A story by Ford Reiche from 1950-1970s

Portrait of Ford Reiche

In a small state like Maine, rock and roll concerts were a big deal. Often front page news. In the early days of rock and roll, southern Maine got way more than its share of major performers. Bill Haley and the Comets, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, The Four Seasons, Simon and Garfunkel, The Beach Boys, Jimi Hendrix, The Supremes, Bruce Springsteen and hundreds more. And this was before the Cumberland County Civic Center.

When these touring rock and roll musicians were making stops in places like Pittsburgh, Baltimore, New York, Washington and Boston, what was it about Maine that attracted them to play in Old Orchard Beach, Portland or Lewiston? The Maine Turnpike.

The turnpike was first opened in 1947 from Kittery to Portland, and extended through Lewiston in 1955. When that happened, all of a sudden 250,000 Mainers were within an hour’s drive of one another, and this included 7 colleges: Nasson (now closed), St. Frances College (now UNE), U Maine Portland and Gorham, Westbrook Junior (now UNE), Bates and Bowdoin. Concert promoters could suddenly pack 3,000 to 6,000 young people into the venues in Old Orchard Beach, Portland and Lewiston-movie theaters, armories, basketball courts and hockey arenas. Potential audiences of that size put southern Maine on the rock and roll map for concert promoters. What other events in Maine during the 1950s, 60s and early 70s were routinely putting thousands of people in one place for anything other than these rock and roll concerts?

The national acts that played in southern Maine had a very local impact. Local promoters who organized events were moonlighting from a “day job”, paper tickets were sold for a few bucks ($2.50 for Jimi Hendrix) at the local record stores, deejays from the hometown radio stations (WLOB, WLAM, WIDE) introduced the big performers on stage, local high school garage bands would often serve as opening acts.

It was a special moment in time nationally and locally. The huge baby boomer demographic served up social, political and cultural change in unprecedented scales. Rock and roll was part of that scene, and it had an impact on Maine which is worth memorializing.

The opening of the Cumberland County Civic Center in 1977 effectively shut down the local venues, and it coincided with other big changes in the rock concert world: national concert promoters, electronic ticket sales, and even the music was changing. That’s all a different exciting story.

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