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Musician with ties to UMPI returns for Northern Maine concert

When Rex Fowler visits Aroostook County in early March to take the stage at the Caribou Performing Arts Center, he’ll be returning to the region where he first became serious about singing and songwriting.

The former student at Aroostook State College (one of the University of Maine at Presque Isle’s former names) is now a nationally touring, critically acclaimed musician. Fowler is part of the award-winning band Aztec Two-Step, and he recently embarked on another project with Tom Dean of the band Devonsquare – a 7-piece ensemble called the Nu-Utopians. The group performs the songs of John Lennon as a tribute concert and their CD Imagined was just nominated for the 2010 Independent Music Awards Tribute Album of the Year.

Fowler will return to northern Maine for the Nu-Utopians’ John Lennon tribute concert at CPAC on Friday, March 4 at 7 p.m. Leading up to the concert, though, Fowler shared lots of memories about his college days and how they helped to shape the artist he would become.

“It was an amazing place for me to be,” Fowler remembered of his time at Aroostook State College, “a small campus environment where I was encouraged to develop my identity as an artist, a musician.”

Originally from Pittsfield, Maine, Fowler came to Aroostook State College in 1966. He was a History major and was heavily involved in the arts – he performed in college plays, wrote poetry and songs, he even remembered his French professor Guy Gallagher asking him to bring his guitar to class so they could all sing French songs together.

“I was a guitar-playing, finger-picking, long-haired hippie,” he said.

Fowler was part of a 5-piece college band his freshman year. The Second Phloor – so named because the band members all lived on the second floor of South Hall – played mostly cover songs, but Fowler remembered that they also played one of his earliest compositions, My Hypocrisies.

Fowler also remembered that he and fellow students opened a little coffee house downtown called The Print Shop. It was located just off Main Street. He recalled that students and community members would come together to play, sing, write, and recite. All of this, he said, helped him to hone his talents and grow as an artist.

“It was a safe environment where I was able to thrive and grow,” he said. “By the time I left [in 1969], I was ready to take on the world. I went to Boston starting on my journey, which led me to New York City, which led me to my first major record label, which led to playing with Bruce Springsteen and winning a New York Music Award for best folk album.”

Though he now lives in New York, Fowler said northern Maine will always be a place that he holds with a great deal of reverence.

“When I start down the hill and see the campus unfolding before my eyes, I get a real rush, a sense of euphoria,” he said of the times he’s returned to the area. “The place was that important. I came of age there, where I dared to open up and let things flow in and out; wonderfully intense. So, it really will be fantastic to see the campus again and to be playing so close by.”

For more information about the Nu-Utopians concert at CPAC, visit http://www.rsu39.org/PAC/PAC.html.