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

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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


"It should be fun, and I can't wait to see it. It's a real accomplishment for the community."


The reputation of the opera house has spread from coast to coast and across the Atlantic, making it easier for Sherrill to get the attention of big-name performers who crave the intimacy of a 400-seat hall and the superb acoustics of the solid wooden building with its original patina and a modern sound system.

The building has old-school charm. A pair of French doors open into the main-floor seating area from the box office. The main hall is bedecked with bead-board siding and large windows that open to the outside world.

A pair of guitars signed by the stars who have performed here hang at the back of the auditorium, along with color photographs of some of the musicians who have performed at the hall.

The bathroom floor looks like it might have been painted by Jackson Pollock, while a 30-foot bar upstairs beckons people to pull up a stool and spin a yarn.

In the past decade, many big names have played here, including G.E. Smith, Dickey Betts and Delfeayo Marsalis.

Old Crow Medicine Show is coming in for two shows in early June. "They called us," Sherrill said. "They said, 'We want to do two shows in Maine, and we want to do the opera house.' They made it financially advantageous for us."

The bulk of the big-name shows happen in the summer, when Boothbay Harbor and the peninsula teem with full-time Mainers, summer residents and tourists. But the opera house is open year-round, and Sherrill makes sure the winter months stay busy so local folks have a place to gather and socialize.

In this 10th anniversary of the reopening, the warm-weather schedule includes classical, folk, jazz, country and rock, with the Portland String Quartet, Maine Pro Musica, Ellis Paul, John Gorka, Jimmy Webb, Kathy Mattea and The BoDeans all on the schedule.

"Musicians go back to Ireland and Scotland and California and Nashville and talk about us. They had a good time here in Boothbay and in Maine," Sherrill said. "It's gotten so much easier to book shows. It wasn't so easy in the early days, when no one had ever heard of us unless they had a grandfather in vaudeville."


Like many other stately old opera houses on the Maine coast, the Opera House at Boothbay Harbor earned a reputation in the early part of the 20th century as a place for traveling shows and entertainment of all stripes. Back then, performers came by boat.

It was built in 1894 by local boatbuilders who knew a thing or two about constructing massive structures.

Over the years, it hosted everything from basketball games and roller skating to town meetings and gatherings of the fraternal order the Knights of Pythias, which oversaw its construction. It was the focal point of the community for much of its public life.

But by the late 1900s, the opera house had fallen into disrepair under private ownership. At more than 22,000 square feet and four stories – five if you count the cupola – the building is nothing if not costly to maintain.

In addition to the concert hall, it has a big bar on the second floor and a large community room, used by local groups for meetings and banquets.

The building is a local landmark, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2008. The memory of what the building was prompted residents to mount a campaign to save it when it came up for sale in the early 2000s.

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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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