For more than ten years, Bangor has grown in popularity as a New Year’s Eve destination in Maine — in fact, at this point, the Queen City is likely the top locale in the state for those who wish to say goodbye to the old year and ring in the new in style. Events in Belfast, Eastport, Portland and Old Orchard Beach are also popular, but Bangor’s New Year’s festivities attracted last year more than 5,000 people to West Market Square to watch the “ball drop” — a light-covered beach ball — from the roof of Paddy Murphy’s.
The Downtown Countdown, which since New Year’s Eve 2005 has been co-sponsored by the Downtown Bangor Partnership and by local businesses, as well as this year by presenting sponsor Cross Insurance and by Waterfront Concerts, is now an integral element of the Downtown community and the tens of thousands that shop, eat and play there each year. Launchpad, the downtown Bangor-based arts organization, is this year organizing the festival.
“[Launchpad is] very much born out of the energy that has been re-shaping Bangor for the past few years. In Downtown Countdown we saw an opportunity to work with an event that has grown and changed as Downtown Bangor has developed, and our hope is to continue to see the event evolve over the next few years to draw more people in from surrounding communities,” said Meg Shorette, Launchpad’s executive director.
Launchpad, which also runs the Central Gallery on Central Street, a popular arts, music and film venue, is this year planning a few new things, in addition to the slate of regular performances planned year in year out.
“The event relies heavily on the strength of the artistic and creative community in Bangor and we are looking for more ways to showcase that as part of Countdown each year,” said Shorette.
For instance, the Union Street Brick Church will host a show featuring a number of local rock bands including indie rockers Vaughn and They Called Me Legion, emo and hardcore bands Glass Canyon, Back 2 Reality, Dear Father and Lockdown. Bands start at 6:30 p.m. and go until 11 p.m.
Also new will be comedy performances from two local groups, including The Focus Group, well-known for their monthly improv comedy shows in Brewer, which will perform at 8 and 9:30 p.m. at 58 Main St, the storefront next door to Nocturnem Drafthaus, in between their sets, bluegrass group The Salt River boys will perform. Meanwhile, Her Majesty’s Cabaret, a Bangor-based sketch comedy group, will perform at 9 and at 10:15 p.m. at The Rock & Art Shop on Central Street.
Old favorites set to perform again at the Countdown include the Bangor Symphony Orchestra’s On The Town string quartet, taking a break from the Bangor Public Library due to the construction and instead performing at the Central Gallery at 9 and 11 p.m., sponsored by Bangor Greendrinks. The Juke Rockets Blues Band will also perform two sets beginning at 8 p.m. at Bagel Central.
In West Market Square, a stage and a partially heated dance floor will be set up featuring a kid’s dance from 4 to 6 p.m., geared towards kids aged 4 to 8. From 6 p.m. onwards, DJ Push/Shove will play dance hits, and there will be music from blues and soul artist Stesha Cano and rock band the Trendy Robots until just before the ball drops.
For younger revelers, the University of Maine Museum of Art will offer crown making for all ages from 6 to 8 p.m., and the Maine Discovery Museum will be open late until 8 p.m., with a magic show from Danny Baker, a live animal show, face painting, hat and noisemaker making and a multi-lingual parade through the museum at 6 p.m. (this event requires standard Maine Discovery Museum admission fees).
All of the above events — with the exception of the live outdoor performances and the actual countdown in West Market Square — can be attended by purchasing an official Countdown button. Advance purchase buttons are $5 online at countdownbangor.com, and day of buttons are available for $8 at all participating Countdown venues.
There are several events happening that are not part of the official Countdown festivities, but are still part of the New Year’s Eve fun. They include the Penobscot Theatre Company’s production of “Piece of Her Heart: A Tribute to Janis,” a live musical tribute to Janis Joplin featuring local musicians and acclaimed artist Karen Irwin; performance are at 6 and 9 p.m. at the Bangor Opera House, and tickets are $42 each. There will be an organ and piano concert by Robert and Nancy Ludwig at 7 p.m. at St. John’s Episcopal Church, located 225 French St., followed by a festive reception; donations benefit Bangor Area Homeless Shelter.
Finally, there’s of course music at local bars and other venues, including The Rotating Taps at Nocturnem Drafthaus, the Allison Ames Band at Hollywood Casino, Dean Ford and the Keepsakes at the Downunder Lounge at Seasons Restaurant, Dakota at the Penobscot Pourhouse, Tomorrow Morning at Paddy Murphy’s and Nash Vegas at the Sea Dog Brewing Company — most of which will take a break around 11:45 to head outside to watch the ball drop, and say hello to 2016.
Ed note: Emily Burnham, the writer of this article, is a member of Her Majesty’s Cabaret.