Festivals, celebrations feature Dead, living musicians

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As the calendar turns to July, the pace and intensity of Maine’s many music festivals turns up a notch.

Grabbing the most media attention is this weekend’s inaugural Nateva Festival in Oxford, which will be headlined by Further, the latest incarnation of the surviving members of the Grateful Dead.

Promoters have been describing Nateva as a “musical oasis in Maine,” which leads us to wonder what else is out there in the supposedly barren desert. Turns out it’s quite a lively scene:

The Intermezzo Festival, also new this year, presents its first offerings the first week of July with a series of Cabaret Evenings in downtown Portland.

Bowdoin International Music Festival, which has been playing in Brunswick since 1964, gets into high gear on Friday. It’s Maine’s premier summer venue for international class classical music.

And the biggest news for the Port City is the return of a Fourth of July celebration by the Portland Symphony Orchestra. Thanks to a new group of supporters, the PSO will present Patriotic Pops July 4, followed by fireworks.

Nateva Festival

The town of Oxford, about 40 miles north of Portland, will see its population more than quadruple this weekend when the inaugural Nateva Music and Camping Festival gets going. More than 30 bands are scheduled to play for 15,000 music fans on four stages between Friday and Sunday. Plus there’s a smaller “early bird” preview scheduled for Thursday evening. Nateva has booked the Oxford Fairground, just off Route 26 near the Norway town line.

Top draw will be Further, a band that’s fronted by Bob Weir and Phil Lesh, two of the five original members of the Grateful Dead, the pioneering jam band that enjoyed a sensational 30-year run between 1965 and 1995. Further is one of several incarnations of post-Dead band members. I’ve always wondered why they don’t call themselves the Grateful Survivors.

Many of the other groups booked for Nateva also fit under the jam-band rubric. Plus there’s an eclectic assortment of other styles and genres, including Indie, Alt/Rock, Electronica and Bluegrass. The first band to take the stage will be Gypsy Tailwind, a Portland ensemble that opens the “early bird.”

The promoter is Frank Chandler, a Boston-area businessman who hopes to forge another career as a music impresario. He vows a family-friendly atmosphere; the festival is named for his two children, Nate and Eva. A gazillion police officers have been hired to watch over things generally and especially to sort out the traffic.

VIP seating is all gone, but general-admission, all-festival tickets (including camping) are still on sale. One-day passes, including shuttle busses from a satellite parking lot, are also available. Best bet to check out the complete band schedule and sort out your personal options is to visit natevafestival.com.

Intermezzo Festival

There’s another inaugural music festival in Maine this month, but it’s unlikely to draw as many as Nateva. The Intermezzo Festival is a production of a New York-based foundation devoted to training singers for opera and musical theater.

I stopped by a rehearsal last week and chatted with Mitch Piper, a former opera singer, who helms the Intermezzo Foundation. His organization focuses entirely on young people in conservatories, colleges and university voice programs and provides a “bridge” (intermezzo means bridge in musical jargon) to a professional career.

First up among the public offerings will be a series of Cabaret Evenings, featuring the Intermezzo Young Artists, scheduled July 1, 2, 7 and 9 at Port City Music Hall, 504 Congress St. in Portland’s Downtown Arts District. Then on July 8-9 the festival will continue with a performance of “The Turn of the Screw,” Benjamin Britten’s opera based on a famous American novelette. That’s slated for the Westbrook Performing Arts Center, in the new Westbrook Middle School on Stroudwater Street.

Next week I’ll cover some of the remaining items on the Intermezzo schedule, but here’s a quick rundown:

On July 10, Broadway star Craig Schulman will give a concert at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. The Intermezzo Festival wraps up in Merrill July 15 and 17 with a production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods,” a Broadway musical, and July 16 and 17 with “Albert Herring,” another Britten opera. Check out details at intermezzofoundation.org.

Bowdoin International Music Festival

Bowdoin International Music Festival, which offers approximately 80 concerts and other educational and cultural events over a six-week period, shifts into high gear this week.

July 2 is the start of Festival Fridays, the flagship concert series, held at 8 p.m. at Crooker Auditorium at Brunswick High School. To lead off the 2010 season, music director Lewis Kaplan picked a program entirely devoted to Robert Schumann, the German Romantic composer. This year marks the 200th anniversary of his birth.

July 5 is the start of the Monday Sonatas series, held at 7:30 p.m. in Studzinski Hall on the Bowdoin College campus. It will feature Maria Schleuning playing the New England premiere of “Dream Catcher,” a sonata especially written for her by Augusta Read Thomas.

The Wednesday Upbeat! Series, moved to Studzinski this year at 7:30 p.m., continues July 7 with a program that includes Bowdoin favorite clarinetist Igor Begelman and the Ying String Quartet, also regularly featured on festival programs.

There’s much more. Check out bowdoinfestival.org.

‘Patriotic Pops’

Last year the recession claimed the Portland Symphony Orchestra’s annual Independence Pops, and this year the recession doomed the City of Portland’s annual Fourth of July Fireworks.

At least that was the story a few months ago. Thanks to a group of four lead businesses and a host of others, a new nonprofit group has resurrected both the symphony’s annual musical blowout and the city’s fireworks. And it’s all free to the general public.

Titled “Patriotic Pops,” the event is slated for Sunday, July 4, at the Eastern Prom. Starting at 7:30 p.m. maestro Robert Moody will lead the PSO in a program of American popular music, musical theater and patriotic marches. The Declaration of American Independence will be read in its entirety and the evening will wrap up with Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture”; the fireworks will begin flashing when the famous piece reaches its last bombastic two minutes.

Maine Public Radio will broadcast “Patriotic Pops” live, so if you’d rather view the fireworks from a boat or park your lawn chair a mile away, you can still hear catch symphony over the FM airwaves. For more information, visit july4thportland.org.

Sidebar Elements

Bob Weir and Phil Lesh, two of the five original members of the Grateful Dead, are the front men of Further, the headline band at this weekend’s Nateva Festival in Oxford, Maine.