Crowds on the Eastern Promenade gathering to watch the PSO. The orchestra performed on July 4 from 2010 to 2017. Photo courtesy of the Portland Symphony Orchestra

This year Portland’s massive fireworks bash has got its soundtrack back.

The Portland Symphony Orchestra will be playing patriotic tunes, marches and rousing movie themes before and during the city’s Fourth of July celebration on the Eastern Promenade Thursday, after a hiatus last year because of funding problems encountered by the event’s nonprofit organizer. The PSO had been playing along with the city’s fireworks since 2010.

Last year there were fireworks but not music. This year the PSO is back as part of Portland’s July Fourth celebration. Photo by Jack Milton

This year the event – which had been called the Stars and Stripes Spectacular – has been renamed Portland Pops and is being organized by Brian Corcoran of Shamrock Signature, a programming and events company, in partnership with the city and the PSO. Corcoran said his hope in future years will be to make Portland Pops part of a larger series of events in Portland under the banner SummerfestME. But specifics aren’t in place yet for other events.

Sixty-six PSO musicians will be on a stage near the bottom of the hill on the Eastern Prom, with the ocean as backdrop. The group will play for about two hours beginning  at 7:30 p.m.. The fireworks begin around 9:15 p.m., to the strains of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture,” and the PSO will play another eight tunes during the pyrotechnics show, including “Liberty Bell March,” “Colonel Bogey March,” “Maine Stein Song,” “America the Beautiful” and “God Bless America.”  The show closes with “Stars and Stripes Forever.”

During the musical buildup to the fireworks, the PSO will mix classical and patriotic pieces with grand movie themes like “Star Wars,” “Superman,” “Avengers” and “Harry’s Wondrous World” from “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” That portion of the show, which has an intermission, will also include Brahms’ “Hungarian Dance No. 5,” Aaron Copland’s “Hoe-Down” and Rossini’s finale from “Wilhelm Tell.”

Audiences who have seen the PSO play the fireworks before can count on a fairly similar experience, said Carolyn Nishon, the PSO’s executive director, with one big difference. It’ll be the first opportunity for many people to see the PSO’s new music director, Eckart Preu, whose inaugural season begins this year.


“It’s a great chance for people in the community to see him and to hear some classical works and great popular pieces, for free,” said Nishon.

People can buy tickets for reserved seating areas at the PSO’s July 4th performance. But people can sit on the lawn and listen for free.

The event is free, and the hill on the Prom can accommodate thousands. But money is raised for the event by selling tickets to reserved and VIP areas. The VIP tickets are priced at $50 and include seats near the stage, a free ride on the Narrow Gauge Railroad to the event, light refreshments and beverage vouchers, plus access to vendors selling Maine-made food and beverages. The reserve ticket for $25 gets you a reserved space on the lawn a little further from the stage than the VIP area. There are no seats, so people have to bring their own folding chairs or blankets.

The reserved spaces are for people who want to be fairly close but don’t want to, or can’t, show up hours early to beat the crowd, Corcoran said.

There will be food trucks and vendors set up around the Prom beginning around 2 p.m. More than a dozen are scheduled to attend, including Bamboo Bistro, Cannoli Joes, El Rodeo, Falafel Mafia, Fishin’ Ships, Greeks of Peaks, Mainely Meatballs, Mr. Peabody’s, Salt Box Cafe, Vinny’s, Fred’s Fried Dough, Maine Squeeze, Veranda Thai and Twist Ice Cream.

Streets around the Eastern Prom are usually closed to traffic for much of the day before the event. City officials said specific street closing information will be posted on the city’s website.

Corcoran said stepping in to run the new Portland Pops event is, for him, a combination of passion and opportunity. He’s an Old Orchard Beach native and a longtime lover of music, who as a member of the Boy Singers of Maine once sang with the PSO. But he’s also in the events and sponsorship business. His Shamrock Sports and Entertainment focuses on marketing and sponsorship deals, while his Shamrock Signature was recently formed to create events and video and TV programming.

See the Portland Symphony Orchestra for free at the city’s Fourth of July celebration. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Corcoran wouldn’t say exactly how much it costs to put on Portland Pops but called it a “big six-figure production.” Aside from sponsors, the event is funded by sales of the 2,000 reserved and 500 VIP tickets, as well as a fundraising gala at the Ocean Gateway marine terminal, with tickets costing $100.

Corcoran said he hopes to expand Portland Pops into a larger summer event over several dates. There could be an opening for a larger arts and culture event now that the city’s best-known summer event, Old Port Festival, has ended a 46-year run. The last Old Port festival was in June.

“I think the focus for 2020 will be to see if we can work with the community to come up with events that local people can enjoy and can expand tourism,” said Corcoran. “But for this year, we’re happy that the PSO could come back and be the heart and soul of (the Fourth of July event) again.”

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