SIDNEY — As the summer concert season approaches, a landmark central Maine arts venue is gearing up to welcome fans in new and improved fashion.

The Bowl in the Pines amphitheater, the outdoor stage at the Snow Pond Center for the Arts, sits on the picturesque shore of Messalonskee Lake, surrounded by pine trees that cover the center’s campus. And this year, it will be returning to the summer circuit with fresh renovations.

“Multiple things had to go into this, which now allow for national touring artists to be able to play in the Bowl,” said Christa Johnson, director of development for the Snow Pond Center. “So for the first time, central Maine now has a full-blown outdoor place to have music. We have Bangor, we have Portland, but it’s nice for central Maine to have something in our backyard.”

Christa Johnson, director of development at the Snow Pond Center for the Arts in Sidney, walks last Monday beneath pine trees in front of the stage at the Bowl in the Pines amphitheater, shown behind her. Johnson says the trees have been there since the 1930s. The Snow Pond Center amphitheater, one of the largest in the nation, reopens in June for touring acts. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

As central Maine continues to develop as an arts destination, the Snow Pond Center for the Arts has taken the opportunity to renovate its outdoor stage, with technical and audience-focused upgrades.

The renovations should help the venue compete with those in Portland or Bangor to attract bigger acts, but the historical background and unique outdoor experience provide an atmosphere all its own, cementing Snow Pond as a cultural institution for the region.

Snow Pond began as one program — the New England Music Camp. Over time, the organization has expanded to include a variety of programs, free community concerts, a community art program and more, all centered around the theme of arts education, and ways to support those programs.


That is part of what prompted the renovations, Johnson said. Snow Pond had always used the Bowl for New England Music Camp performances and, over time, began hosting free concerts there. Eventually, the organization decided to host ticketed concerts, with a portion of ticket sales used to support its other programs.

And while the stage has held up well over time and remains one of the largest outdoor stages in New England, it became clear the organization would have to make updates for the stage to reach its full potential. Thus, the renovations.

“There are so many great things in central Maine, and we have so many places now where we can see concerts, but I truly believe the more the better,” Johnson said. “Let’s become an arts destination. And by working together and supporting each other, we’re able to do that.”

The intention was never to totally redo the Bowl, Johnson said, but to enhance what was already there so the stage can better serve larger, national acts.

And as work nears completion for summer concerts, the old and the new blend together seamlessly. The additions do not stand out in glaring contrast to the original structure, which was built in the early 1930s, but rather complement it and emphasize the best parts of the location that were already there.

The grass hill has been graded, providing a gentle slope for guests. Two concession stands are now available, and an outdoor kitchen and patio space is expected to be completed in the fall. The area immediately in front of the stage is now lined with pavers, to make room for dancing. The renovations also mean the venue now complies with standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act.


A new concessions area, at left, is shown with an area being made into a covered outdoor kitchen and three-tiered patio at the Bowl in the Pines amphitheater, background, at the Snow Pond Center for the Arts in Sidney. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Changes also include technical upgrades, new rigging, lights and more, plus fresh paint.

Maintaining the atmosphere has been important to Johnson and others at the Snow Pond Center. For example, when a large tree had to be cut down on the hill, Johnson stopped workers before they could remove the stump. Johnson now plans to turn the stump into a table for guests.

While the Bowl is not the large stadium some performers seek, Johnson said it provides a unique outdoor experience that should appeal to a variety of artists, especially now that the venue can better support more-complicated acts.

The upgrades mean expanded capacity for the venue, which can now hold up to 7,500 people, but Johnson said the Snow Pond Center does not plan to operate at full capacity quite yet. Ticket sales this year are to be capped at 3,000 per event, with the number increasing next year.

The summer lineup includes LeAnn Rimes on Friday, June 10; Michael Franti and Spearhead on Friday, July 1; and Bailen, Goodnight Blue Moon and Rebecca McCartney on Saturday, July 16.

Renovations to the stage are underway last Monday at the Bowl in the Pines amphitheater at Snow Pond Center for the Arts in Sidney. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

In addition, the New England Music Camp symphonic groups are scheduled to perform Saturday, July 9, and the Snow Pond Center is planning to partner with the Maine Film Center for a free screening of “Spider-Man: No Way Home” on Monday, July 4.

The Snow Pond Center has always been a community-focused organization, but Johnson said she has been impressed by how the community came together to support the renovations. In total, the renovations cost about $1 million, and two of the biggest funders for the project were the Bill and Joan Alfond Foundation and Kennebec Savings Bank.

Johnson said part of the project’s goal was to help with economic development in central Maine, so as people come for the concerts, they will also shop at local businesses and eat at local restaurants. The Maine Arts Commission has estimated concerts at the Snow Pond Center will contribute $300,000 to the broader community, Johnson said.

“It offers the audience an interesting place, and the artist (opportunities) to play right on the lake, right in this historic Bowl, right among the 100-year-old pine trees,” Johnson said of the venue. “So I think even though it can get large, it’s a very intimate setting at the end of the day.”

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