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Ray Routhier

Portland Press Herald staff writer Ray Routhier will try anything. Once. During 20 years at the Press Herald he’s been equally attracted to stories that are unusually quirky and seemingly mundane. He’s taken rides on garbage trucks, sought out the mother of two rock stars, dug clams, raked blueberries, and spent time with the family of bedridden man who finds strength in music. Nothing too dangerous mind you, just adventurous enough to find the stories of real Mainers doing real cool things.

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Posted: June 27, 2018

This Fourth of July, food and fireworks are the focus on the Prom

Written by: Ray Routhier

Francisco Futila, 10, watches the fireworks at the 2017 Fourth of July celebration on the Eastern Promenade in Portland. This year’s celebration will feature just fireworks, no performance by the Portland Symphony Orchestra.
Staff photos by Brianna Soukup

This year’s Independence Day festivities on Portland’s Eastern Prom will be the first in years without musical accompaniment by the PSO, which was sidelined by budget constraints.

This is the first year since 2010 that Portland’s annual fireworks display won’t been accompanied by a rousing selection of patriotic songs by the Portland Symphony Orchestra.

And Daralyn Maxwell is pretty happy about that. She thinks it was a bit too much to have sit through a show and then watch fireworks. It seemed a little forced, a little too structured. She likes the idea of just hanging out on the city’s Eastern Promenade with thousands of other folks and having a picnic, while waiting for the night sky to light up.

“For years, it was just like a giant block party with fireworks, and then with the symphony, it became more formal,” said Maxwell, 66, of Freeport, who used to live on Munjoy Hill not far from the Prom.

Portland’s annual Fourth of July celebration is scheduled for Wednesday, with a 25-minute fireworks celebration as the focus. There will also be food trucks and vendors selling all manner of snacks, plus a huge crowd of festive revelers. The Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad will also carry trainloads of folks to the event, for $5.

The rain date is Thursday, July 5.

The crowd watches the fireworks at the 2017 Fourth of July celebration on the Eastern Promenade in Portland.

The celebration will still have the key elements of an Independence Day bash: big crowds, food and fireworks. The event has attracted as many as 50,000 people, who start gathering in the afternoon waiting for the 9:15 p.m. fireworks show.

The PSO isn’t performing this year because the nonprofit group that has funded the celebration the past eight years has had trouble raising money and couldn’t afford to hire the PSO. The city, which used to fund the fireworks until its own budget troubles, has paid about $100,000 the past three years to help make up the deficits. This year the city is funding the fireworks, for $35,000.

While some people like Maxwell are happy to go back to a more casual celebration, many say they’ll miss the PSO’s stirring performances before and during the fireworks.

In fact, Vanessa Helmick said she sees no reason to fight the crowds and traffic headaches that usually accompany the Eastern Promenade celebration.

“To me it’s not worth it unless there’s something different, like the PSO,” said Helmick, 40, of Yarmouth.

There will be at least 14 vendors selling food, including four food trucks, and three vendors selling flags and light-up bracelets and other novelties.

This year’s fireworks will be handled by Atlas Pyrovision of New Hampshire, whose displays are known for their rousing finales.

And just as America is a cultural melting pot, the food trucks will offer cuisine from around the world: Falafel Mafia (Middle-Eastern), Cannoli Joe’s (Italian), El Grande Rodeo (Mexican) and Maine-ly Meatballs (American). Other food sold from carts or at tables will include french fries, hot apple buns, crepes, lemonade, sausage and peppers and more.

Joyce Bento, 6, wore a patriotic top as she and her family took their spot on the Eastern Prom and waited for the fireworks last year.

The fireworks are scheduled for around 9:15 p.m. Atlas Pyrovision of New Hampshire will fire off the festive explosives on the East End Trail near the water, between the Cutter Street boat launch and the water treatment plant.

The company has handled Portland’s fireworks before, and the shows are known for rousing finales. Sitting on the hillside at the Eastern Promenade puts one close enough to feel the ground shake and see the smoke wafting by.

“I like the idea of it being more casual,” said Maxwell. “There’s nothing like the thrill of the fireworks.”

PORTLAND’S FOURTH OF JULY CELEBRATION

WHERE: Eastern Promenade, roughly from Walnut Street to Fort Allen Park
WHEN: 2 p.m. Wednesday is when food vendors will be open, 9:15 p.m. is when the fireworks should begin
HOW MUCH: Free to watch the fireworks, refreshments can be purchased.
INFO: July4thPortland.org
WHAT ELSE: This is the first time since 2010 the Portland Symphony Orchestra has not been part of the celebration. All Munjoy Hill streets leading to the Eastern Promenade will be closed to traffic at 4 p.m. The Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad will run trains from Ocean Gateway on Commercial Street to the Eastern Prom every half hour from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. A limited number of wristband tickets are $5. mainenarrowgauge.org

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