May 20, 2013

In Boothbay Harbor, good opera-house keeping

Thanks to a coterie of adoring supporters, the restored and revitalized Opera House at Boothbay Harbor has risen to prominence on the national scene.

By Bob Keyes
Staff Writer

BOOTHBAY HARBOR — When Boothbay Harbor was named one of the top small art towns in America this spring, Cathy Sherrill felt a tinge of satisfaction.

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Built in 1894, the opera house has been named to the National Register of Historic Places.

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The Opera House at Boothbay Harbor today after a decade of restoration work.

Photos by John Ewing/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below


Wednesday: Jonathan Scales Fourchestra

Thursday: Portland String Quartet

June 5-6: Old Crow Medicine Show

June 8: McAuley, Horan and O'Caoimh

June 15: Ellis Paul

June 21: John Ford Coley

June 22: The Magic of Lyn Dillies

June 23: "P.S. I Love Music" with Paul Sullivan, Suzanne Nance, Gordon Gotlieb and Sam Schwehm

June 27: Tim Sample

June 30: John McCutcheon

July 3: The Black Lillies

July 5: John Gorka with special guest Michael Johnson

July 10: Jackson Browne (sold out)

July 13: Cordis Quartet

July 18: Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo

July 21: Jimmy Webb

July 25: Solas

July 26: Delfeayo Marsalis and The New American Songbook

July 31: Danny Beal's Downeast Goodtime Hour (and a Half!)

Aug. 2: Cherish the Ladies

Aug. 7: Maine Pro Musica

Aug. 8: The Stories and Songs of Bill Harley

Aug. 10: Francine Reed

Aug. 15: Ed Gerhard

Aug. 16: Kathy Mattea

Aug. 17: Livingston Taylor

Aug. 22: Bob Milne

Aug. 23: Eileen Ivers and Immigrant Soul

Aug. 29: Novel Jazz Septet

Sept. 14: David Wilcox

Sept. 21: Downeast Brass Quintet

Sept. 27: The Bodeans

Oct. 24: Paul Brady

FOR PRICES AND TIMES, call 633-5159 or visit


She knew the Opera House at Boothbay Harbor played a big role in helping the community of 2,200 year-round residents earn that distinction from ArtPlace America, a national arts collaborative.

The town near the tip of the midcoast peninsula was cited, along with 11 others across the country, for being a place where the arts are central to creating a community where people want to live, work and visit.

"This is a great little community," said Sherrill, who has served as executive director of the opera house since 2006. "You can have a town with a lot of great art galleries. But to be named one of the best little art towns in America, you have to have a spectrum. We provide the spectrum."

Since its revitalization a decade ago, the historic yellow behemoth of a building on Townsend Avenue has become a fixture of the local arts scene, revising a role it played in the previous century during Boothbay Harbor's early heyday as a thriving arts colony. Back then, such esteemed artists as Robert Henri came here to paint before catching a boat to Monhegan Island some 17 miles offshore.

In a town better known for trinkets and tourism, Boothbay Harbor today also has a thriving arts scene. Painters still come here to make pretty pictures, along with a host of famous musicians like Jackson Browne and Mark Knopfler, each of whom played a critical role in raising money to get the now 119-year-old building back on its feet.

Browne helped rechristen the opera house in 2003, providing an infusion of much-needed capital and proof that good things could still happen in a building that had fallen into disrepair and whose future was in doubt. He came at the suggestion of his friends, East Boothbay residents Richard Ford, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, and his wife, Kristina.

The Fords were active in the early days of the opera house, and Browne is coming back in July for another sold-out show in part because the Fords wanted him to see what's become of the place since he was last here.

"His first visit was so instrumental in a number of ways in getting the opera house recommissioned," Ford said. "Because he was willing to come, the community rallied around, and the home builders got together and went into the opera house and stripped it of its prior uses and reformulated it as a performance space."

Knopfler played in 2006, raising $200,000 in one night toward a $1 million challenge grant.

In each instance, the musicians waived their regular fees because they wanted to help save an historic structure.

Browne declined to take credit. "I think it's a little overstated to say that I was instrumental in saving the opera house," he said by phone from California. "I might have been the inaugural show or thereabouts. But this is the kind of thing I like doing. I play a lot of venues of various sizes. Sometimes it's big and sometimes it's little. Sometimes it's for money, sometimes it's for free.

"As was the case 10 years ago, and the same as now, we just added a couple of dates at the end of the tour so we could get up that way and do a show. I could get up there with two or three guitars and use the house PA and do something. But I would much rather bring the crew that does it every day and knows exactly how to get the place to sound at the optimum. So that's what we're going to do.

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Additional Photos

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The backstage dressing room’s walls are signed by those who have entertained audiences in the past, and an ironing board stands at the ready for use by current performers.

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Cathy Sherrill has been executive director of the opera house since 2006.

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A grand piano graces the opera house stage.

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