Portland House of Music has been sold

·4 min read

Jul. 28—The owner of Portland House of Music, who opened the Old Port concert venue in 2015, has sold it to a talent buyer in Colorado.

Patrick Calabro, who bought the business from Ken Bell on July 13, said Thursday said he doesn't plan to make any major changes to the Portland House of Music, though he would like to try to bring in more national acts.

He said he's retaining the same staff and general manager, Ian Daly, who will run the venue on a day-to-day basis.

"Ken is a Portland music legend, and the Portland House of Music has been a huge part of the music scene here," said Calabro, who works for Aspen music venue The Belly Up. "I have every intent to keep that spirit alive going forward and to continue fostering the growth of local bands."

Bell said Thursday he had been thinking of selling the Old Port club for at least a couple of years. He had put the club on the market for while in the summer of 2020, after the pandemic had shut him down. Also that year, a GoFundMe campaign was started to try to keep the club in business until Bell could start hosting shows again.

Reached while sitting in an airplane about to take off Thursday, Bell said he couldn't talk further about the sale but would like to when he's back in Maine.

Calabro said he became interested in the Portland House of Music a few years ago, after several of his friends had moved to Portland from other parts of the country and he started spending time here. He was impressed with the music scene, as well as the restaurants and Portland's reputation among visitors and people looking for a place with a high quality of life. He said he first called Bell to see if he'd sell the business before the pandemic.

Calabro said he thinks the roughly 300-capacity Portland House of Music could attract more national acts, especially since Port City Music Hall, with a capacity of 550, closed during the pandemic. The venue is about the right size to attract up-and-coming acts looking to gain a national reputation, Calabro said, not too small and not too large or hard too fill.

"There is sort of a gap in town as far as places for those bands to play. You go from our capacity to Aura (at about 1,000)," said Calabro. "Given the size of Portland and its growing profile, especially since the pandemic, I think it's a really attractive place for bands to play."

Bell was already well known to the Portland music community when he opened the Portland House of Music on Temple Street in 2015. For about eight years, he had run another well-known local music hub, The Big Easy on Market Street in the Old Port, which closed in 2013 after Bell's lease with the building's owner expired.

Portland House of Music is located in a city-owned building near a parking garage and Nickelodeon Cinemas. Calabro declined to say what he paid for the business. A native of New Jersey, he has worked in the concert business for about 10 years. Before his current job, he was director of booking and marketing for the Brooklyn Bowl music venues in Las Vegas and London and worked at Madison House, an artist and booking management firm in Colorado.

Over the years, Portland House of Music has hosted local, regional and national recording artists, burlesque and comedy shows, as well holiday parties and special events. Bell had earned a reputation as creating a warm, welcoming space for performers and audiences, and treating both fairly.

"Ken is just a good guy and a fun person to be around. He had a real sense of community, and he led his venues that way," said Portland musician Jeff Beam, who is scheduled to play Portland House of Music Friday on a bill with several other acts. "Musicians always want to play his room because they know they'll be taken care of.'

Beam, who is also executive and programming director at another Portland music venue, One Longfellow Square, said Bell's residencies were an example of how well he treated local musicians. In residencies, the same band or act plays every week on the same day, for an extended period of time.

"It might not be a sell-out the first week, but by the end of the season it might. He showed he was willing to invest in local bands," said Beam.

Hello Newman, a local '90s cover band, is currently on a Tuesday night residency at the venue. Band member Jonah Bruce said Thursday that Portland House of Music has been known not only for Bell's treatment of musicians but for his attention to detail. Bruce said the venue has a sound system and lighting that ranks among the best of any music venue he's played.

"He's just really well connected, and he knows everybody," said Bruce. "And he always gives artists a good deal."