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Bangor’s best concert venue: A third floor studio apartment

12/01/2014
Richard Buckner performs with just his "MacGyvered" acoustic guitar above the Central Street Farmhouse.

Richard Buckner performs with just his “MacGyvered” acoustic guitar above the Central Street Farmhouse store in downtown Bangor

It took an e-mail from our friend James in Minneapolis, Minnesota to learn about the coolest concert of the year in Bangor, Maine: A “Living Room Concert” featuring one of America’s best underground singer songwriters: Richard Buckner.

What a great night of music.

The event was held in the third floor studio apartment of Zeth and Betsy, who are raising three young children above their downtown Central Street Farmhouse store.

In fact, when Jen and I walked into their “Living Room,” Zeth was changing a diaper. He didn’t even ask to see our tickets. No skeptical punk-rock bouncer checking ID. No wristbands. No ink stamped hands.

Just Betsy offering us a vanilla porter homebrew.

We found two creaky wooden chairs and sat down next to the guy who made the beer. Later we met two young women whose father played drums for Buckner’s band in San Francisco.

“We used to go to their shows and dance around,” said the sisters.

There would be no dancing at this show.

Buckner is a California native now living in upstate New York. In the last 20 years, he has recorded 11 albums and toured extensively in North America and Europe. He’s made a living writing dark, introspective songs that come to life in his spare yet somehow complex guitar work.

On this night, about 30 people gathered around him on couches, chairs and the floor. It was like a TV party without a remote control and an electric glow.

Sitting at eye-level with a performer changes the whole concert experience. It’s not a show. There’s no stage. The audience and musician are equal and both are more open, personal and informal.

Buckner discussed the situation and meaning behind many of his songs. “This is what it’s like living with me,” he joked after one haunting ballad. He thanked Zeth and Betsy and commented on a collection of nearby children’s toys. A woman got up from the floor to refill his empty water glass at the kitchen sink. “That song is f****** amazing,” said a man in a beard and a driver’s cap. “I’ve been waiting 10 years to hear that live.”

Buckner played a mix of old and new songs from his vast catalog. I recognized a couple. All were quiet, powerful and deeply personal songs that work well at close range. When it was over, Buckner stood and chatted with audience members as they picked up their coats and filed out of Zeth and Betsy’s living room.

“Thanks for hosting,” I told Betsy, as we headed for the stairs. “When is the next show?”

I hope I hear about it before James in Minneapolis.

 

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