Portland’s annual Fourth of July celebration will be without a major attraction this year – the music of the Portland Symphony Orchestra.

The nonprofit group that organizes the annual Stars and Stripes Spectacular on the Eastern Promenade – July 4th Portland – announced Friday that the PSO will not be included this year because of a lack of contributions from sponsors and the general community.

“We have tried to do some different things to raise the money from other sources, but weren’t able to,” said Amie Marzen, communications consultant to the nonprofit. “We have tried to tap a variety of businesses, but businesses get tapped for contributions all the time.”

The event’s main organizer, Tim Reardon of Quirk Chevrolet, said the total cost of the event is about $150,000, which includes planning, fireworks and the music, but he couldn’t say how much was paid to the orchestra.

“We haven’t discussed whether we’ll be able to do something else (for entertainment). We just decided we couldn’t do this part,” he said.

The free event’s focus has always been a fireworks display, but for the past eight years the PSO has performed a 90-minute music set leading into the fireworks, which helped turn the event into a major draw. Some years have also included celebrity musical guests, including Don McLean and Melissa Manchester.

Prior to 2010, the orchestra played a series of summer “Independence Pops” concerts around southern Maine but halted that for financial reasons.

Carolyn Nishon, executive director of the Portland Symphony Orchestra, said in a statement Friday that the PSO’s management was “saddened” to learn the PSO could not be hired for this year’s Stars and Stripes Spectacular.

“We are grateful for the time and energy that July 4th Portland has put into making the past eight years possible,” said Nishon. “The preparation for the Patriotic Pops concert is a major undertaking, including the construction of a stage, sound system, lighting, technicians and more, and we could not have done this without them.”

Nishon declined to say how much the orchestra was paid in previous years but said it covered direct costs only. The orchestra has 65 musicians who were paid their union rate for rehearsal and the concert. But there were other costs, too, including staging and lighting that figured into the equation.

She said she hoped that July 4th Portland might put on a musical performance to accompany the fireworks at some time in the future but acknowledged the difficultly of pulling such a concert off.

“Back when we held the Independence Pops concerts the PSO was operating at a significant loss, and the tickets were $25 each,” Nishon said. “Fiscal responsibility is core to the symphony’s strategic growth. To be able to present a free, community event that was paid for by the community, was an incredible experience.”

This year’s event will focus on fireworks and local food vendors and will look similar to the celebration that the city ran for many years. The nonprofit group took over the event, which draws 60,000 or more people each year, in 2010 after the city announced it was canceling the fireworks due to budget cuts. A group of businesses formed to come up with the $45,000 needed to put the fireworks celebration on: the Maine Red Claws, Quirk Chevrolet, Wright Express (now Wex) and the Portland Press Herald.

Those four businesses are listed on the group’s website as “founding partners” along with Woodard & Curran as a “sustaining sponsor.” More than two dozen local businesses are listed at “corporate friends.” It’s not clear which ones stopped giving financial support.

“The PPH was a founding sponsor of Portland’s July 4th. Unfortunately, what we can provide – free advertising space – is not what the organizers need to bring the PSO to the Eastern Promenade,” said Lisa DeSisto, the newspaper’s CEO and publisher.

Reardon said it’s common for sponsors to look for other opportunities – he doesn’t begrudge any that did so – but said July 4th Portland has not been able to replace the sponsors who have left.

According to the most recent tax filing for July 4th Portland, the amount of cash donations dropped to $55,000 in 2016, down from $65,000 in 2015 and $75,000 in 2014. The nonprofit also took in about $44,000 in in-kind donations in 2016 but ended the year $3,700 in the hole.

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

[email protected]

Twitter: RayRouthier

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: PPHEricRussell

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.