but it is not intimate at all like the State Theater was and these concerts are very rare as well.  The closest venue akin to the State Theatre in the area is the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom in New Hampshire, but concerts are only booked in the Summer.  The winter months leave a dreary dearth of nationally recognized music in Northern New England.  While I suppose this is good for up- and- coming local bands, it would be nice to have a bit more well- known bands in the area.

So, the State Theater lives on in the memories of those who can remember its nights of glory, their ticket stubs their only tangible evidence of the deeper soul behind the boarded- up facade of the Theater.  One of mine is particularly special to me: a Mitch Hedberg signed (i.e. drunkenly scribbled) ticket stub dated November 9th, 2004, four months before his tragic death.  Rest In Peace Mr. Hedberg and hopefully someday the Theater which you filled with the sound of laughter will once again open its doors for a new era of entertainment and memories.




  1. Interesting piece. Sounds like fun memories. Was and is a Portland Landmark and would be great if they did something with it.

  2. RIP always sad to hear a theatre is closing. Probably be replaced by a bank 😦

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