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Free concert series in Portland's Monument Square to feature only local bands

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Free concert series in Portland's Monument Square to feature only local bands

PORTLAND — Alive at Five, the outdoor summer concert series in Monument Square, is entering its seventh season with a different attitude.

This year, there will be no thunderous sound system pumping out bass lines to be heard all the way up Congress Square. Nor will there will any big-name or regional acts.

Instead, a flat-bed truck will be used as a stage and a more modest sound system will be employed by local bands that can be seen on any given week in Portland. 

A few things, however, will be constant: Shows will start at 5 p.m., and there will be a beer garden. 

The Alive at Five concert series is organized by the Portland's Downtown District, a nonprofit group formed in 1992 to promote the economic vitality of the downtown area.

Special Events Manager Elise Loschiavo said the flagging economy and a steady erosion of corporate sponsors has forced organizers to scale back the free concert series in recent years. The previous format, which featured national and regional bands, cost the organization about $15,000 a show for the artists, stage, lights, sound system, insurance and security, she said. 

"It's really an expensive event that pays for itself partly through beer sales," Loschiavo said. "But a lot of it is paid for through sponsorship and it's been a really hard time." 

From 2003-2008, the series ran for six weeks, featuring big-name acts like Toots and the Maytals, moe., Strangefolk, Assembly of Dust, Better than Ezra and the Rebirth Brass Band. 

Last year, those types of bands were absent from the series, which dropped from six weeks to five after U.S. Cellular, a major corporate sponsor, pulled its support, leaving Sebago Brewing as the only cash donor to the series.  

"It's an incredibly well-loved event," Loschiavo said. "We've done everything we could to keep it going."

The good news is Portland has a lot of great local talent to fill the bill.

Loschiavo said the new format will be a great opportunity for local artists to get more exposure. Although local acts have historically opened up for national and regional acts, local musicians will dominate the series this year.

Spencer and the School Street Mafia will start the series July 9 with This Way. July 16 will feature local musicians impersonating Roy Orbison, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Nirvana. Rustic Overtones members Dave Gutter and Tony McNobe will take the stage on July 23, followed by All the Real Girls and the Leftovers on July 30. Perennial Portland favorite the Pete Kilpatrick Band and Dominic and the Lucid are scheduled to close the series on Aug. 6.  

These bands will not only get more time onstage, but on radio stations WCYY and WBLM, which will promote the concerts and broadcast them live.

Loschiavo said she is confident the concert series will still achieve its original intent, to keep people downtown after 5 p.m. as a way to promote Portland's nightlife.

Even with a more local focus, Loschiavo said last year's series still attracted between 5,000 and 7,000 people – the same attendance that national acts drew.  

"I think people feel more connected to it having bands they are familiar with," she said. "Portland really has an amazing music scene, so it's not like we're compromising on quality."

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net