Ignatius Bidwell, 7, of Portland watches with delight as Janoah Bailin of The Way We Move juggles in the Carnaval ME igloo Friday on the Eastern Prom. Ignatius was “playing hookey” with his mom, Harmony Bidwell, and his great-grandmother, Diana Ballard of Lincoln. Jill Brady/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

When Nancy Fowles heard Portland was hosting a new winter festival on the Eastern Promenade, she just had to be there on opening day.

So Fowles and two friends drove from Raymond on Friday to be among the first few hundred people through the gates into Carnaval ME. Although the crowd felt light, spread among the carnival’s different attractions – officials said about 500 people came in between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. – Fowles and her friends were impressed. They watched jugglers and hoola hoopers in a 20-foot-high inflatable igloo, checked out the ice sculptures, took a ride on an antique train and visited one of the half-dozen food trucks. The only thing somewhat lacking, Fowles said, was the snow. Because of the recent warm spell, snow had to be trucked in for a small snowboard competition area, while most of the Eastern Promenade was bare lawn.

Bryce Barnes of the Sunday River Parks Department rakes a flatbox lip at the Carnaval ME Rail Jam on the Eastern Prom.Jill Brady/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

“But that’s not their fault, they can’t control the snow. I think this is a great idea, and I’m glad they’re doing it,” said Fowles. Her friend, Melanie Champniss, has visited Quebec City’s famous winter carnival, which organizers have said this one is modeled after, and sees no reason why Portland’s can’t grow to become a similar winter destination.

“You’ve got to start somewhere,” said Champniss.

The event’s founder and organizer, Brian Corcoran of the marketing firm Shamrock Sports & Entertainment, shares that sentiment. He expects the event to lose money this year, but maybe not as much as he planned. On Thursday night, 322 people attended the Carnaval ME kick-off ball in the igloo, at $100 a ticket, a fundraiser for the statewide Winter Kids activity program. And, as of Friday, more than 4,100 general admission tickets to the event, good for both days of the festival at $20 apiece, had been sold. Three of the four Bites and Brews sessions in the giant igloo – where people get to sample six dishes from area chefs and six local brews for $65 – had sold out, and the fourth one had only 25 of 350 tickets left, Corcoran said.

Nash Asbury, 3, of Scarborough tries skiing for the first time with Sunday River instructor Ally Fischang in the demo area at Carnaval ME on Friday. Jill Brady/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Activities Friday afternoon included face painting, jugglers and other performers in the igloo, a half-dozen ice carvings to peruse and pose with and free trials of skis and snowboards, all as music from Townsquare Media piped around the site. Besides the food trucks selling food, there were some free items, like hot chocolate and maple pops. The area for trying out skis and snowboards was just outside the festival fence, so no admission ticket was required and a steady stream of pre-schoolers were testing out the equipment. The festival’s attractions were set up mostly in a parking lot on Cutter Street, which leads down the Eastern Promenade to the East End Beach.

On Friday, a school day, the early crowd included people with very young children, like Laura Patel of Portland, who was there with her 4-year-old son Kavi. They live near the Prom and had been watching the festival site being set up during the week, including the inflation of the igloo. Patel and her husband moved to Portland from New York City a year ago and were excited to hear that an annual winter carnival would be happening right in their neighborhood.

“It’s great to be able to walk over to something like this,” said Patel, as she and Kavi sipped hot chocolate and watched a juggler. “We’re going to come back later to see the lights.”

A light display was scheduled to switch on around 4:30 p.m.

Champniss, one of the early festival goers, suggested that in the future, Carnaval ME could include more activities early in the day. Gates opened at 11 a.m. but many of Friday’s scheduled activities didn’t start until later, including the first Bites and Brews session at 3 p.m., snowboarders practicing on a “rail jam” obstacle course at 4:45 p.m. and then competing at around 6 p.m.

The festival will continue Saturday, with activities from 11 a.m.to 10 p.m. For more information, go to carnavalme.com.


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