By Avery Yale Kamila
Now with two successful years under its belt, Portland's Stars and Stripes Spectacular is gearing up to provide another day and night of family-friendly Fourth of July festivities.
The biggest event Portland hosts each year, the Fourth of July celebration attracts tens of thousands of people to the Eastern Promenade. Last year, city officials estimated 50,000 to 60,000 people filled the Prom.
Festivities get under way at noon, when vendors set up food and trinket booths and spectators begin to arrive with chairs and blankets to claim prime viewing spots along the lawn of the sloping park. The stage side reserved seating has already sold out for the year.
New this year is the Great American Ice Cream Fest taking place on Cutter Street from 3 to 6 p.m. Two thousand ticketholders will have a chance to sample ice cream from a variety of Maine-based ice cream vendors. After tasting, participants will vote on which one they feel should win the title of Maine's Favorite Flavor. The winner will be announced prior to the fireworks.
Tickets to the event cost $8 for adults and $5 for kids and can be purchased in advance at Mercy Hospital, Quirk Chevrolet or the Maine Red Claws headquarters on Congress Street. Any remaining tickets will be sold prior to the tasting, and all proceeds will benefit Share Our Strength and Mercy's Hospital's Best Shot for Youth Program.
The show itself begins at 7:40 p.m., when the Portland Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Robert Moody, takes to the stage for this year's Patriotic Pops Concert. Around 9:20 p.m. the fireworks display begins and will be synchronized to the symphony's music.
This year the fireworks will be launched from a barge rather than land. This means more areas of the park -- including the tennis courts and the playground -- will be available for spectators. However, boaters will need to maintain a safe distance from the barge.
For those watching the fireworks out of earshot of the music, radio station WHOM (94.9 FM) plans to air the concert live.
Anyone wanting to join the festivities on the Eastern Prom will need to plan accordingly, since Munjoy Hill will close to vehicular traffic at 4 p.m. Walkers and bike riders will still be able to get through, and there will even be free valet bicycle parking from 6 to 10:30 p.m. in Fort Allen Park.
Visitors can also hop on a Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad train from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. and be delivered to the base of the Prom. The one-way train rides leaves from Ocean Gateway and tickets cost $3.
If the weather doesn't cooperate on the Fourth, all the festivities will be postponed to July 5. The Stars and Stripes Spectacular hotline at 756-8130 will provide information about whether or not the show will go on.
When city budget cuts threatened to cancel the annual July Fourth fireworks three years ago, four businesses stepped up to make sure the show went on. The Maine Red Claws, Wright Express, Quirk Chevrolet and MaineToday Media (which owns The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram) continue to provide lead sponsorship for the event.
Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at: