Out & About: Maine singer-songwriters in the spotlight

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Maine has long been known for its myriad artists, and singer-songwriters are among those in the mix. Two upcoming shows spotlight six of them.

On July 5, Lula Wiles, a trio of women singer-songwriters who grew up in Maine, takes the stage in Portland in support of their debut album.

Another three take the stage the following day, when Deertrees Theatre in Harrison opens its 2016 concert season with “The Songwriters’ Circle.” Artists include Denny Breau, Emilia Dahlin and Heather Pierson.

Last week I very broadly summarized the Bowdoin International Music Festival. This week let’s take a more detailed look at the Monday Showcase series in Brunswick.

Lula Wiles

Two years ago, three women singer-songwriters from Maine who were living in Boson formed a trio and began performing under the name Lula Wiles. Ellie Buckland, Isa Burke and Mali Obomsawin had all attended the Maine Fiddle Camp in Montville as children, and as young adults they gravitated toward Boston and its famed Berklee College of Music.

Lula Wiles’ vocal and instrumental style is simple, straightforward and honest, and their success in live performances spurred the recording of their eponymous debut album, which was released last month. Currently Lula Wiles is embarked on a tour in support of the CD.

I’ve listened through the CD. It’s an impressive piecce of work that’s inspired me to reserve tickets for their July 5 performance in Portland.

Here’s a commentary by Buckland on the genesis of “Don’t Ask Why,” the third track on the album. Although Buckland’s comments strictly apply only to this particular song, I believe that they represent the spirit of Lula Wiles.

“‘Don’t Ask Why’ is an exploration of human strife, loss, and death and the helplessness one can feel in the face of it,” Buckland explained. “The story comes from a time when my younger brother’s life hung in the balance. I vividly remember the little field of wildflowers I was standing in when I got the call from my dad, telling me my brother had suffered a traumatic brain injury. I lost my breath and, in that moment, I felt powerless.

“As my brother recovered over the next many months, I wrote this song in an attempt to voice the vulnerability I felt during that experience. I’ve always been fascinated by the old folk songs with lyrics about unspeakable sorrow such as burying a child or murdering a lover, all sung with a plainspoken sense of honesty. The juxtaposition of major chords and heartache feels really powerful to me. With this song, I tried to approach the lyrics in the same way – combining folk idioms and real emotion with an emphasis on simplicity and earnestness as a songwriter.”

Catch Lula Wiles at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland, at 7 p.m. July 5. Call 761-1757.

Songwriters Circle

Deertrees Theatre is one of Maine’s cultural treasures, both in terms of its historic rustic architecture – it’s on the National Register of Historic Places – and its programming, which presents an eclectic array of summertime music and theater.

Opening the 2016 concert season is the July 6 Songwriters Circle, a showcase that features three of the Pine Tree State’s top talents. Best known is Denny Breau, equally known for his phenomenal prowess on six-string guitar and his creative ability.

Emilia Dahlin has performed more than 500 shows in the U.S. and abroad and took first place in the songwriting competition at the 2010 Boston Music Conference. She’s also known for using music as a tool for grassroots activism, epitomized by her Transcendence Project.

Heather Pierson is a wonderful and personable pianist and guitarist who has been singing her own music for more than a decade. I remember being in the audience when “Make It Mine” won the songwriting contest at the 2009 Ossipee Valley Music Festival, and I was also present for the 2013 recording session for “Motherless Child,” a complete album of her own work.

I recently chatted with Andrew Harris, the executive and artistic director of Deertrees Theatre. Hosting an open house last weekend, Harris bubbled with enthusiasm for the upcoming season, which marks Deertrees’ 80th anniversary.

It’s worth noting that five years ago, the 75th anniversary celebration was darkened by Deertrees’ parlous financial condition, largely the result of overly ambitious programming without the ticket sales and fund-raising needed to support that high level of activity.

Harris, who has served as unpaid chief honcho since that time, has engineered a remarkable turnaround, energizing both the programming and the necessary financial support. Deertrees is now back in the thick of Maine’s vibrant performing arts scene.

“We have a 42 performances scheduled this year, which is more than ever before in the 80-year history of Deertrees Theatre,” he said. Three plays will be produced in 2016, including a world premiere and a Maine premiere. The range of music covers a broad spectrum of styles from classical chamber music to a Beatles tribute act.

Deetrees Theatre, 156 Deertrees Road in Harrison, presents “Songwriters Circle” at 7:30 p.m. July 6. Call 583-6747.

Bowdoin International Music Festival

In their first two seasons as co-artistic directors of the Bowdoin International Music Festival in Brunswick, brothers Phillip and David Ying have made only one major change in terms of performance format and content, at least from the concertgoer’s perspective.

For five Monday evenings, July 4-Aug. 1, string quartets comprise the new bill of fare, with each date featuring an internationally renowned foursome.

The Yings’ own quartet will lead off on July 4. Formed in Chicago, the Ying Quartet is currently resident at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., and maintains a very busy globetrotting schedule.

On July 11 the featured ensemble will be the Ariel Quartet. Formed in Israel, the Ariels are noted for youth (at least among established classical ensembles) and their blend classical and modern music.

The Shanghai Quartet will take the stage July 18. Formed in China 30 years ago, Shanghai is noted for juxtaposing Eastern and Western classical music traditions, evidenced this past spring when the international tour visited Portland.

The JACK Quartet, famous as champions of new and experimental music, visit on July 25. Significantly, this is the same week as the Gamper Festival of Contemporary Music, a BIMF sub-unit.

Finally the Jupiter Quartet wraps up the series Aug. 1. Formed in the Midwest 13 years ago, the Jupiters spent two seasons as artists-in-residence at New York’s Lincoln Center.

For more information, call 373-1400 or visit BowdoinFestival.org.

The internationally renowned Ying Quartet will launch the Monday Showcase Series at the 2016 Bowdoin International Music Festival on July 4 in Brunswick.

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