BANGOR, Maine — From its humble roots as an informal affair that drew a few hundred, the annual Downtown Countdown New Year’s Eve bash continues to snowball.
This year’s attendance topped 3,000 — up about 1,000 from last year’s total, according to an unofficial estimate by Mackie Faye Hill, Downtown Countdown event planner.
“And people stayed longer,” Hill said, pointing out that West Market Square and the streets around it began filling up by about 9:30 p.m. Friday, hours earlier than last year.
“I’m happy with the outcome. I’m exhausted, but I’m happy with the outcome,” an elated Hill said after the ball dropped.
This year’s event involved 13 official venues and several unofficial ones, including several of the restaurants and pubs that have been springing up in Bangor’s downtown.
Revelers were able to choose from nearly 25 activities and entertainment options for revelers of all ages.
Hill said people came to downtown Bangor from as far as Charleston, Dover-Foxcroft and Ellsworth. But some revelers came from an even greater distance.
Suzanne Spruce, who works in the community relations department at Eastern Maine Medical Center, brought her sister Elizabeth Roach from Washington, D.C.
“I’ve heard a lot about it,” Roach said while waiting for the ball to drop in West Market Square. She seemed a bit skeptical but was being a good sport.
Hailing from Milwaukee, Wis., was Emma Osmanski, a junior at Husson University. Osmanski said this was her first Bangor ball drop.
“This is sweet,” she said, pointing out that it sometimes can be difficult to find live music in Bangor.
Jane Philbrick and Jane Robbins-Teel were among the attendees who noted that this year’s relatively balmy weather kept them out longer than in previous years.
“It’s warm. It’s wonderful,” Philbrick said
Robbins-Teel agreed, adding that the two Janes had been to nearly half a dozen venues with three hours left to go before midnight.
This year’s countdown brought out a mix of old and young and lots of family groups.
Don and Patti Sprague of Charleston brought their 9-year-old grandson, Parker Shortel of Bar Harbor, to such venues as the Maine Discovery Museum and Bagel Central. The Spragues arrived in Bangor about 5 p.m. and were still going strong four hours later.
Tim and Anne Page brought their children, 7-year-old Luke and 9-year-old Eve, to hear classic rock performed by the Retro Rockerz at the Union Street Brick Church.
“We’ve been coming [to Downtown Countdown] since in started,” Anne Page said. “We love it.”
Live bluegrass by Evergreen had a large group of friends from Greater Bangor clapping, shouting and tapping their toes in the back two rows at the Bangor Opera House.
The Rev. James Haddix of All Souls Congregational Church also was in the audience,
“It’s great,” he said, adding that he has been in a few bands.
New offerings this year included improvisational comedy performances by The Focus Group — which had audiences rolling with such Maine references as L.L. Bean and Allen’s Coffee Brandy — and the Preservation Blues Band, which packed Bagel Central to capacity.
Though Hill pointed out that the s’mores-making event planned for West Market Square was canceled at the eleventh hour because of fire safety concerns, this year’s bash featured some unscheduled entertainment, including a fire dancing demonstration by Eleni Margaronis, who recently moved back to Bangor from South Portland.
“She performed about four times. She really caught people’s eye and that was good,” Hill said.
Another schedule change involved the teen dance, which originally was set for the Hammond Street Congregational Church.
“It didn’t happen,” Hill said. Instead, organizers decided to move the disc jockey and his sound system down to West Market Square, which provided a musical background to the evening’s festivities, she said.
“It really helped set the mood,” she said.
New Year’s Eve celebrations also went on at a number of other area locations, including Hollywood Slots, where funk master Motor Booty Affair was featured, and the Anah Shrine Center on Main Street, where Hampden native Kayla Wass and her country band performed for a crowd of about 120.
“She came back to do this for us, so we’re excited about having her,” Doug Dulac said of Wass, who recently moved to Nashville to pursue her dreams.
Hill said most of the feedback she received from revelers — many of them from well outside of Bangor — was good and that there still were people lined up to get into pubs and bars well after midnight.
The exception was an impromptu snowball fight that began from the roof of the building from which Mike and Mike of Kiss 94.5 radio fame tossed the Christmas light-covered ball at the stroke of midnight. The snowball fight then spread to the crowd on the ground, sending some revelers to seek cover.