Maggie Rogers Finds Home in Maine

By Chris Ritter

“I’m gonna stop, because it sounds like the world’s ending.” Maggie Rogers is standing onstage at Thompson’s Point while a jet roars overhead, flying into the nearby Portland airport. She’s standing in the dark, in front of about 7,000 people as the unplanned flyover briefly interrupts Rogers’ encore, a stripped back a capella performance of a camp song she learned years ago at a summer camp in Maine.

Maggie Rogers may have grown up in rural Maryland, but she feels right at home in Maine. In fact, at Rogers’ first night of back-to-back shows at Portland’s Thompson’s Point, she called the gig her “hometown show” to an audience that included her family, friends, and fellow campers from that same Maine summer camp (and many, many students from Bowdoin College).

It’s not surprising that Rogers fits in so well here. As a Mid-Atlantic kid who spent summers at Wohelo camp on Maine’s Sebago Lake, Rogers’ rustic early work feels aptly influenced by the woods, full of bright-eyed lyrics about sunlight, trees, and the shifting of seasons. Rogers began as a folk artist, and her songs on an early project, The Echo contain plenty of lyrical jaunts through the forest as Rogers found a sonic backbone in one of her first instruments, the banjo.

But you wouldn’t find a banjo onstage at Thompson’s Point, on either night of Rogers’ concerts. It’s been seven years since The Echo and Rogers’ days as a camper on Sebago Lake are far in the past. In 2019, Rogers is a full-fledged popstar and looks the part. Decked in all white, a pair of high-waisted flares, and a breezy shawl for a pop of color, Rogers looks modern, vibrant, and unabashedly bright. The style fits her as well as it fits the bubbly electropop of her debut album, Heard In a Past Life, which she released this winter.

Rogers ditches the shawl (and her shoes) for dancier cuts of her set, but her presence remains, commanding the stage like a performer beyond her years. With no instrument to hold, Rogers uses every inch of the stage beneath her, singing, jumping and dancing end to end. But Rogers’ greatness onstage lies even beyond her musical abilities. Rogers carries a radiant joy onstage that almost eclipses her talents: even surrounded by a crowd of elated fans, it’s still Rogers that looks like she’s having way more fun than anyone else. 

That joy makes the shiny pop of her recorded music feel effervescent live. The deep opening drop of “On + Off,” the urgently ticking drum break of “Give a Little,” and the made-for-screaming chorus of “Retrograde” all make a good case that Rogers made these songs with live shows in mind, and they all make for brilliant moments at Thompson’s Point, as they undoubtedly have on the rest of Rogers’ tour stops.

Still, the best moments of Rogers’ shows at Thompson’s Point are those that feel unique to Maine, a place worthy of a homecoming. 

Rogers introduces “Dog Years,” whose music video was filmed in Maine, as a song about friendship, and dedicates it to Maine as the place that taught her most about friendship, referring to her time at Wohelo summer camp. 

Before performing “Light On,” Rogers recalls three years ago standing side stage as soul star Leon Bridges performed at Thompson’s Point. As Bridges took the stage, Rogers stood with a new team, with her mother asking her new managers, “this is too scary, she’s not going to do this, right?” With a slight tremor in her voice, Rogers thanks the crowd for the moments in between then and now: she thanks fans for coming to shows, for sharing her music, and she thanks Portland radio hosts for being among the first to play her on air.

By the time Rogers’ set is over, she’s played nearly every song in her catalog, even on the second night when she swaps her single “Split Stones” for a cover of Bonnie Raitt’s “Angel from Montgomery.” There are no hits left for an encore, even as the crowd at Thompson’s Point chants for one. Rogers jokes about it when she returns to the stage, dimly lit and without her band.

With her hits behind her, there is one song that a Rogers set in Maine would not be complete without. Most fans who know “Color Song” know it as the subdued opener of Rogers’ 2017 EP, Now That the Light is Fading, a lush, quiet song about light and lakes and forests before her breakout hit, “Alaska.” But at Thompson’s Point, Rogers explains that “Color Song” is a camp song, an American traditional that she grew up singing every summer in the woods in Maine, years before receiving the blessing to record it and perform it herself.

 

Rogers encourages the crowd to sing if they know it. Most don’t. But there’s a group near the front that does, the same group that screamed extra loud when Rogers mentioned Wohelo summer camp earlier in the show, and they’re singing every word, clearly and quietly like its sacred. 

 

Rogers sings the song with no accompaniment and no lights, and both nights, as if on schedule, a plane flies overhead in the middle of the song. Both nights, Rogers laughs it off, and so does the crowd. As “Color Song” ends, the roaring planes have landed, and it is, for a moment, as quiet as a group of 7,000 people in one place can be. Before leaving the stage for the last time, Rogers whispers, “See you soon,” and the crowd erupts.

“See you soon” seems like a far-fetched promise for Rogers, whose schedule is quickly filling up with festival dates, tour stops, and undoubtedly other commitments that come along with being a global popstar. But it’s a fitting end to a hometown show: when you leave home, you leave, you change, and you come back soon. Whenever soon might be, Rogers has a place to come back.