PORTLAND – It had become a running joke in Portland that it always seemed to rain during the city’s Old Port Festival — an event that has been traditionally held on the first Sunday in June.

Janis M. Beitzer and Elise Loschiavo decided to take a more proactive approach toward optimizing the one-day experience for festivalgoers.

Loschiavo, special events coordinator for Portland’s Downtown District, made a surprising discovery during her analysis of Portland weather.

She found that over a period of 15 years, it had rained during 12 of the festivals. But on the second Sunday in June, it had rained only three times.

“There was a huge difference. It was pretty telling,” Loschiavo said.

Beitzer, who serves as the executive director of the district — the festival’s chief sponsor — notified vendors two years ago that the decision had been made to move the 2010 festival to June 13, the second Sunday in June.

And as a large crowd of people poured into the Old Port on Sunday for the 11 a.m. kick-off parade, Beitzer and Loschiavo were beginning to look like geniuses.

Though it was overcast, it was also cool and dry — perfect weather for a festival that drew 180 vendors, 90 Maine artisans and craftspeople and tens of thousands of visitors.

“We changed it to the second Sunday this year, and boy, were we right,” said Beitzer, who was staffing an information booth in Tommy’s Park. “Last Sunday (the first Sunday in June), there was a torrential downpour. We’re pretty happy right now.”

The cool, mostly dry weather conditions — it started to get misty around 12:30 p.m. — seemed to put festivalgoers in a pleasant mood.

“The crowd has been great,” said Portland police Lt. James Sweatt, whose team of officers had set up a command post on Exchange Street. “It has been a very festival-like atmosphere so far.”

Sweatt said his team was doing a lot of “meet and greet” with the public but was ready for an emergency as well. Four paramedics rode bicycles.

The festival started on upper Exchange Street with the traditional Shoestring Theater parade.

At the back of the parade line were two people who looked to be a bit out of place.

Jamie Driggers of Portland was dressed as a Viking. Standing next to her was Jamin Brown of Saco, wearing the garb of an Elizabethan nobleman.

Both are members of the Society for Creative Anachronism, which staged medieval music, fencing and fighting demonstrations at the Kids Entertainment Area on Exchange Street.

“We do this because it’s fun. It’s (a history) study by doing,” Brown said.

Paul Nicolaides and his wife, Lupita, came to Maine all the way from Corpus Christi, Texas.

Nicolaides posed with a parade mummer while his wife snapped their photograph.

She said the weather in Maine has been a lot more pleasant than Corpus Christi, where temperatures have been edging toward 100 degrees.

“This is my third time back in three years, and it’s great,” said Paul Nicolaides, a Gorham native.

The festival had something to offer to just about every age group.

In addition to Italian sausages, french fries, fried dough, cotton candy and lobster rolls, there was plenty to see and do.

The Maine Red Claws — Portland’s new semipro basketball team — sponsored a booth on Exchange Street. It featured a 15-foot-tall balloon statue of Crusher, the team’s mascot.

The Red Claws dance team was on hand to answer questions, along with Eric Little, an account executive with the team.

Little was handing out stickers that said, “I’m a member of crustacean nation,” while 6-foot-9-inch Dajuan Eubanks, a former Harlem Globetrotter and the Red Claws’ vice president of corporate partnerships, shot baskets.

“We are out here promoting our team,” Little said. “Even though it’s not basketball season yet, we just want people to know we are still around.”

Live musical performances were another big festival feature. Among the groups performing were Shontelle, a Motown Records recording artist, the Jason Spooner Trio, the Don Campbell Band and the Maine Public Safety Pipe and Drum Corps.

Kids had lots of options to choose from as well. They could try out a rock-climbing wall or a bungee trampoline. Pony rides were available for the younger children.

New to the festival was a trapeze swing by Summit Adventure Systems.

Youngsters had to climb an inflatable stairway to a trapeze swing. They swung off a ledge, with no harness, letting go to land on a soft bed of air several feet below.

For the third consecutive year, festival organizers invited 90 Maine-based artisans and craftspeople to the event. All of Market Street was reserved for them.

Among the artisans was Scott Perry of Farmington, a former Associated Press news photographer.

Perry’s tent, with panoramic photographs of Acadia National Park, Mount Katahdin and several Portland locations, was drawing a lot of comments and questions. Perry had no complaints.

“It has been a good day, as long as it doesn’t rain,” Perry said.

 

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

dhoey@pressherald.com