Luke Mallett has not yet set foot in the Portland House of Music and Events, but he already knows it will feel like home.

Former Big Easy manager Ken Bell is running the new club, which will open Friday. Mallett and other local musicians say they lost their favorite venue, and the emotional center of the Portland music scene, when The Big Easy closed in 2013.

“Kenny is just so down-to-earth, he’s in it with you, he wants you to do well,” said Mallett, who will play the new club Sunday with The Mallett Brothers Band. “Sometimes he’d throw down some extra (money) just to say he loved that set. Little things like that go a long way.”

The Portland House of Music and Events, which can hold about 290 people, has twice the capacity of the former Big Easy on Market Street, which held about 140 and was often crammed. Bell says he will continue to focus on local bands, and bands with local ties, including the three headliners for the club’s opening weekend.

The Portland-based pop/rock band Doubting Gravity will play opening night, Friday. Maine native Amy Allen will bring her band from Boston, Amy & The Engine, to perform Saturday.

Bell is running the new club in partnership with Jamie Isaacson, a Maine music promoter who has co-produced the popular North Atlantic Blues Festival in Rockland for 22 years. Isaacson and Bell had worked together to do a weekly blues series at The Big Easy, bringing in some national blues acts. The Big Easy closed in the fall of 2013, when Bell’s lease expired and was not renewed.


Bell said shows are planned nearly every night and that since his new club is twice as big as The Big Easy, it makes sense to bring in some national acts, too.


The new club passed a city inspection Wednesday and is clear to open Friday, said Jessica Grondin, the city’s communications director. More than $82,000 was spent on renovations, according to permit applications filed with the city. Of that, $15,000 was spent on a sprinkler system, and the rest was spent on general construction and some ventilation work, according to the permits.

By creating two full-time jobs, for a sound engineer and a kitchen manager, the new business was approved for a $20,000 matching grant from the city’s Business Assistance Program for Job Creation, Grondin said. The city also approved a $6,800 grant to help with the cost of sprinkler improvements.

The city also will be involved in the club’s debut Friday. Mayor Michael Brennan is planning to officially open the club with a ribbon-cutting at 2 p.m.

The Portland House of Music and Events is located at 25 Temple St., across from One City Center on the edge of the Old Port. It’s in a 3,400-square-foot, two-story space that formerly housed a flower shop.


The club’s audience space is divided into two levels, making the place feel spacious. The main floor, made of ceramic tile, in front of the stage is below street level, as is the club’s bar. Opposite the stage, and to one side of the floor, is a 10-foot-wide raised concourse at street level. Some old church pews, from the closed St. Patrick’s Church in Lewiston, will provide seating on the concourse for 30 to 40 people. Folding chairs will be used on the floor for some shows. Well above the floor are two windows, which are in the “green room” where performers will wait to go on. The club also has fresh paint throughout.


On Tuesday, workers were hanging 200 crystals from a chandelier, which also has acrylic tubes dangling from it. A black and white mural of a house done by local graffiti artists covers the wall behind the stage. But few people will ever see it because Bell is going to cover the walls, and the club’s floor-to-ceiling windows, with soundproof curtains. So the mural will be a secret for regulars and musicians, Bell said.

Bell said he wants to keep the prices for shows relatively low, as they had been at The Big Easy. Friday’s show with Doubting Gravity, for instance, will be $8.

Local musicians, and music fans, say Bell’s reputation, and the size of the new club, should help make it a success. The club’s capacity will bridge the gap between small clubs and bars, and larger venues that host national acts, like Port City Music Hall on Congress Street. Port City holds more than 500 people.

“There’s some breathing room. The size is nice. When Ken runs a place, it’s a listening room, people come to hear the bands,” said Andi Fawcett, lead singer of Doubting Gravity.

Pete Kilpatrick, lead singer of the Pete Kilpatrick Band, says he’s missed Bell and The Big Easy since it closed. He refers to The Big Easy as “my bar,” and says it was the place he’d most often go to hear other bands, including many featuring his friends. Kilpatrick said Bell is so supportive of the bands that played The Big Easy that he’d sometimes go to another venue to hear them play.

“I’m so glad he’s back and has another club. We have a new album coming in the fall and that’s the place we’d like to have the release party,” Kilpatrick said. “Ken just makes everyone, fans and musicians, feel welcome.”


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