The last concert held at the Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion in Bangor was on Aug. 28, 2019, when rock band Breaking Benjamin performed. Since then, the coronavirus pandemic has kept the 16,000-seat venue on Bangor’s Waterfront silent — until Thursday when country artist Luke Bryan will take the stage in the first show there in nearly two years.
With the concert date here, the staff at Old Town-based Waterfront Concerts, the company that puts on shows at the venue, have barely had time to take stock of the fact that they’re finally getting to do what they do again — bring live music to Maine — when there are so many other fires to put out, all the time.
“When people ask me if I think a show is going well, I tell them that I can’t make a judgment about that until I see the last truck tail lights pulling out of the loading zone,” said Waterfront Concerts president Alex Gray. “The past two years are unprecedented. There are a thousand things to worry about. So it’s kind of hard to stop and smell the flowers, that we’re bringing live music back to Bangor.”
Preparations are underway at Darlings Waterfront Pavilion for the first concert of the season, Luke Bryan, on Thursday. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN
Gray said that he and his staff will follow all state and local guidelines when it comes to pandemic safety. Concert goers will not have to wear masks or show proof of vaccination to enter the venue.
“We hope everyone will be aware of their own individual threshold for risk,” Gray said. “Thankfully, this is an outdoor venue, and the science says that the likelihood of transmission outdoors is dramatically lower than indoors.”
Regardless of concerns individual concertgoers may hold about going to a gathering of thousands of people, ticket sales for Thursday’s show are robust, and Gray expects it to come to a sellout. There are three more concerts set for the Bangor venue this year, including classic rockers KISS on Aug. 19, and country artists Thomas Rhett on Aug. 20 and Brad Paisley on Sept. 25.
As for the venue itself, staff have had to work around the City of Bangor’s massive, multi-year sewer construction project aimed at preventing sewage from entering the Penobscot River, which began in February 2020. Presently, the area in front of the venue along Railroad Street is a dig site, and the area behind the venue going toward Hollywood Casino is still in the midst of having a 3.8 million-gallon underground storage tank installed.
It’s not the first time concert staff have had to deal with construction right outside venue walls. The Bangor Savings Bank corporate headquarters was built in 2017 and 2018 directly outside the main entrance, and in 2019 site prep work for the sewer project began.
But once concertgoers step into the venue, Gray said, it won’t look any different on the inside — in fact, it’ll be improved since people last attended concerts in 2019.
“We have raised the elevation of the lawn area from 21 feet to 33 feet, which will give a much better view of the stage for folks with seats toward the rear of the venue,” he said. “That’s a major development that nobody has really seen yet, aside from the contractors.”
The other planned improvements to the venue, such as more seating options, permanent concession stands and a new main entrance area on Railroad Street, are likely to be delayed as the company tries to recover from its nearly two-year pandemic break.
Though Waterfront Concerts was last month awarded a $9.76 million Shuttered Venue Operators Grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration, that money will be used to shore up the company, which also operates venues including the Maine Savings Pavilion in Westbrook and Bold Point Park in East Providence, Rhode Island. That money has yet to be disbursed to Waterfront Concerts, though some of the other 75 Maine organizations awarded $36 million in federal funds have received them.
But, provided no more pandemic curveballs are thrown our way, Gray said he expects the 2022 concert season to be the biggest one yet in Bangor — and possibly in the live music industry’s history as well.
“There is just a huge amount of pent-up demand,” Gray said. “The amount of tours that have been rescheduled over the past two years means that some of the biggest artists in the world — artists that we’ve been trying to get for years — are now a real possibility for Bangor. It should be an incredible year for music.”
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated how many organizations had already received their Shuttered Venue Operators Grants.