Each week the Orient will spotlight different aspects of the arts and entertainment scene in Portland. This week's installment focues on live music venues.

This past week, I checked out two small live music venues in Portland. More than cafés but less than music clubs, these are places to relax, get something to eat or drink, and listen to artists both famous and unknown—think of them as Portland's versions of Jack Magee's.

The first place I visited is called Blue, and like its name, the mission of the venue is simple: to provide quality music, food and drinks in a small and relaxed setting.

Barry Martin established Blue in 2005, and he continues to own and operate the venue to this day.

Located in Portland's Arts district, the venue is surrounded by apartment buildings.

"As we wish to maintain good relations with our neighbors, we tend not to book excessively loud, live music—in general, we don't host rock, punk or top 40 cover bands," said Martin.

A far cry from your typical rowdy pub, Blue tries to foster relationships between artists and listeners.

"Blue has often been called the most intimate live music venue in Portland," said Martin. "It is in this intimate setting that we hope musicians and their listeners can get to know each other."

Regarding the actual genres of music performed in Blue, the focus seems to be on jazz, but other styles are featured as well (Wednesday night is dedicated to Irish music, for example).

No matter the type of music, however, Blue tends to be a listener's venue rather than a talker's.

"Blue is designed for live music with no TV and the stage situated as the focal point," said Martin.

Blue's strictly musical focus makes it very different from the other venue I visited, the North Star Music Café.

Located just east of Blue down Congress Street, North Star represents a cross between an independent coffee house and a kind of community center.

The first thing you see as you enter is an enormous and well-used postings board, giving the immediate impression that North Star is an attraction both by and for the surrounding community. Indeed, a mission statement on the wall of the Café states that they "hope to foster a multi-generational space for connecting and supporting our community."

When I was there, the crowd inside the café was young for the most part—mainly twenty-somethings talking or working on laptops and bobbing their heads to the lo-fi electronic music playing in the background.

Opened in 2007 by Kim Anderson and Anna Maria Tocci, North Star's performance lineup is vastly different than Blue's. Instead of focusing on a particular genre of music—or on music at all—North Star integrates spoken word, open mics, dance classes, and sign language instruction into its schedule.

"As with most things we do, we cover a little bit of everything," said Anderson. "We are a space for up-and-coming artists to be seen as well as a venue for intimate performances with well-known artists."

Compared to the environment at Blue, North Star can be pretty lively on show nights.

"We have everything from cozy café-seating folk shows to dance parties to crowds packed in and jumping around the stage. No two shows are the same," said Anderson.

Both venues, though different in many ways, are a valuable look into the arts and entertainment scene in Portland that, while close to Bowdoin, can be far outside our usual sphere of musical offerings.


650 Congress St.

Tuesday-Saturday at 7p.m.

The North Star Music Cafe

225 Congress St.

Monday-Wednesday, 7a.m.-10 p.m.

Thursday-Saturday, 7a.m.-11p.m.

Sunday, 10a.m.-5p.m.