Out & About: Americana on Congress Street in Portland

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It’s not a festival of Americana music, but the effect is pretty much the same: By happenstance of scheduling, a plethora of Americana will be performed over a span of six days and a geographic span that that covers about a mile on Portland’s Congress Street.

At the top of Munjoy Hill on Friday, music of the late Texas singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt will be recalled by the Maine-based Seth Warner Band in a program titled “Highway Kind.”

About a mile west, at Longfellow Square, the Midcoast-based Gawler Family Band will hold forth on Sunday. In various incarnations this group has been a fixture on the Maine music scene for four decades.

The New Schematics, a fairly new Nashville band, are on tour promoting their latest recording, “Your Year.” Its success to date suggests that 2017 will be their year. They visit Portland on March 8.

Far outside Americana, the University of Southern Maine School of Music will open its fully staged production of “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” an opera by Otto Nicolai, on Friday in Gorham.

Townes Van Zandt tribute

New Year’s Day 2017 marked the 20th anniversary of the death of Townes Van Zandt, a singer-songwriter from Texas who left an indelible mark on American folk and country music, especially the sub-genre of “outlaw country.”

Van Zandt released 10 albums between 1968 and 1994, plus an additional four posthumous collections of his music have been issued, most recently in 2013. In addition to his own releases, Van Zandt’s songs have been covered by a host of other artists, including the Cowboy Junkies, Hoyt Axton, Steve Earle, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris and Merle Haggard. The latter’s recording of “Pancho and Lefty” topped the country music charts in 1983.

Many of Van Zandt’s songs depict lonely, troubled characters, and many see his music as a reflection of his own troubled life, which was marked by depression, bipolar disorder, alcoholism and heroin addiction.

This Friday his music and memory will be honored with a tribute concert led by Seth Warner and three bandmates. Warner is a very talented Mainer who is on the applied music faculty at Bates College. His trio appears frequently in southern Maine and New Hampshire venues. Warner has titled this concert “Highway Kind,” after a Van Zandt song of that name released in 1971.

Catch Seth Warner’s “Highway Kind” tribute to Townes Van Zandt at 7 p.m. March 3 at the St. Lawrence Arts Center, 76 Congress St. (top of Munjoy Hill). Call 347-3075.

Gawler Family Band

You could call them a longtime Maine country band. In Belfast and nearby towns, they’re often called an institution; their musical celebration of rural lifestyle and values has been a fixture of Midcoast life for decades.

This Sunday the Gawler Family Band ventures southwest for a somewhat rare urban appearance in Portland.

The Gawler Family Band is a sextet built around a husband-wife team. John and Ellen Gawler have been active in Maine music circles since the 1970s, and are co-founders of the Maine Country Dance Orchestra.

The other band members are their three adult children, Molly, Edith and Elsie, plus Edith’s husband, Bennett Konesni. Three of the six play the fiddle, which gives the consort a distinctively different aural ambience. Other instruments include banjo, cello, guitar, harmonica and washboard. The band is a mainstay of contra-dances, festivals and old-time country music happenings around Maine.

The Gawler Family Band’s music is rooted in the land, and song selections often hark back to the American folk music revival of the 1960s, including covers of Woody Guthrie’s “Hard Travelin’ and Pete Seeger’s “Golden Thread.”

Catch the Gawler Family Band at 7 p.m. March 5 at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland. Call 761-1757.

New Schematics

The narrative drives the music. That’s the overarching dynamic that powers one of Nashville’s newest and hottest acts. The New Schematics unites two veteran singer-songwriters in a four-man ensemble that logged thousands of miles around the country on its first national tour in 2016. Currently they’re on their second national tour and motor into Portland on March 8.

“Born Without Borders” relates the story of a young woman who leaves a safe relationship to pursue her dreams on the West Coast. It propelled the Schematics’ eponymous debut EP to critical favor and ticket-window success.

A couple of weeks ago they dropped their second recording, titled “Your Year,” a story of a lonely young man who finds the love of his life at a party. When I listened to it last week I definitely felt that 2017 would be their year.

Catch the New Schematics at 8 p.m. March 8 at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland. Call 761-1757. Starcrossed Losers is the opening act.

‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’

It only happens once every four years: The University of Southern Maine School of Music produces a fully staged full-length opera.

And it happens in 2017 for two consecutive weekends, beginning this Friday in Gorham.

The quadrennial choice is “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” a romantic comedy that’s based on the play of the same name by William Shakespeare. Its original operatic adaptation was in German, with music by Otto Nicolai, an immensely popular composer in the middle of the 19th century.

Its plot is typically Shakespearean romantic comedy, full of hilarious characters in disguise, misdirected love letters, hare-brained schemes and a hefty dose of jealousy. But by the denouement, everything sorts out happily.

“Merry Wives” is Nicolai’s masterpiece, and has been popular since its 1849 premiere in Germany. USM’s production will be an English translation.

The show includes some of Shakespeare’s most immortal comic characters, played by USM students studying classical voice, opera and musical theater.

The show is helmed by internationally recognized director Cary Libkin, with musical direction by Scott Wheatley. The Southern Maine Symphony Orchestra will be conducted by Robert Lehmann. Choreography is by Maria Tzianabos and costumes are designed by Anna Grywalski.

March has been designated International Women’s History Month, and this show is especially apropos, according to Libkin. “The entire piece is focused on the women, and it is they who solve problems, establish justice and have a whole lot of fun in the process,” he explains.

Performances will take place on the Main Stage at Russell Hall on the USM Gorham Campus at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, March 3, 4, 10 and 11, and at 5 p.m. on Sundays, March 5 and 12. Call 780-5555.

The Gawler Family Band is based in Midcoast Maine and has been performing since the 1970s in various incarnations. They visit Portland this Sunday.