PORTLAND — The Big Easy in the Old Port is cleaning up its act while returning to its roots and bringing in big names.
Club owner Ken Bell, a former Edward Little High School attendee, is putting his years of experience as a corporate restaurant manager and a live music fan into action with The Big Easy’s newly launched Sunday Evening Blues concert series.
“It feels good bringing back what this place used to be,” Bell said. “If you put a good product on stage and put together a good atmosphere, then it will pay off and be a lot of fun at the same time.”
Over the past couple of decades, The Big Easy at 55 Market St. has gone through different owners and various phases of live and DJ entertainment. Bell took over a couple of years ago and immediately started giving the place a good scrubbing.
If you haven’t been to the Old Port staple in a while, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Freshly scoured floor tiles have emerged from years of sticky neglect. The sour smell of spilled drinks no longer lingers. The bathrooms (at least the women’s), actually emit a welcoming feel instead of the try-not-to-touch-anything warning. And along one wall of tables, there are purse hooks. Always a nice touch.
“It definitely smells better,” Bell said. “Guys will drink anywhere, but I want this to be a place where women can feel good about coming in, too.”
Just as Bell was beginning to put his new business model in place, music promoter Jamie Isaacson moved into town. An EL grad and until recently a longtime Wayne resident, Isaacson and his wife relocated a couple of months ago as empty nesters to the transforming Eastern Prom section of Portland.
With an established track record working with Paul Benjamin of Rockland to consistently bring top national and international artists to the annual North Atlantic Blues Festival and booking top performers throughout Maine at various other venues, Isaacson knocked on Bell’s door at just the right time.
“When Jamie came, it was perfect,” Bell said . “It was exactly what I had in mind.”
Isaacson, a low-key blues pianist in his own right, pitched the idea of bringing top blues acts back to The Big Easy. He then became excited by Bell’s excitement.
“Ken has the right kind of energy to make this work,” Isaacson said. “Personality is everything when you’re trying to build an audience. And if the audience builds, then the sky’s the limit.”
Isaacson knows from past shows that Maine harbors a dedicated blues audience. At the series debut with none other than Joe Louis Walker, who recently released “Hellfire,” on Alligator Records, blues fans from miles away trekked down to the Old Port.
“I was expecting a lot to start with,” said Norm Larock of Litchfield. “I am definitely satisfied and then some.”
The close intimate atmosphere of The Big Easy allows the audience and performer to interact and mingle in a way unique to the club scene. Space next to the low stage invites dancing. Small raised tables and stools offer direct sight lines from all directions. Recessed lighting effuses a light-hearted party aura. It’s once again The Big Easy.
Besides the blues series, Bell noted that The Big Easy is still committed to offering a wide range of music genres that run from rap on Wednesdays, to Grateful Dead cover bands on Thursdays, and soul, jazz and blues night on Saturdays. For more calendar and ticket information, visit www.bigeasyportland.com.
Who is playing when?
* Moreland & Arbuckle, 8 p.m. March 4, $15
* Debbie Davies, 8 p.m. March 25, $20