BANGOR, Maine — For Amy and Lance Blackstone, Thursday marked the first New Year’s Eve in their new downtown digs.
Originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota, the couple had been living in Bangor for 11 years when they decided to buy and move into the four-story building at 58 Main St.
On Thursday, the former gallery space on the ground level became the latest venue for Downtown Countdown, Bangor’s signature New Year’s Eve event. The couple hosted a concert by bluegrass duo The Salt River Boys and two shows by The Focus Group, a local improv comedy group.
On the eve of New Year’s Eve, the couple discussed why they decided to open up their home to holiday revelers.
“Right now, we have two floors of retail space that we have to pay insurance on and keep up no matter what, so we may as well enjoy it,” Lance Blackstone said.
“We also feel some responsibility [because] it’s a storefront in downtown Bangor and we are residents,” Amy Blackstone added. “We love this city and we care about it, and so another benefit — a bonus for us — is to be able to not have an empty storefront in this period where we don’t know want we want to do with the space but also have it be used.
“It’s just been very gratifying to be able to share it,” she said.
The Blackstones were asked to host a New Year’s Eve event by Launchpad, the nonprofit arts incubator that produced Downtown Countdown for the first time this year.
“We’re just completely letting people use the space,” Lance Blackstone said. “For the band, we’re on the hook to cover the base fee. Basically what we do is like a house party. We ask people to make a donation, but they don’t have to. We just hope to cover our costs. It’s just to bring some fun stuff to Bangor and put the space to good use.”
Lance Blackstone, who works from home in the software business, said it has been fun to watch downtown Bangor evolve into an entertainment destination.
When he and his wife first moved to Bangor, “to get a good beer around here, it wasn’t a Maine beer and the food, a lot of it wasn’t from around here if it was really good stuff and now it’s not only really good stuff, it’s ‘that’s-the-guy-who-made-it’ good stuff. It’s great,” Lance Blackstone said.
“And we’re excited to feel like maybe, you know, there’s an opportunity for us to be a part of that,” Amy Blackstone, a University of Maine sociology professor, said.
This year’s lineup also included activities for kids at the Maine Discovery Museum, dance parties fin West Market Square, two shows by the sketch comedy group Her Majesty’s Cabaret, punk and rock at the Brick Church, a build your own crown workshop at the University of Maine Museum of Art, among others.
The ball drop, the high point of the night, drew thousands to West Market Square. So many people turned out — many of them spilling out from nearby restaurants and bars — that the crowd overflowed onto Main and Broad streets.
Unlike last year, temperatures were in the 30s. It was warm enough Thursday night that revelers enjoyed food and drinks at tables on the sidewalk outside of some of Broad Street’s bars and eateries.
Among those who came to Bangor for the bash were the Stavnesli family from Veazie — dad Darrin, mom Christina and children Darrin Jr. and Alexandra.
“We came down — unlike last year with subzero temperatures — to enjoy the milder temperatures. We’re here, obviously, to watch the beach ball get kicked off the roof of Paddy Murphy’s,” Darrin Sr. said.
“It’s a family tradition,” Christina Stavnesli added. “Actually, we’ve been here the last four years. We’ve been to the Charles Inn every single year. We’re curious and looking to see how they’ve evolved,” she said of the hotel that recently underwent a makeover featured on “Hotel Impossible.”
Attending for the first time was Jason King of New York and Hampden.
“It’s fun. I expected a bigger crowd,” he said. But that was a few hours before midnight.
Among his friends he turned up with was Allison Bryant of Hampden.
The last day of 2015 is one she won’t likely forget: her girlfriend, Lori Summers, proposed to her earlier in the evening. The magic moment happened at Governor’s Restaurant.
“Right after we ordered, she popped the question,” Bryant said. “She was very nervous about it. She asked all our friends what she could do and everything. I was just [looking] down eating my salad, and all of a sudden I popped up and she had a ring in her hand like this and she said, ‘Will you marry me?’ and I’m like, ‘Yes!’ and then she put the ring on my finger.”
According to Josh Gass of Launchpad, more than 500 admission buttons were made for the event. After those sold out, wristbands were sold instead.
The sale of buttons, he said, is meant to help the event become self-sustaining.
“It’s a way for people to chip in and get entertainment in return,” he said.