There are many good reasons to spend part of the summer in Maine, but now there’s a compelling one early in the season: The Portland Performing Arts Festival (PPAF), scheduled for June 28 – July 1. This new Festival presents eight large-scale events spanning classical music, jazz, dance, theater and performance art in venues along Congress Street in Portland’s Arts District. Its partnered Portland Festival Fringe is designed to offer, on the same dates, an opportunity for local and regional artists to curate and present their own performances, taking advantage of audiences drawn to Portland for the Festival.

“Cultural tourism is a large and growing part of Maine’s economy, and for good reason. There are world-class arts and heritage resources all over the state,” said Festival founder Kara Larson. “We put together a four-day festival of nationally-recognized artists especially to draw visitors to Portland before the summer rush.”

Maine is known for lobsters and lighthouses, and Portland is growing a reputation as a top foodie town. Existing music and cultural festivals all over the state draw crowds, but most of them fall during the busiest (and most expensive) travel months of July and August, and they usually focus on one particular art form.

The Portland Performing Arts Festival is modeled on successful existing festivals like the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, S.C., and Luminato in Toronto. By mixing genres of music, dance, theater, and other performances in a concentrated period, these festivals appeal to patrons with a broad range of cultural interests and present a powerful draw for visitors. And by scheduling the event for late June, PPAF organizers hope to showcase Maine at its seasonal best… but not its tourist busiest. Since the Maine summer season is usually considered to span July 4 through Labor Day, the Portland Performing Arts Festival is timed to offer visitors hotels and attractions before they fill up.

But a great slate of performances along cannot a great festival experience make. What else does it take? A scenic location, easy access for travelers, appealing restaurant and hotel choices, and a thriving cultural landscape… and Portland offers all of these. Recent accolades include:

Portland “One of America’s Best Towns” 2010 (Outside Magazine)

Portland “One of the coolest small cities in America” 2010 (GQ Magazine)

Portland #1 on “America’s Most Livable Cities” 2009

Portland “Foodiest Small Town in America” 2009 (Bon Appétit) …although we don’t think we’re a small town…

…and just this month, Travel + Leisure readers voters in the annual America’s Favorite Cities survey ranked Portland #5 in “America’s Best Cities for Hipsters,” citing hipsters as people who “tend to frequent cool, often idiosyncratic restaurants, shops, and bars—the same kinds of venues that appeal to travelers looking for what they can’t find at home.”

An easy drive from most of New England, Portland also boasts Amtrak’s Downeaster train service connecting it to Boston and environs, making for an easy car-free visit. And Portland International Jetport is an easy hop from any Northeast city (only a 1 hour flight from New York, for example). Outdoor activities abound, on water and land, and extraordinary restaurants featuring local seafood and produce feature chefs with international reputations.

Picture-postcard ocean vistas? Check. Graceful 18th-century homes and historic waterfront architecture? Check and check. Art galleries that vie with those in Boston and New York? Of course. Portland has everything that a festival visitor would want to round out a visit.

From June 28 – July 1, featured Festival performances include:

June 28th:

Guitar Master Class, featuring visiting artists Sharon Isbin and Doug Wamble in teaching session with Maine artists, free and open to the public. 3pm, One Longfellow Square, 181 State Street, Portland

Maine performance art duo Eepybird (the Coke & Mentos guys), live demonstration spectacular. 6pm, Monument Square, Congress & Elm Streets, Portland (sponsored by Headlight Audio Visual) Free and open to the public: rain date Friday, June 29, 6pm

June 29th:

Sharon Isbin, classical guitar, solo concert. This multi-Grammy winning artist is regarded as the pre-eminent classical guitarist of our times. 7pm, Williston-Immanuel United Church, 156 High Street, Portland.

Tickets $20-45, plus ticketing fee

June 30th:

Alison Chase/Performance, contemporary dance ensemble. This new dance company presents the world premiere of choreography created by Maine resident and Pilobolus co-founder Alison Chase. 7pm, Merrill Auditorium, 20 Myrtle Street Portland (co-presented by Portland Ovations)

Tickets $27-47 plus ticketing fee

Celebration Barn Ensemble, world premiere play, “Thumbs Up.” Created by the artists of the Celebration Barn, “Thumbs Up” is an inventive and uproarious look at Maine’s unique qualities and characters. 8pm, John Ford Theater @ Portland High School, 284 Cumberland Avenue, Portland

Tickets $15-30 plus ticketing fee

Doug Wamble, jazz. Featuring an 8-piece ensemble presenting “Yoknapatawpha,” an evening-length work based on the literary works of William Faulkner. 9pm, The State Theater, 609 Congress Street Portland (sponsored by The State Theater)

Tickets $20-40 plus ticketing fee

July 1st:

Celebration Barn Ensemble, “Thumbs Up,” matinee performance. 1pm, John Ford Theater @ Portland High School, 284 Cumberland Avenue, Portland

Tickets $15-30 plus ticketing fee

Piano Concert, Festival Finale. Curated by the Portland Conservatory, this concert presents the premier artists of the International Piano Festival in works by a variety of composers, including Maine resident Elliott Schawartz. 3pm, Williston-Immanuel United Church, 156 High Street, Portland

Tickets $15-25 plus ticketing fee

Tickets are now available through PortTix (



The Portland Performing Arts Festival will transform Portland’s Arts District into a hotbed of creative activity for four days.

Portland Festival Fringe

A diverse and vibrant array of events and performances, organized and presented by our partner artists and arts & culture organizations, make up the Portland Festival Fringe. Fringe performances are managed by each artist or organization and tickets will be sold by them. The Festival website,, will include links to information on dates, times, and tickets to Fringe performances.

The Festival wishes to acknowledge two significant series of performances presented by arts partners in Portland, which offer programs concurrently with the Fringe. Tickets to these events are available from their presenters.

Portland Stage is presenting performances of “2 Pianos 4 Hands. (Five performances during the Festival dates.)

The Portland Conservatory of Music presents its 9th annual International Piano Festival.

Fringe participants include:

Mayo Street Arts (puppet festival)

Naked Shakespeare (immersive installation of “All’s Well That Ends Well”)

Hattie Simon (jazz vocalist/pianist)

The Dark Follies (street theater/nouveau vaudeville)

SALT Institute for Documentary Studies (spoken word programs)

Portland Ballet (popup performances)

PortFringe 12 (experimental and local theater)

Oak Street Studios (children’s puppet works)

Children’s Mudeum & Theatre of Maine (Kids’ Fringe Festival)

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