The Portland Symphony Orchestra will not be performing live at the Eastern Promenade this Fourth of July but will join a host of other musical acts in a virtual concert to benefit two local organizations fighting food insecurity. Gregory Rec / Portland Press Herald file

This year’s Fourth of July celebration in Portland will have all the bang and none of the band.

People will still be able to watch the annual fireworks display from the hill at the Eastern Promenade, at Payson Park, or on boats in Casco Bay. But for the third year in a row, the event will not include the Portland Symphony Orchestra or other musical performances.

Andy Downs, the city’s director of public assembly facilities, said no private partner came forward this year to organize and fund the extra entertainment, and staffing shortages meant the city did not go looking for one. Portland covers the cost of the pyrotechnics (around $30,000), and in past years, the partner came up with the rest.

“It’s a significant expense that the city is just not able to budget,” said Downs. “If there’s someone interested that wants to help fund that entertainment, we’re definitely interested.”

In 2019, the last year the orchestra played during the fireworks display, that partner was Shamrock Sports and Entertainment. CEO and founder Brian Corcoran said his team was focused this year on the inaugural Drive Fore Kids charity golf tournament in late June and did not have the capacity to organize a big July 4 celebration. He didn’t rule it out for future years but said Shamrock would be unlikely to take on the event again by itself because of its scale and cost.

“We’ll not say no for now, but I think if we’d ever take it on, it would have to be a joint venture with other parties,” he said. “That would help alleviate the shortage of human capital that we would have. It just would spread ourselves too thin.”


The Portland Symphony Orchestra performed on the Eastern Prom before and during the fireworks show starting in 2010. A nonprofit called July 4th Portland produced and funded the annual celebration, which had been estimated to attract 50,000 or more people before the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2018, the concert was canceled because of a lack of funding, though the fireworks went on as planned. In 2019, Shamrock stepped in, and the orchestra returned. The event was free, but the organizers also sold tickets to reserved and VIP areas, which included special perks. At the time, Corcoran talked about a future series of summer events. But the city did not have any celebration in 2020 because of the pandemic, and since then, the event has been fireworks only.

Again this year, the focus will be the display by Central Maine Pyrotechnics. A memo to the Portland City Council in June said there would be “no musical performance, VIP Area, or ticketed element to this year’s celebration” but food vendors would be allowed.

Among them will be Cargo Pizza Company. On Friday afternoon, owner Gregory Mihos parked his food truck in the Cutter Street lot alongside a handful of others. He said added music would be welcome, but last year’s celebration was one of his busiest days of the summer, even without a concert.

“More events are good,” he said. “It just brings more attraction to the area. I’m going to be busy regardless.”

Down on East End Beach, Karen Willens of Portland had just finished kayaking and was packing up her gear. She hadn’t made Independence Day plans yet, but she prefers to watch the fireworks from a more distant location, such as Fort Williams in Cape Elizabeth or Bug Light Park in South Portland.

“Music and food trucks would be great, but with them, you have all the crowds,” said Willens, 55.


The scaled-back events of recent years have still attracted between 15,000 and 30,000 people, said Downs. And the display is still a major undertaking. Workers need to close streets, set up barricades, direct traffic, review permits, manage vendors and clean up trash. Jessica Grondin, a city spokesperson, said Portland has 200 to 250 staff vacancies at any given time, out of a total workforce of 1,300 to 1,400.

“When you have those additional elements, it just makes a grander event,” said Downs. Without them, “it feels like something is missing, but it’s still enjoyed.”

Corcoran said he did explore the possibility of a summer event series, but neither the city nor his team had the capacity for that undertaking. He estimated that the big celebration for July 4 cost between $150,000 and $200,000 on its own. Even with sponsorships and ticket sales, Corcoran said, Shamrock essentially put on the event in 2019 “pro bono.” A second night of entertainment would be needed to make it a more profitable venture for any organizer, he suggested.

“We would be open to other parties exploring a collaboration,” he said. “It would be very challenging, if at all possible, for Shamrock to take back the endeavor on our own.”

Should those organizers emerge in the future, the Portland Symphony Orchestra would be happy to participate.

“We have been honored to be part of this event in the past, thanks to the support of presenting organizations,” said Executive Director Carolyn Nishon. “It has been so meaningful for us to share the power of music with many thousands of Mainers and visitors alike, and we are eager to do this again soon. It is our hope that the city of Portland will be able to find a partner to help cover the expenses to have us perform in the future.”

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