Old Port Festival in Portland, now a three day celebration, a huge success

With glorious summertime weather and an expanded three-day schedule of events to stimulate and engage any festival-goer the Old Port Festival was a huge success this year.

Families enjoyed science presentations at the park on Exchange Street designed for kids as well as a rock- climbing wall near the City Hall and the traditional parade on Sunday featuring the Shoestring Puppet Theater with their fantastic papier-mâché puppets that are two stories high.

“I loved the big sun, and the pirate gave me a high-five,” said John Connors, 8.

The mythological puppets energized crowds as they rambled amiably down Exchange Street. This year there was something for everyone at the Old Port Festival.

“We’re trying to make it more of a destination event and to broaden the scope to focus on all of Portland’s downtown, not just one area,” said Steve Hewins, executive director of Portland’s Downtown District, the merchants group that runs the Old Port Festival. That focus included the arts district, which kick started the festival during the Friday night art walk.

Parts of Congress Street were closed to traffic, which helped festival goers wonder without worry. Many might have come across the Portland-based Circus Conservatory of America in Monument Square Friday evening or in Lincoln Park Saturday afternoon performing acrobatics in the air and stunts on the ground. The audience was mesmerized.

“It’s like a mini circus sole. It’s outstanding that they are building the Conservatory school right here in Portland. It’s the only one on the east coast,” said Brenda Balk. “After this I’m going to go to some galleries. I’ve got a back wall that is desperate need of something. Then I’ll go to dinner and celebrate. Portland is such a cool place to live.”

A Ferris wheel in the parking lot outside DiMillo’s Restaurant on Portland’s waterfront, attracted people of all ages throughout the three-day event.

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“When I saw it I had to go,” said Carol Dunn, who spotted the iconic structure from her car. “We came primarily for the music and food this is such a sweet extra.”

On Friday night galleries reported an upturn in visitors.

“There were people coming in all night— until well after 9 pm. The more events we host in Portland or here at the Constellation gallery the more people can see the wide variety of amazing artists we have here in the city by the sea,” said Jos Ruks, president of the artist Cooperative, Constellation Gallery at 511 Congress Street.

According to Steve Hewins, executive director of Portland’s Downtown District close to 10,000 people filled the streets of Portland on Friday. That number climbed to well over 30,000 on Sunday.

“It was a phenomenal success,” said Hewins. “This weekend has proven the city can support a three-day event.”

Saturday’s activities centered on the city’s working waterfront, organized by the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce and Portland city government. There was even a downtown scavenger hunt.

There were self-guided tours of the wharves, and open houses at some of the working waterfront’s maritime businesses exposing areas of commerce usually closed to the public. Participants could go inside a lobster processor or hear about Maine’s sea life and challenges from Gulf of Maine Research Institute scientists. The Institute also had a Sustainable Seafood Initiative table on Commercial Street giving out dogfish grilled by Charlie Bryon, owner of the Salt Exchange restaurant.

On Sunday six stages with all kinds of bands offered free music. The performance went from 1 until 5:00, and were packed with festival-goers enjoying rock and roll, blues, folk, country, Indi music or a combination of different styles. As the Ghost of Paul Revere rocked one street, a block over the Young Old Band from California played rifts like Pink Floyd as old fashioned country filled the air … two doors down.

“There was a really good, positive energy today,” said Troy Moon, the environmental programs and open space manager for the city’s Public Services Department.

The event was expanded to help give downtown business more exposure.

“It worked. Local stores and businesses saw a tremendous economic boost over the weekend,” said Portland Community Chamber of Commerce President Bill Becker.

The Old Port Festival started in 1974.

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