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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT


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JAMMIN’ WITH JAMMEH: learn your African rhythms at the Community Drum Circle on Brackett Street.


Best Vibration Meditation Education

Lots of Americans are intimidated by drum circles, unable to let go of getting it right long enough to just feel the beat. But, then, maybe we’re trying too hard.

“In Africa, you can’t teach people to drum, they just watch and can easily pick it up,” claims Raheem Jammeh, leader of the Community Drum Circle. “It’s a cultural thing back in the Gambia, a way to get together.”

Jammeh learned to drum by watching his father play the djembe, doudoumba, and kankane drums. He then learned Nigerian rhythms when visiting his mother’s family: “They would want to learn stuff from the Gambia and then they’d teach me stuff from Nigeria. I would just hang out with people who liked to drum,” he explains.

When presenting rhythms to his students and fellow participants in the Community Drum Circle, Jammeh tempers this African teaching style with a compassionate nod to our conditioned American need to be instructed. And he generously provides a few drums so those without can give it a try. Even the greenest of players need not be afraid.

He starts by demonstrating on his djembe, then breaks the rhythm down into a series of basses and slaps, repeating slowly until most of the group has the hang of it. The rhythm then takes on a life of its own, vibrating through everyone’s body and sounding off the heads of the drums. As the more experienced players take the lead, Jammeh is then able to give individualized attention to anyone who needs it or just go off on his own tangent within the beat.

Everyone sounds good when Jammeh is playing, which becomes painfully obvious when he drops his strong confident lead for a moment and the rest of the group is left to flounder in the silence left behind. But no matter. As Jammeh says, “Drumming is not just about performing, it is about creating sound and being happy.”

 

Community Drum Circle, 155 Brackett St., Portland, raheem@peacedrummers.zzn.com. On Sundays from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., $5 requested donation.

Best Free Friday

One of the big dilemmas if you work downtown involves the Friday night gap. You get out of work, and it’s 6 p.m., say. The show you want to go to doesn’t start until 10 — if you’re lucky. Dinner, no matter how extended, isn’t going to last you four hours, and you know if you go home you’re going to get sucked in by the evil cable monster and find that it’s midnight and you still haven’t gotten quite enough of the Real World marathon on MTV.

Luckily, this problem is solved, at least once a month, by the First Friday Artwalk. For the low, low price of zero dollars, you can while away the hours between work and dinner perusing the art wares of Portland’s hippest art spots from 5 to 8 p.m. on the first Friday of every month.

It’s a throwback to simpler days when people ambled slowly up and down the street in little groups, hoping to come upon a similar-minded group who might enjoy a chat and a little gossip. Portland’s small enough so that you always see somebody you know, and, after a few months, you’ll know all the gallery owners by sight, too (Andy Verzosa, particularly, is hard to miss, as is June Fitzpatrick).

Oh, right, there’s good art on the walls, too, in the least intimidating environment possible. During the week, you might enter a gallery to find yourself the only one there with the owner. They might think you’ve come in with a purchasing purpose! Scary! On the Artwalk, however, you can hide amongst the rest of the comers and goers, and even if you do find yourself alone, you can fall back on the assumption that the proprietor knows you’re simply a transitory socializer and not some deep-pocketed connoisseur. Or maybe you are.

Best Man of Steele

All these ex-Rustic Overtones are starting to get pretty competitive. It’s like a gaggle of brothers have all just left home and are sending home postcards trying to impress mom.

From Ryan Zoidis: Dear Mom, Soulive likes me, they really do.

From Dave Gutter, Jon Roods, and Marc Boisvert: Dear Mom, sure, our album’s all about drinking, guns, and being depressed, but we’re having lots of fun!

From Jason Ward: Dear Mom, and you said being horn-y would never get me anywhere.

From Spencer Albee: Dear Mom, look at my swank new clothes!

Tony McNaboe’s would be addressed from Minneapolis, Minnesota: Dear Mom, it sure is cold up here. Feels just like home. And the Steeles are being really nice to me.

That’s right, McNaboe, drummer for the Overtones, turned to singing and playing guitar as the frontman for Inside Straight right after leaving the big band, and then he went back to the drawing board all over again. In hopes of finding a soul sound all his own, McNaboe traveled to the home of JD and the rest of the Steele clan (brother Fred, and sisters Jevetta and Jearlynne Steele Battle), to collaborate directly with the gospel source, and the results look more than promising.

If he’s able to build on the Motown groove of Area Code 207’s “Destinations,” and turn out a full-length with the same kind of new-wave Kool and the Gang vibe, music fans are in for a special treat. Maybe it will be along the lines of Prince’s Graffiti Bridge, on which the Steeles contributed mightily. Or maybe some of their experience with George Clinton, Fine Young Cannibals, or 10,000 Maniacs will rub off on Portland’s young musical aspirant.

Regardless, to see how McNaboe utilizes their influence is reason enough to buy his debut album — whenever it comes out.

Best New Room with a View

Interesting, interdisciplinary, and experimental work in any medium can be tough to find a venue for, since, in a cultural environment that best sustains sports bars and cover bands, the familiar and the easily categorizable hold sway. But dancer/writer Buffy Miller and musician/puppeteer Tim Harbeson persist in creating cross-genre performance work that requires imaginative engagement from their audiences. Their struggle to find a rehearsal and performance space in which they could have the time to create and the financial freedom to experiment ended recently: On First Friday in October, they opened the Stillhouse Studio at 108 High Street to the public, and on Monday, November 4, they began the Stillhouse Run — an intermittent Monday night series featuring fellow bohemians and performers of every stripe.

The Studio is delightful — a cross between Gepetto’s workshop, a magician’s trunk, an elegant gallery and an intimate theater. Harbeson’s wooden tools and hand-made puppets are at one end of the workspace; Miller’s barre and mirror at the other. Artwork covers the walls. Then, there’s a stage area, complete with light and sound booth, costume loft, and a lush red velvet curtain, which, on November 4, was brought up for the first time on singer Rafael Stepto, a soulful balladeer with a stunning presence and rich, nuanced voice. The Stillhouse Studio will be open for select events and on First Fridays every month.

 

Stillhouse Studio, 108 High St., Portland, (207) 879-5498.

Best Place to Blow Your Load

Feeling tense? What better way to release your pent-up energy than by playing Bonnie and Clyde and blasting machine gun rounds into an old car? The third weekend each July transforms the quaint town of Dover-Foxcroft into an NRA heaven. The town becomes host to “The Biggest Firearms Event on the East Coast”: The Maxim Machine Gun Shoot. For less than the price of a box of ammo, spectators can roam through tables of gun vendors and military vehicles.

Shooters line up opposite a huge sandbar into which they unload countless rounds of ammunition. The types of guns used range from old WW1 tripod machine guns to fully operational tanks to what one spectator described as guns so powerful “they could knock a plane right out of the sky.”

As if this wasn’t explosive enough, night-time activities light up the sky — literally. Screw fireworks, Saturday night offers an amazing display of machine-gun savagery with “tracer and pyrotechnics” to amaze even the most experienced gunman.

This temporary armory finds its way to Dover-Foxcroft in honor of Hiram Maxim. While most mid-19th-century teenage boys went hunting with rifles, Maxim was a step ahead, busily constructing wooden model machine guns. These models developed into the 1883 “Forerunner”: the world’s first machine gun. And what better place to let kids make gun models than in Northern Maine?

Keeping with tradition, the Maxim Shoot is a family affair with children under 12 admitted at a measly $3 per day. However, this is not your run-of-the-mill shoot out: children must be supervised at all times and there is no alcohol allowed on the premises. Just before the shooters violently unload into the sandbar, an announcer delivers safety addresses to the soon-to-be-deafened crowd.

And it doesn’t end with watching these guns shoot. Army tents line the walk, housing tables piled with guns and related paraphernalia. Though the selling and buying of fully operational machine guns is illegal, models with several pieces missing are legal and available to be purchased. Conveniently, the missing pieces are for sale a few tables down. It’s Charlton Heston’s candy store.

 

For information on next year’s Hiram Maxim Festival, go to www.hirammaxim.com, or call the Hiram Maxim Historical Society at (207) 465-2336.

Best Cast

In the course of 14 months, Lea J. Cutter gave birth twice. The first was to her beautiful son Jude, who inspired her and reminded her of the power inherent in a woman’s body. The second was to a citywide art project including over 100 women and 43 different venues, designed in the hope of presenting a new and more diverse image of the female form.

The I Am Project is the fruition of a vision that has been growing inside of Cutter for many years now — as she facilitated collaborative art classes out of her home, as she led belly casting and journaling workshops at Ballard House Birthing Center, and as she documented her body’s changes throughout her pregnancy with body casts.

“Art has been a huge healing tool for me,” explains Cutter. “I wanted the project to help women get in touch with their bodies, by being able to see their bodies and decorate their bodies, and see them for the work of art they are.”

Women and girls from age three to their mid-sixties were cast by Cutter and her organization, Collaborative Creations. Each woman chose her pose, what body parts were to be cast, decorated her own plaster image, and created an optional bio sheet beginning with the statement “I am . . .”

“This is not my project. I did one part, all the individual women did the rest,” Cutter says. “I would do the cast and give it to the woman, and then she would completely change it. She would cut pieces out of it and drill holes in it. By the time I saw it again it was a completely different creature. The casts are always in evolution.”

The idea was strongly supported by area businesses, “85 percent of the places we contacted said ‘Please let us have a cast!’ ” reports Cutter. “It was such a wonderful reflection of our community.”

Collaborative Creations hopes that the August/September exhibit was only the beginning. Cutter is currently working on casting the new surge of women interested thanks to the exhibit, securing grant money to fulfill her goal of having a Grand Show exhibiting all of the casts together in one venue during the summer of 2003 or sometime in the future, and eventually doing the project on a national level.

And of course, on being a mama.

 

I Am Project, (207) 773-9894, www.iamcollaborative.org.

Best Undercover Expose

Nancy 3. Hoffman was first intrigued by umbrella covers when she happened upon several while cleaning out a storage bin in her home. She could have just thrown them away. But why hadn’t she already? And how many other people held onto these little pockets long after the rain gear they were designed to protect was lost and forgotten? These questions plagued her. Soon after, she found herself stealing an umbrella cover from a dime store — yes, only the cover — and knew then that there was no turning back.

The first person she asked promptly presented her with two covers and two stories about the fate of the umbrellas they once enclosed. That was 10 years ago, and, since then, her collection has grown to 375, hailing from 31 different countries, ranging in size from a 2.5 inch Barbie umbrella cover to a 6-foot, 4-inch patio umbrella. One sheath took over a year and a half to reach her from its original destination, which was supposedly the Sahara Desert, but the “museum staff has inspected it for sand particles and was not able to substantiate this claim.” Another was sent from Nepal after trekking extensively while tied to a backpack, and “carries the dirt of five continents.”

They are all artistically displayed along with their stories at the world’s only Umbrella Cover Museum, conveniently located minutes away from the Peaks Island ferry terminal, open seasonally from June until Labor Day.

Hoffman’s mission statement: The Umbrella Cover Museum is dedicated to the appreciation of the mundane in everyday life. It is about finding wonder and beauty in the simplest of things, and about knowing that there is always a story behind the cover.

As the world’s foremost authority on this “nicely manufactured packaging that has no real relevance once the umbrella is opened,” Hoffman estimates that only about 15 percent of people continue to use the cases after the initial extraction of the rain gear. Most people just find it too difficult and inconvenient to stuff their parasol back into its little envelope. Some people throw them out right away. “These are really neat people,” she imagines. “I think most people just keep them and don’t know why.”

 

62B Island Avenue, Peaks Island, www.umbrellacovermuseum.org.

Best Tie-in with This Year’s “Best Of” Theme

We couldn’t put pirates on the cover of the “Best Of” section without mentioning Portland’s most famous Pirates, could we? Yes, the Portland Pirates, our lovable American Hockey League outpost, are deserving of a little recognition.

They may play in a building better suited to monster-truck rallies than ice hockey, and they may be losing more than their fare share right now, and they may be affiliated with the Washington Capitals and not the Bruins, but . . . hey, why do we like them again?

Oh, yeah, because of the fighting! What better way to make the big-league club than as an enforcer to watch super-star Jaromir Jagr’s back? Thus, plenty of tough guys are trotted out onto Portland ice each year to duke it out with the opposition.

This year, the top brawling prospect is defenseman Jason Doig. Need proof? He’s got 49 penalty minutes in nine games, to go with one point via an assist. That’s right, he’s averaging more than one fighting major (five minutes in the box) each game. The next closest on the stat sheet is right winger Garret Stroshein — but he has less than half, with 22.

So, next time you’re thinking about jumping into a bar fight (happens all the time, we know), just make sure the guy across the way isn’t named Doig. He’s had plenty of practice.

READERS' CHOICES

Best Arcade: Dream Machine

Best Art Gallery: Greenhut Galleries

Best Art Museum: Portland Museum of Art

Best Bar: Ri Ra

Best Club for All-Ages Concert: The Skinny

Best Club for Dancing: The Pavilion

Best Club for Live Music: The Skinny

Best Dive Bar: Geno’s

Best Happy Hour: Sebago Brewing Company

Best Juke Box: Geno’s

Best Movie House: Nickelodeon

Best Non-Art Museum: Children’s Museum of Maine

Best Non-Gallery Art Space: Coffee by Design

Best Non-Smoking Bar: Una

Best Over 30 Bar: Ri Ra

Best Place for Pool: Nappi’s

Best Spoken Word Night: Geno’s

Best Theater Company: The Public Theater

Best Video Store: Videoport

Copyright © 2002 The Phoenix Media/Communications Group. All rights reserved.