March 16, 2010

The new-look Old Port Festival


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Staff Photo by Derek Davis: A character with Portland's Shoestring Theatre moves through the Old Port during the Old Port Festival, June 3, 2007.

Staff Writer

ou've heard Suzanne Nance's sultry voice introducing pieces by Mozart and Beethoven on her morning classical music radio show, and you've likely listened as MPBN's news director, Keith Shortall, seriously discussed the issues of the day on ''Maine Things Considered.''

But did you know that Nance is an accomplished opera singer who has performed on stages all over the world, or that Shortall is a drummer with an alternative band called the Lost Chairs?

Get ready to meet the musical alter egos of your favorite on-air personalities from MPBN, the local public broadcasting station. They'll be performing on a new stage at the 35th Old Port Festival on Sunday, which kicks off at 11 a.m. and ends at 5 p.m.

The MPBN stage is one of three new performance spaces at the festival this year. There will be other changes, too, all designed to freshen what has become the largest single-day festival in northern New England.

''Basically, what we're trying to do is steer the festival back to more of a locally and community-oriented festival,'' said Elise Loschiavo, special events and public relations manager for Portland's Downtown District. ''It's always been a festival for local people, but as far as the booths and the stages, that hasn't been as homegrown as it can be.''

This year's festival will have more than 250 vendors, including 90 arts-and-crafts vendors from all over Maine.

In the past, Loschiavo said, the festival's fees and entry requirements made it too difficult for many local arts-and-crafts folks to get a foot in the door. This year, a new space on Market Street has been set aside just for them, and a lower fee of $75 resulted in a response so strong, organizers had to implement a first-come, first-served policy.

''We had to stop accepting applications because the response was so overwhelming,'' Loschiavo said. ''We're thrilled, and we're hoping it will bring a whole new flavor to the festival that has been lacking in recent years.''

Other firsts? In addition to a rock-climbing wall, there will be a bungee trampoline. Activities for children at past festivals had more or less been limited to music, but this year, things will kick off at noon in Canal Plaza with medieval music and a fencing and fighting demonstration by the Society for Creative Anachronism.

Later in the afternoon, there will be ''high-energy juggling,'' hip-hop dance performances and Zumba (Latin dance and exercise) for kids. There will also be a petting zoo and pony rides on Newbury Street.

''They sell photos of you on the animals or with the exotic pets,'' Loschiavo said. ''It's like alligators and snakes as well as regular petting-zoo pets.''

The new music stages include one from 98.9 WCLZ at Federal and Exchange streets, which will feature performances from the Molenes, Kate Schrock, Roy Davis and the Dregs, Sara Cox and Matt Nathanson. The Sebago Brewing Co. Rock of All Ages Stage at Middle and Pearl streets will feature cover bands playing music from the 1970s, '80s and '90s.

Returning stages have some tempting lineups as well. Local favorite Pete Kilpatrick will kick off the Gateway Mastering Studios Rock Stage at Silver and Fore streets at noon.

The Acoustic Stage at Lobsterman's Park, sponsored by the Maine Songwriters Association and North Star Music Cafe, will be the spot to hear a good mix of original, local music from all genres -- rock, blues, jazz, folk and contemporary Christian. Among the performers who will be playing the Acoustic Stage are Laurie Jones, Ben Hammond, Dana Gross and John Schindler.

''We always pick a completely new roster every year,'' said Sorcha Cribben-Merrill of the Maine Songwriters Association, which has more than 900 members.

The MPBN stage will show off the talents of the radio network's on-air personalities and provide a way for them to interact with the public that supports the organization financially.

''We have very strict ethical guidelines here regarding the airing of music,'' said Lou Morin, director of communications at MPBN. ''In other words, we can't use the public's airwaves to further our own careers. We figured the Old Port Festival was an innocuous way for us to showcase the talents of our on-air staff in a sort of fun, free, family way.''

In addition to Nance and Shortall, other performers will include Frank Ferrel, host of ''Conversations with Maine,'' who also happens to be a world-class fiddle player. Ferrel has appeared on ''A Prairie Home Companion'' several times, and serves as music director for the National Public Radio program ''Says You.''

In all, a half-dozen MPBN employees will be performing, with Tom Porter, news reporter and co-host of Maine Things Considered, providing the music between sets. He is an accomplished jazz pianist.

Even Morin is getting in on the act by playing bass with Greenhead, his instrumental blues-funk band.

''We're all really, really jazzed about this,'' Morin said. ''It's the kind of thing we love to do.''

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

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