Out & About: Ah, summer, redux

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Two of Maine’s iconic summertime performing arts venues are now open, one of the surest signs that our state’s favorite season is here.

In Arundel, the Vinegar Hill Music Theatre hits full summer stride with its annual Alzheimer’s Awareness Weekend, spotlighting a pair of tribute acts. On Friday the featured band will be Dean Ford and the Beautiful Ones, New England’s top Prince tribute band. Then on Saturday it’s The Awesome, a sextet from the Portland area that covers top pop songs of the 1980s.

In bosky Harrison, Deertrees Theatre and Arts Center opens for the season on Saturday with Milltown Roadshow, one of the Pine Tree State’s top country bands.

The DaPonte String Quartet opens its 2018 summer season on July 5 with a program titled “Summer Goulash” in Portland. Then it repeats all along the coast.

Vinegar Hill Music Theatre

For more than two decades, the circa 1880s Smith Sisters barn in Arundel has been hosting superb summer entertainment, first as Arundel Barn Playhouse, which produced summer stock, and for the past three years as Vinegar Hill Music Theatre, a primo concert venue that specializes in retro acts. Sarah Dearing is now in her second year as managing director.

The house opens each summer with Alzheimer’s Awareness Weekend, where a percentage of the ticket sales are donated to organizations dedicated to fighting this dreadful disease.

Two Maine retro acts are featured this weekend. On Friday, Dean Ford and the Beautiful Ones, New England’s top Prince tribute band, will perform. The band formed six years ago in Portland. Ford himself goes all-out Prince, from flamboyant costumes and makeup to mannerisms. The Beautiful Ones – named for one of the songs on Prince’s 1984 landmark “Purple Rain” album – will perform the album in its entirety.

Prince, who died two years ago, was one of America’s most successful singers, songwriters and music producers. He won eight Grammy Awards and an Academy Award for “Purple Rain,” which was the soundtrack of the film of the same name.

Then on Saturday, The Awesome take the stage. This Portland-based sextet doesn’t cover a particular artist, they cover a musical concept and time period: the glorious 1980s. Expect songs from Prince, Toto, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, Pat Benatar, Nu Shooz, Talking Heads and many more.

Vinegar Hill Music Theatre is located at 53 Old Post Road in Arundel, a quarter mile off Route 1. Both shows are slated for 8 p.m. Call 985-5552 or visit VinegarHillMusicTheatre.com.

Milltown Roadshow

Of all the many places where I attend musical events, I am fondest of Deertrees Theatre, a sylvan summertime setting for concerts, opera and drama on a hillside above Crystal Lake in Harrison. The handsome wooden edifice was constructed during the 1930s at the apex of the summer theater movement, and it is now one of the few of its ilk that remains.

In recent years Deertrees has been run by Andrew Harris, a British-born thespian who also chairs the theater department at the University of Southern Maine, and his wife Carole, who handles many back-of-house functions.

Deertrees’ 2018 season runs from June 30 to Aug. 18. More than 110 musicians will be filling the building with music, and 10 actors and directors will be bringing four original theatrical productions to life. Opera Maine will make its annual appearance and the theater will host the Sebago-Long Lake Music Festival in July and August.

The season begins this Saturday with a concert by Milltown Roadshow, a fine country band from the pines-and-ponds region of western Maine. The quintet is led by singer-songwriter Terry Swett, a Maine native who spent significant time writing and performing in Nashville. Lead singer is D.J. Maddix, an energetic performer who once won the Down East Country Music Association’s awards for Female Vocalist of the Year and Female Entertainer of the Year.

Milltown Roadshow performs a mix of Terry Swett originals, plus they cover a wide variety of artists such as Bob Dylan and New Riders of the Purple Sage.

Catch Milltown Roadshow at Deertrees Theatre, on Deertrees Road, a mile out of Harrison village at 7:30 p.m. June 30. Call 583-6747 or visit Deertrees-Theatre.org.

DaPonte String Quartet

Burgers on the barbecue, lobster rolls on the pier, steamers on the beach, fried clams on the dock. Those are coastal Maine’s favorite summertime dishes.

But “Summer Goulash” in Boothbay Harbor?

The Hungarian national dish is on the musical menu in July, when the DaPonte String Quartet launches its summer season with a string of concerts in mostly coastal venues from Portland to Eastport.

The program opens with Bela Bartok’s String Quartet No. 3. Bartok, who mostly wrote in the 20th century, is regarded as Hungary’s national composer. He traveled his native country recording folk music on primitive phonographs and later used these melodies as inspirations for his own orchestral and chamber works. He lived the last years of his life in the U.S. after fleeing Nazi-dominated Europe.

The DaPontes’ reference to the Hungarian national dish is a clever way of emphasizing one aspect of the foursome’s impressive musical pedigree. The DaPontes have a special feeling for Bartok’s music because they studied the composer with musicians from his inner circle in the early 1990s when they first got together at Philadelphia’s famed Curtis Institute of Music.

“We studied Bartok closely with Zoltan Szekely – Bartok’s sonata partner and friend,” recalls cellist Myles Jordan. “And we worked with other prominent Hungarian masters, including Lorand Fenyves and Eugene Lehner, the violist of the Kolisch String Quartet, who gave the work’s European premiere.”

The result was “what amounted to an apprenticeship in the Austro-Hungarian tradition,” says Jordan.

The DaPontes are currently engaged in a year-long presentation of Bartok’s works.

The DaPontes arrived in Maine in 1995 on a rural residency program, and have remained ever since, forming a cornerstone of our state’s cultural scene. Cellist Jordan and violinist Dino Liva are founding members from the Philly years, while violinist Lydia Forbes and violist Kirsten Monke are more recent additions.

“Summer Goulash” continues with Johannes Brahms’ String Quartet No. 3, a bright, sunny and perfectly crafted work, and Franz Joseph Haydn’s String Quartet No. 2, one of the defining pieces of the genre.

The DaPonte String Quartet presents “Summer Goulash” on July 5 at 7:30 p.m. at the Maine Jewish Museum, 267 Congress St. in Portland, and July 12 at 7:30 p.m. at the Unitarian Church, 15 Pleasant St. in Brunswick. For details on performances in Rockport, Boothbay Harbor, South Bristol, Eastport, Machias and Surry call 529-4555 or visit DaPonte.org.

The DaPonte String Quartet opens its summer 2018 season July 5 in Portland with a program titled “Summer Goulash.”

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