Park: Perfect Venue to Jam
By Wayne E. Rivet
DENMARK — As a filmmaker, Jamie Hook searches out the finer details of his surroundings as he looks through a camera lens.
As he looked across the street from the Denmark Arts Center one day, he saw an “incredible gem” that oftentimes goes unnoticed and underused.
With a timber-framed pavilion, a small rise in the landscape and a lake in the background, Bicentennial Park seems to be a perfect venue for a music festival, Hook thought.
The vision is Dam Jam 2012. This Saturday, Denmark Arts Center will host a festival, which will include six bands, a world famous magician, an art exhibit, kids’ adventure tent, as well as a beer garden.
“We’ve come a long way in this country. We’ve elected a black man as our president, but would Denmark allow a beer garden in its public park? Yes, indeed. The town saw this as a great thing so Bray’s (Brewpub & Eatery in Naples) will handle the beer garden and food items,” Hook said.
Those 21 years of age and older will be allowed in the beer garden. IDs will be required. The festival will also include an adventure tent to children.
The festival will be held rain or shine. If bad weather rolls in, performances will be held inside the Denmark Arts Center (see sidebar story on Page 8C).
Admittedly, Hook has no idea how Dam Jam will fly, but he has heard many enthusiastic and supportive comments.
“The initial response about hosting this type of festival — disbelief. We got into this water very slowly so not to notice just how cold it could be. In the beginning, people were skeptical that it would fly. Yet, to their credit, they were willing to let us try. Maybe a few people on the board figured these young guys fall on their face and learn how hard it was,” said the Arts Center director. “Maybe only 50 people will show up and there will be more mosquitoes than people, but we’re going to give it a try.”
Hook envisions a slow, but steady growth process for Dam Jam.
“We want to see it grow steadily, not just bloat and disappear, much like what happened over in Oxford. We want something that is sustainable,” he said. “There have been some hiccups along the way. I’ve learned to keep the perspective rather broad.”
A major coup was landing world-class magician TB Benn, who has performed for celebrities, royalty, at major stockholder meetings and on television, including the “Oprah Winfrey Show.”
Benn’s pricetag is usually in the $12 to $15,000 range, so how did the Denmark Arts Center with its “tiny budget” and “tiny staff” land such a marquee performer?
“He’s coming to Maine for a vacation for nothing,” Hook said.
The generosity of Arts Center supporters enable Hook to reel in artistic and musical talent from the big cities.
“Some people who own some cabins on the water allow us to use them over the summer. So, you can get a guy who is usually paid $10,000 to come here. I tell them, ‘We can’t pay you, but we can pay your airfare or bus fare, pick you up and put you in a cabin on the water, surrounded by blueberry bushes and no one likely knows you or will bother you.’ For many, that’s a great deal. A chance to get away,” Hook said. “It becomes an easy sell. Using the power of place to bring people here. If you’re a high level magician, you’re asked to perform every four to five days, how often asked to come to a tiny town in Maine?”
Benn’s act is “phenomenal,” Hook said.
“When I saw one of his shows, he told me to give him $5, and then asked which country would I like to go to. I said, ‘Sweden.’ He crinkled the bill in his hand and gave it back to me. It was Swedish money. I saw him do the same thing to another guy who said ‘Israel.’ How is he doing this? Does he have money from every country up his sleeve? By the way, he was wearing a short-sleeved shirt,” Hook said.
At another show, Hook’s friends were asked to give Benn their wedding rings. The magician swirled the rings in a wine glass and then removed them with a pencil. The rings were all hooked together.
“My friends couldn’t get them apart,” Hook said. “He then put them back into the wine glass and unhooked them.”
Benn is considered a “close-up magician” and will be a real treat to watch at Dam Jam.
When Hook started working on finding musicians to play at Dam Jam, he didn’t look far. Again, working with a shoe-string budget, Hook tapped into a “very talented” Maine pool of performers.
“Portland, it’s an incredible music scene going on right now. Full rock explosion. Honest and pure stuff happening. And some of the best of them are coming here to Denmark,” Hook said.
Connections are essential in the music business. Hook spends his summers in Denmark, operating the Arts Center, but come fall, he returns to Brooklyn, N.Y., where he works a variety of jobs while also pursuing his passion — filmmaking.
One job was work at Pete’s Candy Store, a small venue that seats about 45, but has a very “active stage,” featuring new musical talent every night, 365 days out of the year.
“Funny thing, I’ve met a lot of performers there and they are from Maine,” Hook said. So, Hook surfed the Web and contacted some of the musicians. By luck, two bands — Micah Blue Smaldone and Cokeweed — are on tour together this summer.
“I asked them if they wanted to include Denmark as one of their stops,” Hook said. “And, they said ‘yes.’ I feel like people from the outside are smitten once they come to Denmark. It’s one of the last great small towns in Maine, yet it is only an hour away from Portland and a short distance from North Conway. Not like we’re in Millinocket where you are hours away from anything big.”
Hook admits Dam Jam is a bit of a leap of faith, but so has the development of the Denmark Arts Center. In 1994, the Town of Denmark gave the arts center building to the fire department to burn down as part of a training exercise. Local carpenter Henry Banks, who lives nearby and appreciated the architecture of the structure, asked town officials to spare the building. Banks spent time restoring it, and others joined the effort, developing the building into a center for the arts. Two of those supporters were Jamie’s parents. Eventually, Jamie followed their footsteps and became more involved with the arts center.
When asked how he became interested in the Denmark Arts Center, Jamie said, “In any great institution in the world, there is always nepotism at the heart of it. I grew up here, spent a lot of time overseas (Africa and Indonesia), but always came back to Denmark. It’s the closest thing I had to roots. My parents decided to live here full-time in 1993. They began working at the Arts Center with Ralph and Lillian Morse. And, they’re still going strong, working with Penny Morris in the theatre.”
Jamie was “incredibly wowed” by Ralph’s energy.
“It’s a shock that he is gone. I take it as humble pride that I get to work on the same stage that he really built,” he said. “When I arrived, the board of directors, rightfully so, thought they were running a building. Now, we are running something a little bit different. If the building burned down, could we still run a Denmark Arts Center? Yes. It’s been an interesting process for me coming in to honor all the work that has been put into this building, yet also take it beyond just a building. Two to three years, slowly transition away from the building to what is happening inside the building.”
The response has been incremental, slow but growing steadily, Jamie said.
When Jamie left the area to explore and pursue his filmmaking passion, he landed in Seattle, where he worked at Northwest Film Forum. The facility has two cinemas, offers a filmmaking program and other art related course work.
Seattle and Maine are polar opposites in one respect and yet similar. Seattle is one of “youngest places in the world,” Jamie said, while Maine is one of the oldest. Yet, both are inspiring places, Jamie believes. Places like Denmark give artists and musicians a chance to re-energize and share their talents with eager students in a quiet, beautiful setting.
“I have friends from Brooklyn who come here for a workshop, teach, have a great chance to work with world-class artist and refresh their practice,” he said. “If you are intrigued by the natural world, Maine is constantly fascinating. I am always amazed by the number of things going on.”
Slowly, Hook and others are adding the Denmark Arts Center to the mix. While unable to pencil in an act every night, the DAC offers a couple of shows each week and try to lure a wide-range of performers. Recently, DAC hosted the DaPonte String Quartet and the Bellamy Jazz Band.
Hook is upfront with performers regarding what the Arts Center can afford. The pitch, Hook uses, is DAC is an opportunity for performers to develop a new audience.
“For the DaPonte String Quartet, it was important to them to reach out. Like all our shows, we put out a donation jar. People were incredibly generous. The Quartet was so impressed by the support, they want to come back,” Hook said. “It has to be affordable. No one is turned away due to lack of ability to pay. It’s all by donation. Some people pay extra, realizing it. By keeping within the borders of Maine (for talent), we should be able to make it fly. I’m always impressed what I can find.”
For Jamie Hook, the most satisfying aspect of his work at the Denmark Arts Center is helping to grow a community.
“My desire is to help the community grow and express itself,” he said. “When I was in Seattle, people always talked about the need to be a ‘world class city’ — be more like New York. It’s not about the size, but it’s about getting people to notice what is right in front of them. There is a lot of enthusiasm here. I believe we’re just scratching the surface on what we can do at the Denmark Arts Center.”
Dam Jam is one attempt to introduce performers and visitors to “one of the last great little towns in Maine.”