BELFAST, Maine — Michael Hurley has been keeping an eye on the weather forecasts for Friday.
The verdict? By all accounts, the city’s New Year’s By The Bay celebration will be blessed with clear skies and decent temperatures — perfect for strolling from venue to venue or for heading to the harbor to watch the bonfire burn at midnight.
“It’s going to be great,” Hurley, the bonfire master, said Wednesday.
Since 1997, hordes of festive people have jammed the city’s streets for New Year’s By The Bay, crowding into various downtown locales to listen to music, enjoy storytelling, dance the night away and much more.
The 14th annual celebration will be better than ever, promised festival organizer Mary Mortier.
“It’s the most fun event you would ever attend,” she said last week. “It’s very magical. Because it’s a walking event, there will be people out on the streets, and people will be talking to each other as they’re walking from venue to venue. It’s just really special and has a totally different feel.”
This year’s version of the downtown party will have some changes, she said. For one thing, the festivities will begin much earlier, with a children’s program beginning at the Belfast Boathouse at 2 p.m. That program will feature a bounce house, balloon animals and a magician, Conjuring Carroll.
“That’s all geared towards families with young children,” Mortier said.
Also, new musical groups are coming to play for the community, such as Shades of Blue, a jazz trio composed of professional musicians, and the Gawler Family, who perform lively folk music on an array of instruments.
The Ameranouche Trio, a favorite from a few years ago, will return to play their lightning-fast gypsy jazz beginning at 7 p.m. at the First Baptist Church.
Toe-tappers and jump jivers can get their fix at the Boathouse, which later in the evening will showcase the sounds of the Travis Lloyd Dance Band, which plays melodic folk rock, and the Willy Kelly Dance Band, featuring blues, swing and R&B.
Other performers will include Abba Rabbi Shabba, the Belfast Poet Laureate, Castlebay, the OdLaw Dance Band, XCITY dance band — with electronic “nu-soul” music — Native American musician and storyteller Hawk Henries, and David Dodson with Mike Nickerson & Friends.
Then, around 11:30 p.m., drummers will gather for the sixth annual procession to the Bonfire By the Bay. They are called the Drum & Rabble Corps, and anyone can participate.
“It’s a primal beat,” Mortier said. “It kind of calls to the people.”
The corps and the rabble meet at the downtown traffic light at 11:45 p.m. and wend their way down to the harbor, where Hurley will be tending the flames.
“I think it’s going to be fantastic,” he said of this year’s extravaganza. “I noticed there seem to be a lot more younger kinds of acts that appeal to young people. That’s going to be fun.”
He said that all are welcome to join him at 2 p.m. Friday afternoon to pile wood — including old Christmas trees — on the bonfire.
He and Mortier are hoping the good weather forecast will help the festival bring in more people than last year, when a snowstorm kept the crowds down to about 1,000 — about half as many as usual.
People who do come won’t regret it, Mortier promised. Hurley suggests that folks bundle up for the walking parts of the evening.
“It’s a family-oriented event for the whole family, tots through seniors,” she said. “It is chem-free and it is safe and is very affordable.”
Tickets are $15 for adults, $5 for kindergarten through grade 12 students and free for kids younger than 5. An admission button may be purchased at the Parent Gallery, The Belfast Co-op, Mr. Paperback in Reny’s Plaza, the Belfast Harbor Inn, Comfort Inn Ocean’s Edge and the Hannaford desk. For information, visit www.nybb.org or call 338-5870.