BELFAST, Maine — At midnight, more than 200 people paraded down the Main Street hill to a bonfire at the boat landing in 40 mph winds and zero degree temperatures to welcome 2009.
The bonfire capped the 12th New Year’s By the Bay celebration, a citywide event featuring a range of performers and acts all afternoon and evening of Wednesday at places throughout the downtown.
The scene as the bonfire was ignited took on a primal atmosphere with people beating drums and metal plates and chanting in the firelight for more than two hours.
The annual celebration is put together by a nonprofit group and funded by admissions ticket sales, small donations from local businesses and community members, in-kind donations and the city of Belfast, said organizer Mary Mortier.
“It’s a local community grass-roots effort,” she said. “We’re not part of any First Night franchise. We do this on our own — locally.”
Mortier said Thursday morning that she believed the New Year’s Eve attendance was off from last year’s figure of 1,800 patrons.
“A dozen performances were full, except for the 11 p.m. shows,” she said. “At 11 p.m., people were cold and wanted to go home.
“The wind and the cold did deter people,” she added.
“Also, when New Year’s Eve falls in the middle of the week, attendance at the 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. shows tends to be lighter because of people coming home from work,” she added.
Mortier said she would not have all the receipts counted to determine the attendance until Friday.
“I don’t think we’re going to break last year’s figure, though,” she added.
Performances were held at local churches, Belfast Free Library, Belfast Co-op and Colonial Theatre, where local poet Linda Buckmaster was named the city’s poet laureate, succeeding Karin Spitfire for the one-year honor.
Altogether 21 groups of performers played around the city.
Ameranouche, a gypsy jazz trio from New Hampshire, performing for the third year at Belfast at the First Church, drew applause for pieces played in the style of Django Reinhardt, a gypsy jazz guitarist in France in the 1940s and 1950s.
Back for his 11th time in 12 years, Hawk Henries, a Nipmuc flute player and storyteller, played wind instruments at First Church. His repertoire included an Australian didgeridoo, a long wooden oboelike instrument twice as tall as the player, and a percussive hand-held instrument called an mbira from Zimbabwe.
Henries laced his musical pieces with stories, such as one about the origin of the flute, which he said was made by a woodpecker poking holes in a branch and the wind blowing through it, creating musical sounds.
The a cappella ensemble Ave Maris Stella, a regional group of 25 singers, sang songs dating to the 12th century. A duet featuring Andrea Boothby and Ken Winslow singing “Tota Pulcra” from the 12th century drew applause.
Six bands played, including Portland-based Inanna, Sisters in Rhythm, a percussion and vocal ensemble that explores West African drum traditions, Juke Rockets, a blues band, and Three Button Deluxe, a jump-swing-rock and roll dance band.
Other performers included the David Dodson Trio, mime Scot Canon, Rural Electric and Abba Rabbi Shabba.
The Belfast Bay Fiddlers, Katahdin Valley Boys, Yentes Brothers Duo, Odd Law Band, George Lirakis, and Seth the Bard also performed.
Several churches served meals to raise money for the local interfaith Fuel Fund.