For 17 years, Maine’s smallest city has hosted a big New Year’s Eve party, one that fills the streets and multiple venues with music, magic and more … and concludes with a raucous march down Main Street to light a waterfront bonfire.

This year’s New Year’s By The Bay will open its headquarters’ doors — also known as the doors of downtown Parent Gallery — at noon Tuesday, Dec. 31, for people to purchase or pick up their buttons, the round all-access pass of the volunteer-run event. There are a few afternoon options, including the annual 3 to 5 p.m. open house and demo at the curling club out on Route 3. As the sun sets, Belfast By The Bay gears up for hours of presentations at numerous venues, all within walking distance and all chem-free. Of course, the city’s restaurants, pubs and waterfront brewery will be open as well.

Given the walking and the winter weather, Belfast By The Bay is not a dress-up kind of New Year’s Eve … but maybe it’s time to change that. Ellen Sander, the current Belfast Poet Laureate, and her immediate predecessor (and occasional downstairs neighbor) Jacob Fricke are throwing an affair they’ve dubbed a Poetry Gala in Black and White. They are encouraging attendees to hew to the two hues so as to enhance the visual environment that will be created in The Playhouse, 107 Church St.

“We’ll have music and dance and unconventional things, and we’re going to use the whole space,” said Sander, who marks the end of her first year as poet laureate on New Year’s Eve.

The author, former rock critic and sporadic journalist said she is a very performance-oriented poet and so is Fricke, so the two are having fun coming up with ways to combine poetry with music, movement and dance, all mixed up in a Poetry Noir stew. The gala will run from 6 to 7 p.m.; presenters lined up a couple of weeks before the event included poets Sander, Fricke, Toussaint St. Negritude, Elizabeth Garber and Lauren Murray; musician Tom Luther (St. Negritude wears this hat too); dancer Helena Melone; and mime and musician Scot Cannon. The event will likely be a bit in flux up to start time, which is just fine with Sander.

“Flux is our friend — that’s the kind of artists we are,” she said.

As loose as things may be for the Gala, and must be for the poetry slam Fricke will helm from 7 to 9 p.m., the city’s premier poetry event is already well in the careful planning stages. Next year will mark the 10th anniversary edition of the Belfast Poetry Festival, held each October, and Sander said the Gala will serve as the starting gate for the run-up to the fest.

“We’ll announce it and enlist people from the audience to volunteer and perform,” Sander said.

The Poetry Gala in Black and White should be a spirited way to dive into New Year’s Eve, Belfast-style.

“We’re always looking to find the frontier of poetry and put a fist through it,” said Sander.

NYBB nuts and bolts

All New Year's By The Bay venues are chem-free and located within walking distance of each other. Admission buttons, which admit wearers to all events, cost $18; $5 for K-12 students; and free for those younger than 5. Buttons are available for online purchase through PayPal through Monday, Dec. 30, at and can be picked up through 8 p.m. New Year’s Eve at HQ. Also available online is the complete schedule of events in printable brochure format (events are subject to change), and the program, which breaks down the schedule by time and venue, can be found at a variety of locations around town.

Beginning Tuesday afternoon, buttons also may be purchased at most of the performance venues. All seats are available on a first-come, first-served basis and are subject to occupancy rules; some sites have limited occupancy. Unless otherwise noted, performances last 45 minutes.

Free fun to start

In addition to the Curling Club open house, no-button-needed activities are offered early on in the Abbott Room of Belfast Free Library, 106 High St.: Maine-ly Balloons from 2:30 to 3 p.m.; Conjuring Carroll’s interactive magic act from 3:15 to 4 p.m.; and local storyteller and musician Jennifer Armstrong will focus on the younger set from 4:15 to 4:45 p.m.

Those who have not yet gotten their “Nutcracker” fill can dance the famous ballet for themselves from 3 to 4 p.m. at Belfast Dance Studio, 109 Church St., as the annual Join-in Nutcracker merges with NYBB. Costumes and all ages are welcome to this free hour of storytelling and participatory dance.

And speaking of dancing

NYBB’s dedicated dance venue — The Boathouse, at the foot of Commercial Street —offers tunes to boogie by all evening long. Captain Obvious starts things off with classic rock and blues from 5 to 6:45 p.m. CatchaVibe brings the reggae, soul and funk from 7:15 to 9:15 p.m. And DJ Denis Howard will fill out the eve with favorite rock and Motown golden oldies from 9:30 to 11:45 p.m.

Meanwhile, local flamenco and fusion dancer Helena Melone will perform at 9:15 p.m. at The Playhouse.

Caricatures on the fly

P.J. Carter will draw personal caricatures from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in her usual spot on the first floor of First Baptist Church, 95 High St.

Music for all tastes

This year’s New Year’s By The Bay really pulls out the stops with continuous music performance in six venues. Fortunately, a number of the acts have more than one set; still, it will take some doing to take them all in.

The Belfast Co-op, 123 High St., starts things off at 4 p.m. with local jazzman Lincoln Blake on saxophone, followed by George Lirakis singing Irish sea chanteys and more at 5 and again at 6 p.m. Folksters Dave & Fran Plus will wrap things up at 7 and 8 p.m.

The First Baptist Church sanctuary will be busy with sets by the Ellacapella all-female vocal group at 5 and 7 p.m.; Belfast Bay Fiddlers at 6 p.m.; modern country/bluegrass band New Relm at 8 and 10 p.m.; and NYBB fave David Dodson with Rachel and John Nicolas playing at 9 and 11 p.m.

In the sanctuary of the First Church UCC, at the corner of Church and Spring, things get going with 6 and 7 p.m. sets by the Chebeague Island Jazz Quintet, followed by Great American Songbook purveyors the John Nowak Quartet at 8 and 10 p.m.; and the rollicking multi-genre Velma at 9 and 11 p.m.

In the sanctuary of the Unitarian Universalist Church, 37 Miller St., the evening starts off folksy with Maine favorite Dave Rowe at 6 and 8 p.m., alternating with Celtic duo Castlebay at 7 and 9 p.m. The night will be capped with 10 and 11 p.m. sets by jazz and blues quartet Shades of Blue.

The library’s Abbott Room plays host to real variety with the 4 Cryin’ Out Loud a cappella quartet at 6 and 8 p.m.; storyteller and musician Jennifer Armstrong at 7 p.m.; poet, clarinetist and composer Toussaint St. Negritude at 9 and 11 p.m.; and improvisatory jazz and spoken word combo Algorithm at 10 p.m.

The Colonial Theatre, 163 High St., will alternate acoustic jazz/blues The Postman Cometh at 7 and 9 p.m. with local bluegrass/Grateful Dead interpreters the Leaky Boot Jug Band at 8 and 10 p.m.

Food, wonderful food

Food is not included with the buttons, but many New Year’s By The Bay venues offer inexpensive munchies to fuel the fun. NYBB food vendors may be identified by yellow and purple vendor flags.

Our Town Belfast will provide hot drinks, bottled water and snacks at The Boathouse from 5 to 11 p.m. The Unitarian Universalist Church will serve up a variety of homemade soups and stews, breads and desserts plus hot and cold drinks from 5 to 8 p.m. First Baptist Church will offer homemade beef stew, chili, barbecue beans and turkey soup plus hot drinks, doughnuts, cookies and bars from 5 to 11 p.m. Commercial eateries signed up to be chem-free New Year's By The Bay food venues include Belfast Co-op Café, open to 9 p.m.; Alexia's Pizza, noon to 9 p.m.; and Bay Wrap, open 4 p.m. to late into the evening.

A noisy, fiery finish

Everyone, even those without buttons, can be a New Year’s By the Bay performer by joining the Drum & Rattle Corps for the ninth annual procession from the downtown traffic light to the waterfront. To take part, be at the corner of Main and High streets by 11:50 p.m. with noise-making things such as drums, pots and pans, tin cans and noisemakers.

At the stroke of midnight, the event will culminate in fiery fashion with the 11th annual Bonfire By The Bay at the waterfront pier.