Despite success of Mumford, big concerts on the Eastern Prom remain a challenge in Portland

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PORTLAND — A year after more than 15,000 people packed the city’s Eastern Promenade for the first rock concert ever held there, the event remains fresh in the minds of some who attended.

But the promise it created for more festival-type concerts on the Prom has yet to be fulfilled.

“I loved seeing Mumford & Sons last year, and we were talking about the show just the other day,” Libbytown resident Kelly Fournier said. “I wish there were a show like that this summer.”

The park routinely hosts small musical performances each summer. But last year’s day-long concert was Portland’s largest concert in years.

The Aug. 4, 2012, performance, headlined by British folk-rock group Mumford & Sons, was generally considered a success. Tickets quickly sold out, the show ran on schedule, little disruption was reported and no arrests were made. The city was reimbursed for providing police and other services, and netted a profit of $54,000. Even the weather cooperated.

A month later, the city held a public meeting to get feedback about the show from neighborhood residents and to discuss the possibility of similar large concerts in the future.

A few neighborhood residents expressed frustration about traffic, trash and noise generated by the concert. But Mayor Michael Brennan urged residents to view it as a learning experience. “If we have a future event, it will be even better,” he said.

But Fournier and others will have to wait at least a year for another big-name act to appear on the Prom. No shows are currently planned there, although the city has “an open door” to the possibility of another one, City Hall spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said Tuesday. 

“It would have to be the right mix,” Clegg said. “(The Mumford & Sons concert) answered the question, ‘can it be done?’ … the pieces all fell together nicely.”

Diane Davison, newly appointed executive director of the Friends of the Eastern Promenade, agreed.

“Overall, (the concert) was a very positive event because the majority of things were done right,” Davison said.

Last year’s concert succeeded “organically, fiscally and logistically,” according to Davison. “If we could get something that was a similar, one-day event, the Friends of the Eastern Promenade could probably support it,” she said.

Despite the success, the Prom poses unusual challenges, according to Lauren Wayne, general manager of the State Theatre, which organized last year’s concert.

“It’s a public park, so there are a lot of hoops to jump through,” Wayne said.

Last year’s hoops included city permits and restrictions on sales of food and alcoholic beverages. In addition, the need to set up staging, lights, fencing, a sound system and other infrastructure sent costs soaring.

“Everything had to be built from the ground up, so it was very expensive,” she said.

The high costs also put pressure on ticket sales. “We needed (a show) that could sell 16,000 tickets effortlessly,” Wayne said.

Still, she said, large concerts on the Prom are “definitely doable once or twice a season,” and the State Theatre is exploring the possibility of staging a show there in 2014.

“We didn’t have anything that worked this year … but it looks good for next season,” Wayne said. She also noted that the State Theatre has been busy recently with operation at Port City Music Hall, a Congress Street music venue that the owners of the State Theatre acquired last spring.

“We love the Eastern Prom,” Wayne said, “and would love to do another show there.”

William Hall can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or whall@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @hallwilliam4.

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More than 15,000 people descended on Portland’s Eastern Promenade for an Aug.4, 2012, concert, headlined by British folk-rock band Mumford & Sons.

Friends of Eastern Promenade pick Davison as executive

PORTLAND — The Friends of the Eastern Promenade have named Diane Davison, president of the board of directors, as the organization’s first executive director.

Davison will be the first paid employee in the seven-year history of the Friends, which works to protect the history, environment and recreational use of the 68-acre public park.

A resident of Munjoy Hill for more than 20 years, Davison helped found the organization and also serves as chairwoman of the Portland Parks Commission. Earlier this year, she was named a “Volunteer of the Year” by Gov. Paul LePage.

“The board and I have been impressed with Diane’s commitment to stewardship of this extraordinary property, the Eastern Promenade,” George Campbell Jr., the board vice president and former Portland mayor, said in a press release. “We are confident that she will continue building on the excellent working relationships with city and state officials.”

Davison on Monday said she was honored by the appointment and that it would allow the board to focus better on the group’s strategic priorities.

“This is the next logical step in the organization’s development,” Davison said.

— William Hall

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