People gather inside the Bites and Brews tent at last year’s Carnaval Maine on the Eastern Prom. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The third edition of the Portland winter festival known as Carnaval Maine will have a different look and feel this year.

For starters, the four-day event will move away from the Eastern Promenade and set up in the expansive parking lot for DiMilllo’s restaurant on Commercial Street.

Gone, too, are some of the winter sports activities that were often reliant on unreliable weather. Instead, the festival will feature a more focused theme of food and music, with a side of theater, comedy and children’s activities.

“We listened to feedback from patrons, sponsors and our valued volunteers about what has been most memorable in previous years,” said Brian Corcoran, owner-operator of Shamrock Sports & Entertainment, a Portland sales and marketing agency and the CEO of Carnaval Maine. “I think we’ve created a great showcase for the state of Maine that offers a little bit of something for everyone.”

Ed Price of West Baldwin gives a kiss to his wife, Melissa, during the Fire & Ice Gala at the second annual Carnaval Maine. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The event was created in 2020 as a way to generate interest in Portland businesses in late winter, when sales are often stagnant. It’s modeled loosely on Winter Carnival (sometimes called Carnaval) in Quebec, which has been held annually since the 1950s and draws hundreds of thousands of people to the historic Canadian city.

Carnaval Maine is smaller in scale – Corcoran estimates about 20,000 visitors over five days – but the goal is similar: To entice visitors during a time they might not necessarily consider to be ideal.


Organizers also are working harder this year to remove financial barriers for anyone who wants to attend. Children ages 10 and under will be admitted free, thanks to support from five corporate sponsors: Norway Savings Bank, Nautilus Solar, WEX, Bill Dodge Auto Group and L.L. Bean. Additionally, Carnaval Maine will make available 1,000 complimentary tickets to families who might not otherwise be able to afford to go. They will be distributed through the Boys and Girls Clubs of Southern Maine and the United Way of Southern Maine.

Ignatius Bidwell, 7, of Portland watches with delight as Janoah Bailin of The Way We Move juggles under the Carnaval Maine igloo at Eastern Prom in 2020. Staff photo by Jill Brady

The winter event is still tinkering with details – the first two Carnaval Maine events were held over three days in January 2020 and 10 days last February at Eastern Promenade Park (the 2021 event was canceled) – but Corcoran said he’s committed to improving each year.

For instance, the move to DiMillo’s more than doubles the amount of space available for the event’s entertainment, activities and food. It also brings attendees closer to Portland’s Old Port and many local businesses.

“Brian approached us last year because he was looking for a place to bring it a little closer to in-town, and they landed on us at Long Wharf,” Steve DiMillo said. “We signed on just for the fun of it, really.

We’re looking forward to the positive upbeat of a festival like this.”

Here’s a closer look at what’s happening:



Musician Griffin William Sherry, formerly of the Maine-based band Ghost of Paul Revere. Photo by Tim Greenway

Carnaval Maine kicks off on the evening of Wednesday, March 8, with its Fire & Ice Gala, from 7-10 p.m. inside an igloo (not real) in the DiMillo’s parking lot.

The setup will provide some relief from the cold, but guests should dress appropriately. The exclusive event costs $100 and will feature live music from Maine’s resident party band, Motor Booty Affair, as well as food and drinks.

The festival then opens to the public on Thursday, March 9, and runs through Sunday, March 12, at a cost of $25 for a day pass.

Country star Michael Ray will play Carnaval Maine in Portland in March. Photo courtesy of Carnaval Maine

Each day will feature four different live music performances, culminating with headlining shows from Maine-based Americana act The Mallet Brothers Band (Thursday); country rock band Parmalee from North Carolina (Friday); Michael Ray (Saturday), a country singer-songwriter from Florida; and Griffin William Sherry (Sunday), the former vocalist and guitarist for Ghost of Paul Revere.

The Mallett Brothers Band.  Photo by Ray MacGregor

Leading up to the headlining artists will be performances from other solo musicians and bands, most with a country vibe. Many are from Maine, including the Jason Spooner Band, Firefly (Penobscot Nation’s Jason Brown), 12/OC, Love By Numb3rs and Lexi James.


North Carolina country rock band Parmalee. Photo by Greyland

Rounding out the music will be performances earlier each day from students at the Maine Academy of Modern Music.

“This is our second year performing … it’s such a great experience for the kids,” said Jeff Shaw, the music school’s founder and executive director. “We’re grateful for the opportunity to share the stage.”

Shaw said a dozen or so students will get to perform.

“Unlike the bigger performers, ours only have to do a couple songs and then they can go get warm,” he said.

The Maine Academy of Modern Music also will receive a percentage of proceeds from the festival, as will WinterKids, the Westbrook nonprofit that encourages outdoor learning and winter activities.

“It was always important to us that this generates philanthropic support for good causes, with a focus on youth,” Corcoran said.



One of Carnaval Maine’s signature events from the beginning has been Bites & Brews, which pairs local chefs with local craft brewers to create inspired dishes.

“Bites & Brews have historically sold out. This year, we have six Bites & Brews sessions, at least half are almost sold out right now,” Corcoran said last week.

Participating breweries include Allagash, Lone Pine, Mast Landing, Rising Tide and Shipyard; participating restaurants include Luke’s Lobster, Navis Café, Nighthawk’s Kitchen, Harbor Bistro & Terrace, The Eighty-8 Donut Cafe and DiMillo’s (natch).

Local food and beer served in a giant igloo at the 2020 Carnaval Maine. The More Bites & Brews sessions have been added this year and are still selling out. Photo courtesy of Carnaval ME

The cost for each Bites & Brews event is $40.

Even if visitors don’t pay the premium for the Bites & Brews events, there will be plenty of other food options in the form of food trucks stationed throughout the festival grounds.


Carnaval Maine also overlaps with another major food-themed event, Maine Restaurant Week, which runs from March 1-12.


Rounding out the festival will be a number of activities geared mostly toward younger audiences.

There will be stations for face painting, caricature drawing, bracelet making, and daily performances of “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus,” by Maddy’s Theatre at the Children’s Museum of Maine – based on the popular kids’ book series.

Kara Gordon watches a production by the Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine with her kids Lane, 6, and Tessa, 3, last year at Carnaval Maine. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

There will also be artists carving ice sculptures, and on Saturday and Sunday, there will be comedy performances by rePercussion, a New Hampshire duo that uses drums and other percussion instruments (often makeshift) in its performances.

Other winter activities that had been part of the festival in the past have been dropped, including Rail Jam, a makeshift snow area built by the folks from Sunday River, where skiers and snowboarders competed for spectators. Corcoran explained that the unpredictable weather and high costs of operations outweighed the benefits.

Collin Atkins carves an ice sculpture Saturday at Carnaval Maine on the Eastern Promenade last year. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Carnaval Maine is committed to tinkering each year to find the best fit, but Corcoran said he thinks this year might be close.

“We do intend on keeping this a signature event for Maine, and we think we found the right time and right place,” he said.

More events and entertainment, as well as ticket information, is available on Carnaval Maine’s website,

Workers set up the igloo in preparation for the first Carnaval Maine in 2020. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: