Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Alehouse goes . . . country?!

Published in the Portland Phoenix

Late one night a while back, Russ Riseman, owner of the Alehouse on 30 Market Street, in Portland, was writing “country” on the board listing his club’s upcoming shows, while across the room a metal band was packing up. They looked over, saw the word, and started laughing. Riseman was worried, but only for a second.

The band members told him, Riseman recounts, that they listen to country music at home, in their cars, wherever they are. Even though they play heavy metal, country is what they grew up with and love.

Now, one night every other week at the Alehouse, there’s a chance for rockers of all kinds “whether they want to put on their plaid flannel clothes” or not to come into the Old Port and go a little bit Western. The events start Thursday, March 23, with a show by Maine native Mark Knight, who has been performing in Nashville for a while.

The Alehouse gigs will “introduce the largest genre in the country to one of the smallest cities in the country,” Riseman says, but it’s really just a pilot project for his dream: by the end of the year, Riseman wants to open a “full country bar,” complete with a mechanical bull, a bathtub full of ice and beer bottles, a horseshoe bar, and a big stage, somewhere a few miles out of the city.

And while he’s not talking about closing the Alehouse (though moving it is a possibility, if he can find a new spot with more room and a different landlord [see “Good Soundbreaks Make...,” by Jeff Inglis, January 20]), Riseman recognizes that “the potential for me as a businessperson is greater ... with country music,” given its wild popularity both nationally and locally.

The Toby Keith concert at the Civic Center March 2 sold out in minutes, and a pre-party hosted by radio station WPOR at the Old Port Tavern was well attended.

But for country to succeed here, Riseman says, “an emotional door needs to be open,” so Portland’s city folk can reveal their down-home secrets. “Nobody in a city wants to admit that this is your favorite form of entertainment,” maybe not even the metal bands.