The Old Port Festival, one of Portland’s signature summer events for the past 40 years, will expand from one to three days in June.
Organizers say the festival, drawing 30,000 or more people each year, has gotten big enough to warrant expansion. They say the extra days will help them achieve the festival’s main purpose: attracting people to downtown Portland so they can see what it has to offer and maybe come back as paying customers.
This year’s festival is scheduled for June 6-8.
“When you add the two days, it’s not just a festival attracting people within an easy drive, it becomes a destination, with people booking hotel rooms,” said Doug Fuss, owner of Bull Feeney’s, a restaurant and bar on Fore Street in the Old Port.
Fuss is a board member of Portland’s Downtown District, the nonprofit merchants group that runs the festival and other events downtown.
The Old Port Festival will be expanded, but not necessarily changed, said Steve Hewins, executive director of Portland’s Downtown District. He said all of the things that usually happen in the one-day festival will still happen, on Sunday, the last of the three days.
People in Portland’s arts scene hailed the festival expansion as a way to showcase more of what the city offers.
“We’re always interested in promoting the arts district in particular, but also the arts and cultural community in the city as a whole,” said Jennifer Hutchins, executive director of Creative Portland Corp. “I think it’s a great idea. As long as it provides us an opportunity to raise more awareness about the local arts scene in the city, then it’s a win for us.”
Creative Portland Corp. runs the city’s monthly First Friday Art Walk. In June, that event will be held on the Friday of the expanded festival.
Creative Portland will ask the city to close Congress Street on June 6 to help create a festival atmosphere for the art walk. The group wants to involve performers from the Circus Conservatory of America and put on a parade from Longfellow Square to Monument Square.
Details for the Saturday of the festival aren’t final yet, Hewins said, but the general theme of the day will be “exploring the real Portland.” He said details will likely be announced in a week or two.
The Sunday festivities will start, as they usually do, with a parade down Exchange Street. The day will feature food vendors, children’s amusements and live music. Most of the Old Port, an area bounded by Commercial Street and Congress Street to the west, will be closed to vehicles.
The amount of live music will increase this year, from five stages to six, with each stage having continuous live acts.
There is no plan this year to move the children’s amusements, including bounce houses and games, Hewins said, although board members have discussed that possibility. And there’s no plan to move or cut any food vendors.
The Old Port Festival began 40 years ago, and was known early on as an event at which heavy drinking was the norm. An effort to make the festival more family-friendly took hold in the 1990s.
Last year the festival was expanded somewhat, as an event called PaintScaping was held at City Hall. A crowd gathered on the Saturday night before the festival to watch a 3D “projection mapping” display of lights and movement on the building.
Hewins, who succeeded Jan Beitzer as head of Portland’s Downtown District last summer, said he has been discussing expanding the festival with the staff and board members since he started the job. During those discussions they decided to change the way they handle other events, Hewins said.
The free Alive at Five after-work concert series in Monument Square, featuring five music concerts in July and August, will change. The first and last shows of the series will still feature pop music acts, but this year they will be booked by the staff of the State Theatre. The other three shows will likely be performing arts shows, instead of pop music.
The State Theatre plans to book “emerging” national acts that can attract bigger crowds. Recently, the series had come to feature mostly local acts that people could see at venues in the area, Hewins said.
“That series was attracting 200 or 300 people last year, and it used to attract well over 1,000,” he said.
The Alive at Five series will be held Thursday evenings July 10 through Aug. 7. The acts have not yet been announced.
Hewins said Portland’s Downtown District is also considering cutting back on, or eliminating, its Weekday Music Series and Weekday Performance Series in the summer, because those events take a lot of time to organize and often draw small crowds. Both feature mostly local acts
Staff Writer Bob Keyes contributed to this report.
Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: