May 21, 2013

Portland to have 'American Pie' on July Fourth

Camden resident Don McLean will perform his iconic song and others at the city's annual celebration.

By Ray Routhier
Staff Writer

Don McLean will sing his iconic song "American Pie" with backing from the Portland Symphony Orchestra as part of Portland's annual Fourth of July celebration on the Eastern Promenade.

click image to enlarge

In this October 2012 photo, Don McLean performs at London's Royal Albert Hall. The legendary musician will headline Portland's Fourth of July celebration this summer.

Wikipedia photo

Organizers of the Stars and Stripes Spectacular are scheduled to announce McLean's appearance Tuesday morning at a news conference on the Eastern Prom.

McLean, 67, who lives in Camden, was "very accommodating" when contacted about singing at Portland's celebration, said Jon Jennings, president of July 4th Portland, the nonprofit group that runs the event.

An estimated 60,000 people have swarmed the Eastern Prom for a combination fireworks and concert show each of the past few years. The symphony has performed a concert synchronized to the fireworks every year since 2010, and Maine comedian Bob Marley has performed as well.

But having the creator of "American Pie" sing it on the anniversary of American independence may be the event's biggest moment yet.

"We're lucky to get this iconic American singer to sing one of the (most) popular songs of the last century," said Jennings.

McLean was not available to talk Monday about his appearance.

In addition to "American Pie," McLean will sing his 1972 hit "Vincent," a song about artist Vincent van Gogh that includes the repeated line "starry, starry night." He will perform with the symphony between 7:30 p.m. and the start of the fireworks, Jennings said. The symphony will then play marches once the fireworks begin.

The concert will be broadcast live on Portland radio station WHOM (94.9 FM).

July 4th Portland began organizing the city's Independence Day celebration in 2010, when an annual fireworks show was cut from the city budget and private companies stepped forward to provide funding.

Jennings declined to say how much the event costs to put on, or how much McLean is being paid. July 4th Portland has four main corporate sponsors -- WEX, Quirk Chevrolet, the Maine Red Claws and the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram -- and also relies on other donations and fundraising.

Although the July Fourth event is free (rain date July 5), people can purchase special seats close to the concert stage for $100, or $1,000 per table. The money from those seat sales goes to funding the event, Jennings said. People can get more information at

"We have some very generous companies in this area who help keep this tradition alive," Jennings said.

McLean's version of "American Pie" was a No. 1 hit on radio in 1972. A cover version by Madonna was also a Top 40 hit in 2000.

The song has reached a level of recognition and reverence that few pop singles attain. In a recent survey ranking the greatest songs of the 20th century, organized in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, "American Pie" came in fifth, behind "Over the Rainbow" by Judy Garland, "White Christmas" by Bing Crosby, "This Land Is Your Land" by Woody Guthrie and "Respect" by Aretha Franklin.

McLean has described the song as "a rock and roll dream," and has sometimes chided people for trying to read too much meaning into the lyrics.

The song references the 1959 plane crash that killed early rock stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper (J.P. Richardson), but it goes on for more than eight minutes, and delves into all sorts of imagery and Americana.

McLean still performs frequently, including in Maine, where he has lived since the early 1990s. His summer schedule includes about a dozen dates around the U.S. into early August, followed by a tour of Australia.

Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:


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