BANGOR, Maine — Music, comedy, dancing and art were some of the ways people in downtown Bangor rang in the new year Thursday night.
Since the first Bangor ball drop ushered in 2005, the annual New Year’s Eve bash has evolved from an informal affair that drew a few hundred spectators into a daylong event featuring 14 official Downtown Countdown venues and several unofficial ones, including several of the restaurants and pubs that dot Bangor’s downtown.
About 2,000 people were on hand for the drop at midnight Thursday, according to Stephen Smith, the Bangor lawyer who originated the ball drop. That was about the same number as last year, he indicated.
This year, many of those who turned out were doing so for the first time.
“I’ve always wanted to do this — it’s different,” Debby Young, of Brewer, said while waiting for WKIT radio mascot Doug E. Graves to toss the Christmas-light-covered beach ball off the top of event founder Stephen Smith’s historic brick building, which overlooks West Market Square.
Also attending for the first time were Erin Chabe and her 8-year-old daughter, Adeline, who drove in from Old Town to take part in activities, including the chance to create their own tiaras at the University of Maine Museum of Art and to take in a performance of the bluegrass group Evergreen at Bagel Central.
Adeline’s favorite was Brooks comedian Chris Quimby’s standup act at the Bangor Opera House.
Quimby’s musical ode to The Coffee Pot, a landmark sandwich shop that closed forever earlier that day, generated a lot of buzz, as did a performance by popular funk band Motor Booty Affair, which packed Hollywood Slots Hotel and Raceway.
Billie Jo Smith and her 6-year-old daughter, Mia, of Ellsworth, attended for the first time, at Mia’s insistence.
“It was her idea,” the girl’s mother said as Mia took in the view of West Market Square from the top of a park bench, attired in one of the three “Happy New Year” hats she owns.
The Smiths and the Chabes were among many family groups that spent the hours leading to midnight hopping among the New Year’s Eve activities and venues, which included a spaghetti supper and a contradance at the Unitarian Universalist Church, the Step in Time cloggers at the Hammond Street Senior Center, and live bluegrass and jazz at City Hall.
Sally Jacobs, of Orono, was part of a three-generation family group. Jacobs, her daughter Stephanie and 6-year-old grandson Zach began the day with a ski lesson at Hermon Mountain and ended it with a visit to downtown Bangor, where they stopped by several venues.
“This is wonderful and such a beautiful night,” Jacobs said of Thursday’s relatively mild weather.
Elsewhere downtown, a 28-year-old street artist who goes by “Sunni Syde” displayed some of his intricate paintings, many of them on wood veneer he recycled from old furniture. During the daylong celebration, he managed to sell a few of his pieces, he said, adding that he has seen a lot of support for the arts throughout the community.
“The art scene in Bangor is exploding,” he said.
As the night began to wind down, Shirar Patterson, a city hall development officer and coordinator of the New Year’s Eve bash, pronounced this year’s edition a resounding success.
“Things have gone great. The crowds have been steady all day and people are having a great time,” said Patterson, adding that the activities at the University of Maine Art Museum, where 200 people created their own crowns and tiaras, and performances by Maximum Blue and the RetroRockerz were among bigger draws.
Earlier in the evening, Alexis Moran, 4, danced while her grandparents Jim Horan and Beth Woodson, of Dixmont, watched in a room devoted to baseball at the museum in the former Freese’s Department Store.
The girl was too bashful to say what she had made that evening as part of the museum’s program, but her shyness disappeared when the talk turned to dancing.
“I like dancing,” she declared. “I go to dancing class.”
The Bangor-based Flannery Brothers, who have recorded several albums of original songs for children, performed for about 30 minutes at the museum, then led the annual “Count Up” to the new year around the facility.
A few blocks away at the Bangor Public Library, the Fighting Giants closed their 30-minute set with The Beatles’ song “I Am the Walrus.” The duo performed in the marble-floored lobby of the library.
Hana Lee, 14, of Bangor, played guitar and Ben Salinas, 13, of Bangor, joined her on the drums. Salinas is not a member of the Fighting Giants, but when other members of the band had other commitments and couldn’t make it to the library on New Year’s Eve, Lee went looking for a drummer and found him. The two practiced for just three days.
“I loved it,” Salinas said of playing in the library’s lobby, where patrons have checked out books for nearly a century. “There’s a lot of reverb, so we have to turn everything down, but it’s great.”
BDN writer Judy Harrison contributed to this report.