Best of Maine Culture

Ukrainian fusion folk. Social media shutterbugs. Hollywood starlets. Highbrow foot laundry.

DE_BestofMaine_EditorsWho makes the tastiest taco? Where’s the loveliest lobsterboat tour? What is the one hike you just can’t skip? We logged the miles to bring you this handy, savvy, witty guide to our favorite Maine everything. We’ve already covered the Best of Maine Food and Drink. Here’s another excerpt from the July issue, featuring this year’s editors’ choices for the Best of Maine Culture.

Best New Concert Venue
Maine State Pier

Last year, Bangor-based Waterfront Concerts promoter Alex Gray helped Shipyard Brewing Company stage a 20th anniversary party at Portland’s Maine State Pier. It went so well, he committed to a full run of concerts at the Pier this summer, with an eclectic (to say the least) lineup that includes Peter Frampton, Lady Antebellum, Sharon Jones, “Weird Al” Yankovic, and Weezer. With Thompson’s Point hosting its first shows this summer, the Pier may not be Portland’s only big-time outdoor venue for long, but with crowds of only around 3,000 (“like a boutique amphitheater,” Gray says), a downtown location, and a harbor view, it’s a truly great spot for a show. Franklin and Commercial Sts., Portland. 207-358-9327.

Maine State Pier
Maine State Pier (via Waterfront Concerts)

Best Musical Ambassadors
Tumbling Bones

Unquestionably Maine’s most popular tap-dancing-string-band-world-folk-fusion quartet. Tight harmonies and the impressive foot percussion of founding member Pete Winne set Tumbling Bones apart from legions of beardy, folk-revivalist bar bands — but so does the Portland group’s passion for cultural exchange. Last November, the U.S. State Department sponsored Tumbling Bones on a goodwill tour of Romania, Georgia, Bulgaria, and Ukraine; this spring, they visited Ukraine and Estonia at the invitation of U.S. Embassies there. The group’s experience abroad is their home audience’s gain — a Tumbling Bones show is as likely to feature a Georgian a capella dirge as a rendition of “Rocky Top.”

Tumbling Bones
Tumbling Bones (via Facebook)

Best Instagram
Chris Buerkle, @christopher_buerkle

The best feeds on the popular Instagram photo-sharing app are those that treat users to five-second vacations whenever they steal a glance at their phones. Of late, our favorite Instagrammer is Chris Buerkle, a part-time barista, part-time bartender, part-time commercial photographer who traded New Orleans for Portland a year-and-a-half ago. Buerkle’s feed nicely balances the urban, pastoral, and backcountry elements of Maine’s character. Whether he’s shooting a Penobscot Bay ferry ride, a Portland cemetery, or the view from atop Tumbledown, his snapshots feel intimate and his perspectives fresh. Follow for a Maine insta-getaway.

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Best Start-Up Civic Beautification Project Portland Mural Initiative

Vibrant towns deserve great public art, which is why four exterior walls along the East Bayside Trail are becoming canvases for Portland artists Jenny McGee Dougherty, Tessa Greene O’Brien, Will Sears, and Greta Van Campen. They’re the first in a slate of annual installations envisioned by the Portland Mural Initiative, spearheaded by Sears and O’Brien and launched this year with a $5,000 grant from SPACE Gallery’s Kindling Fund (itself supported by New York’s Andy Warhol Foundation). The project emphasizes community buy-in — its first two murals were unveiled at a community dinner in June.

Best Celebrity We’re Quick to Lay Claim To
Anna Kendrick

Everyone likes a hometown girl done good, and lately, nobody’s done better — or seemed so ridiculously charming doing it — than Portland-bred Anna Kendrick. She’s cute. She’s witty and self-effacing in interviews. She’s uninhibited on social media (where she doesn’t get enough credit for also being thoughtful and subversive — or for having Portland Head Light as her Twitter header). And the girl has range. The 29-year-old Deering High grad sings and dances in popcorn flicks like Into the Woods and the Pitch Perfect films, and her turns in Up in the Air and last year’s criminally underappreciated Happy Christmas are subtle and emotionally complex. We’re quick to claim Kendrick as our own not because she’s famous, but because she’s good.

Best Photobiography
Gardening at Night by Cig Harvey

For Cig Harvey, photography isn’t a mirror to reality but a way of balancing outward appearances with inner states of being. She lives on a farm in Rockport with her husband, daughter, and a dog named Scarlet, and her hauntingly beautiful photo book Gardening at Night is an attempt to balance that happy family life with the everyday fears of a daughter, wife, and mother. Carefully and imaginatively staged photos — many of young girls and wild birds — combine with Harvey’s spare narrative text in a sort of visual poem about how love makes us vulnerable. Much more than coffee-table decoration. $50. Schilt Publishing, 144 pp.

Best of Stage and Screen

Some of Maine’s most powerful recent storytelling.


Monica Wood (an occasional Down East contributor) is one of Maine’s most gifted writers, so it’s no surprise her debut as a playwright this spring was Portland Stage’s bestselling show ever. Papermaker vividly renders small-town Maine during a Reagan-era paper mill strike, with sharp dialogue that recalls Death of a Salesman in its poignancy and moral ambiguity.

Bluestocking Film Series

The world’s only film fest to require female protagonists has a feminist mission and international flair, but at heart, it’s just about great (short) films. Last year’s highlights included four U.S. premieres from international directors and one Sundance hit comedy. At this month’s fifth anniversary fest, we’re looking forward to an entry from Pakistani filmmaker (and recent Cannes invitee) Rayika Choudri. July 17–18. $12/day. SPACE Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland. 207-828-5600.

2125 Stanley Street

In April, The Dance Hall in Kittery hosted Maine’s most compelling recent dance performance. Dancers in Dahlia Nayar’s 2125 Stanley Street gorgeously explore domesticity and notions of home using mops, laundry, and other domestic props in beautiful and unexpected ways (e.g., gracefully hanging socks on a clothesline with their feet). Nayar, of Massachusetts, completed the work in part during a Bates Dance Festival choreographer’s residency.

Down East Cover, July 2015Buy this issue of Down East and get the full list of this year’s Best of Maine winners, in categories ranging from Food & Drink, Culture, and Lodging, to Family, Self, Community, and more!