Portland music venue hopes to broaden appeal

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PORTLAND — The saying goes “Out with the old, in with the new.”

But for One Longfellow Square, an all-ages music venue at the corner of Congress and State streets, it’s only half true.

The venue – traditionally known for hosting jazz, folk and bluegrass musicians – is now looking to attract a new generation of concert-goers, while retaining its core traditions.

Liz Pettengill, director of marketing and community outreach at OLS, said the venue is bringing in new kinds of acts to attract audiences that might otherwise not come through the doors.

But Pettengill said that doesn’t mean the traditional roots of OLS will be tossed aside. She said the goal is to mesh traditions at OLS with new music. The bluegrass and folk music aren’t going anywhere, she said.

“I see this as a place where people can come discover music,” Pettengill said. 

Pettengill said what helps set OLS apart from other venues is that the bar and stage are separated, so there is no fight for attention between the two. Music is the focus.

“Here you can get lost in the music,” she said.

Founded in 2007, OLS, which became a nonprofit organization in 2011, holds about 185 people. In addition to the floor space, where chairs have traditionally been set up, there is an upper balcony area that can hold 40 people. But with newer kinds of bands and a new generation of audiences coming through, Pettengill said there will be “limited seating” for such shows, because younger generations prefer to stand.

“People can get up and move and enjoy shows in a different way,” she said.

One show that will have limited seating will take place when July Talk, described on the OLS website as “a high-powered 5-piece bringing alt-bluesy garage rock,” plays Nov. 17. 

Pettengill said the venue is currently running four to five shows a week, with almost every weekend night booked, which she said “breathes new life into the place.” She credited a new booking agent for finding new bands and artists to blend in with the traditional offerings. 

“We really want every generation of music lover to have places to go,” she said.

Pettengill said for the first time OLS is offering student passes, which allows students to receive 20 percent off ticket prices with a student identification card. Additionally, OLS staff members have been going to student fairs to let them know what’s going on. 

She said local bands will often be invited to be opening acts for the bands coming through, while the headlining bands will largely be touring acts from outside Maine.

In addition to new kinds of musical acts, Pettengill said OLS is also doing offering more stand-up comedy. She said there was a need for a comedy venue since the Comedy Connection on Custom House Wharf closed in 2012.

She said OLS will also be hosting comedy classes for up-and-coming comedians.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

Liz Pettengill is the director of marketing and community outreach for One Longfellow Square on 181 State St. The organization is looking to reach the next generation of music lovers by expanding the kinds of concerts put on at the venue.

Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.