Never mind what the calendar says, the folks who run the Old Port’s shops, restaurants and assorted businesses want you to know it’s officially summer.
And nothing says summer in Portland like the Old Port Festival. The giant assembly of food, crafts, rides and entertainment has been beckoning summer visitors to Portland’s Old Port and waterfront for more than four decades. This year’s 44th annual festival will be held Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The event is run by the merchants, who want people to come see the Old Port for the festival with the hope that they come back to buy stuff. That’s why the group that runs the Old Port Festival, Portland Downtown, has added two days of somewhat quieter events that are more conducive to shopping and exploring, in advance of the Old Port Festival. They’re calling it the Summer Kickoff Weekend, with a Square Hop and Window Walk on Friday night and Walk the Working Waterfront and Shop for a Cause events on Saturday. (See separate story about those events.)
But the Old Port Festival is a stand-alone, one-of-a-kind event, with a giant Ferris wheel and a parade of giant puppets, plus local crafts, food and live music. Changes this year include a little less live music, down to three stages (half as many as last year), but there are more local vendors and artists — about 140 out of about 250 in total. Portland has also had an explosion of food trucks in the last five years or so, and many of them will be participating, some for the first time.
Another new feature is that Portland’s contemporary music school, Maine Academy of Modern Music, will have its MAMMOTH Rock Chorus performing in the festival’s kickoff parade at 11 a.m. So, along with the giant puppets of Shoestring Theater that have become a signature of the parade, there will be about 60 kids from elementary through high school singing the pop hit “Happy” by Pharrell Williams.
Then, when the festival gets started, the MAMMOTH Chorus and the MAMMOTH Brass Band will perform for crowds on the MAMM stage at the corner of Dana and Commercial streets. (See the Old Port Festival insert for a list of all entertainment scheduled.)
The family-friendly vibe is enhanced by the fact that, for the first time, the Old Port Festival is going to be smoke- and tobacco-free. Smoking and using vaping devices will both be prohibited. The smoke-free zone is part of Portland Downtown’s “green and clean” initiative. Another part of that, for the festival, is trying to reduce the number of cars that come to the festival. So, during the Kickoff Weekend and the Old Port Festival, starting on Friday at 4 p.m. through Sunday, people can get downtown by riding the Metro buses for free.
“We hope that if people are thinking of coming in for the day, for the festival, they might make a weekend of it,” said Casey Gilbert, executive director of Portland Downtown. “We’ve got more family-friendly things, and we’re trying to focus on quality not quantity.”
Part of the reason there are fewer entertainment stages this year is that the Portland entertainment magazine Dispatch, which booked acts for its own stage in past years, has gone out of business. And some radio stations that, in the past, have organized their own stages are not participating this year.
The MAMM stage will host teen rock bands, bands aimed at younger children and pop artist Daniel Skye, being brought in by Portland radio station Q97.9. Radio station WCLZ will host another stage, and country station WPOR will share a stage with The Coast 93.1.
“We’re really happy to have this chance to have so many young people perform,” said Jeff Shaw, executive director of MAMM.
Besides the stages, there will be a children’s entertainment area with performances by Circus Maine, Mad Science of Maine, Nevaeh Dance Circus,and Drumming Circle: Positive Repercussions. There will also be a rock climbing wall and lots of rides, including the Casco Bay Eye, a giant Ferris wheel.
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Old Port, with most activities in an area roughly between Congress and Commercial streets, and between Center and Pearl Streets.
WHAT: Parade, more than 200 food and crafts vendors, rides, children’s activities and three stages of live entertainment.
HOW MUCH: Free admission; ride tickets, food and crafts for sale.