When the doors open Thursday — Valentine’s Day — at Gardiner’s Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center, the organizers behind the fundraiser for the Gardiner Fire Relief Fund hope that people will show a little love.

During the last four years, the city’s fire fund has helped the victims of fires in Gardiner get back on their feet.

But the fund, which had grown through donations from residents and businesses, needs some help. By some accounts, it once held as much as $60,000; it’s now down to about $6,000.

“The fund represents the strong community commitment we have in supporting each other in times of need,” Gardiner Mayor Patricia Hart said.  “There have been different ways people have raised money (for the fund), and this is a continuation of it.”

For the fundraiser, Johnson Hall executive artistic director Mike Miclon said he’s putting on a version of his “Early Evening Show,” a show first performed regularly at his own theater in Buckfield and now at the Celebration Barn in Paris, from June to October. It is, he said, a combination of “Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” and the early years of “Saturday Night Live.”

“Gardiner is a very generous town,” Miclon said. “I have not experienced that in other communities.”

The show, which will include skits and commercial breaks, will feature performances by musicians Robbie Coffin and Maggie Coffin, as well as Fritz Grobe, a five-time gold medalist at the International Juggling Championships and half the of EepyBird team behind the Coca-Cola and Mentos videos; and Steven Ragatz, who has performed with Cirque du Soleil.

The collapsed roof of the building at 235 Water St. in Gardiner, as it looked on Oct. 22, 2015. The building was heavily damaged by a fire earlier that year.

The show, which is family-friendly, has been a consistent sell-out, Miclon said.

The Gardiner Fire Fund was created in 2015, a year that brought catastrophic fires to the southern Kennebec County city.

In early February that year, fire broke out in Highland Terrace, a 28-unit senior housing complex tucked into a residential neighborhood at the north end of the city, and its 30 residents were evacuated into the bitterly cold midwinter night. Five months later, fire damaged several buildings on Water Street, one beyond repair. Just before Thanksgiving, even as the remains of one Water Street building were being demolished, fire destroyed a single-family home on Old Brunswick Road.

Gardiner’s most recent serious fire damaged 192 Water St., the home of Domino’s Pizza and a number of offices, at the end of December 2018, and firefighters from communities as far away as Topsham worked for 13 hours to knock it down. While the fire has compelled building tenants to seek other spaces, restaurant and building owner Fernando Stelser said Wednesday he still plans to rebuild.

Tickets for the fundraiser are available at the Johnson Hall box office or at Niche Inc., on Water Street. The suggested price is $15.


Jessica Lowell — 621-5632
[email protected]
Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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