For 18 years now, the community volunteer-run New Year’s By The Bay has offered a fun, festive, chem-free way to mark the big calendar-page turn. New Year’s By The Bay 2015 mixes familiar favorites with new performers, venues and special events, as well as the “caping” of the next Belfast Poet Laureate (see link below).

It all begins at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 31, with a blast from the past on a couple of levels. Back when the National Theatre Workshop of the Handicapped occupied the city’s former Crosby High School, NYBB hosted a free musical event for seniors from 2 to 4 p.m. Local assisted living communities and nursing homes ran buses to the popular event. But between NTWH's shutting down and budget constraints, that community elders kickoff exited the schedule. This year, it makes a welcome return.

“The City Parks and Rec Commission director, who’s been fabulous to work with, has been charged by the council to create free programs for the public at large and particularly for senior citizens,” said NYBB Executive Director Mary Mortier about Norm Poirier.

“He asked if we could have an afternoon event, since a lot of seniors don’t like to drive at night, and it comes out of his budget, so that helps us do more with ours,” said Mortier.

The 2 to 4 p.m. special dance event with refreshments features popular Midcoast-based big band MoJO, otherwise known as the Mondaynite Jazz Orchestra, at The Boathouse, on the water at the foot of Commercial Street; those who live within city limits in need of a free ride are encouraged to call 338-4769 by noon Monday, Dec. 29, to arrange one. The venue will be festively adorned with lights and will be the site for two nighttime dances; the afternoon performance is free of charge.

Also free in the afternoon is the annual open house at the Belfast Curling Club, 211 Belmont Ave./Route 3, from 3 to 5 p.m. And NYBB, and the year, will end with the free Drum & Rabble Corps procession (gather 11:30 p.m., start down Main Street 11:50 p.m. sharp) to the waterfront for the Countdown Clock to midnight and the 12th annual Bonfire By The Bay. Said bonfire is fueled by Viking Lumber’s donation of dry wood odds and ends, plus Christmas trees.

“Anyone who wants to can bring their trees down the afternoon of the 31st,” said Mortier.

Admission buttons grant access to the rest of New Year’s By The Bay, which offers live performances and fun activities at nine venues beginning 4 p.m. A first-time site this year is the wash bay of the Belfast Police Department, so-called because it’s where the PD washes its vehicles.

“When the building was a bank, it had a drive-through. That was filled in on the right, but the left side is still a garage door entry … it should be perfect for a loud, 16-year-old band — great for teens,” said Mortier.

Said band is, in fact, 16 times three — Random Ideas features 16-year-old triplet sisters from China (Maine), who will perform from 6 to 9 p.m.; recovery rapper Michael Connors will perform between sets.

“They’re amazing, a little group with a big sound,” said Pat Kaplan of WeCARE, the new recovery-from-addiction support organization whose name stands for Waldo Encourages Community Assisted Recovery Efforts.

WeCARE was launched during September’s Recovery Month with a 5K race and free film screening. The local organization’s mission is to build a collaborative, non-judgmental environment, to support addiction recovery through education, advocacy and compassionate community action. On New Year’s Eve, the mission is to provide a NYBB site teens especially can enjoy … and to provide more than a metaphorically warm welcome.

“We’ll be handing out handwarmers,” said Kaplan.

Also new to the schedule this year is Bob Lloyd, a magician, juggler and mime based in New Jersey.

“He’s related to Russ Lloyd, who’s in Leaky Boot, and will be up here for the holidays,” said Mortier.

The local Leaky Boot Jug Band performed concert sets last year that had people dancing, so this year NYBB is alternating the group with the new dance band (filled with familiar faces) People of Earth in the second-floor dance hall of First Church. At the Boathouse, dancers can cut a rug to the Willy Kelly Band and Captain Obvious.

The First Church dance hall also hosts a returning favorite, the New Year's Eve Breakfast. Other returnees this year include bluegrass band Katahdin Valley Boys; the extended Gawler Family Band, including Bennett Konesi and Tyler Yentes; and Gypsy jazz trio Ameranouche.

New this year are another Gypsy jazz trio, Mes Amis; Droplet Dance (Molly Gawler and her fiancé, Lao Gillam); ambient electronic duo Quantum; the Midcoast Ukuleles, combining strummers from around the area; and more. It’s quite a lineup for an event that fills the downtown streets with chem-free revelry.

“It’s all thanks to the volunteers,” said Mortier.

NYBB — the basics

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 for adults and $5 for Youth (K-12 students), free for those younger than 5. Buttons are available for online purchase at nybb.org through noon the 31st and can be picked up noon through 8 p.m. New Year’s Eve at the event’s headquarters, the Parent Gallery at 92 Main St. (where the buttons are already available for purchase on site). Also online is the complete schedule of events for download (events are subject to change). The program, which breaks down the schedule by time and venue, can be found at Parent Gallery, the Belfast Co-op and other downtown locations.

Beginning Wednesday 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.

Is there food? You bet!

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 purple flags.

The aforementioned New Year’s Eve Breakfast serves up eggs, bacon, sausage, bread and hot and cold drinks from 9 p.m. to midnight in the First Church UCC Hall.

Other churches dishing up are the Unitarian Universalist Church, whose 5 to 8 p.m. bistro offers soups, stews and chili, plus desserts for all, vegetarian to carnivore to gluten-free; and First Baptist Church, going the comfort food route with beef stew, chili, barbecued beans, corn chowder and American chop suey, plus hot drinks, doughnuts, cookies and bars from 5 to 11 p.m. in the vestry — where PJ Carter will be doing caricature drawings from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Commercial eateries signed up to be chem-free New Year's By The Bay food venues include Belfast Co-op Café and Alexia's Pizza, both open to 9 p.m.; Bay Wrap, open 4 p.m. to late into the evening; and the Colonial Theatre, serving hot dogs, corn dogs and movie treats from 5 to 10:45 p.m.

Poetry matters

Departing Belfast Poet Laureate Ellen Sander will pass the embroidered cape to Toussaint St. Negritude in a festive ceremony that begins 6 p.m. at Belfast Free Library and includes readings by many of the city’s literary luminaries. At 7 p.m., poet, jazz clarinetist and amazing milliner St. Negritude will give his first official reading.

The art of movement, magic and more

Family favorite Conjuring Carroll will perform his interactive act at 5 and 7 p.m. in the sanctuary of the UU Church. Bob Lloyd brings his energetic mix of magic, juggling and illusion to the Colonial at 7 and 9 p.m. At 6 p.m., Molly Gawler and Lao Gillam offer an original circus/acrobatic dance piece they have created for the First Church Hall. And local dancer Helena Melone will perform belly dance and fusion at 10 p.m. at the Colonial.

What’s moving on the dance floors

While it is not unusual to see toes at least tapping at the NYBB concerts, dancing is given full flight at two venues. At The Boathouse, Willy Kelly Band plays blues, swing and R&B 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., followed from 9 to 11 p.m. by classic rockers Captain Obvious. In the second-floor First Church Hall, Leaky Boot Jug Band will play acoustic blues at 8 and 10 p.m., alternating with People of Earth at 9 and 11 p.m.

So much music, so many genres

Live music is the backbone of New Year’s By The Bay, and it comes in all flavors, from straight-ahead jazz, swing, rock, folk, world beat and ambient to fusions of story, song, poetry and jazz … and ranges from solo singer/songwriters to multi-piece bands, all-instrumentals to a cappella. The badge-admission sets begin at 4 p.m. and run to shortly before midnight. Many artists perform twice, so if you keep moving, you can experience a year’s worth of concerts in one night. Following is the lineup at each concert venue.

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 folk songs and chanteys at 5 and again at 6 p.m. Local country blues and bluegrass duo David Johnson and Rossi Meacham fill out the Café card with consecutive sets at 7 and 8 p.m.

The sanctuary of the First Baptist Church, 95 High St., will open its evening at 5 p.m. with the Belfast Bay Fiddlers, tackling contra tunes with fiddles plus mandolins, guitars, banjos, recorders and whistles. NYBB welcomes the award-winning Ameranouche back for sets at 6, 8 and 10 p.m. Blue Hill peninsula-based Ellacapella fills out the schedule at 7 and 9 p.m.

The debut of the Police Station Garage on Church Street will feature three sets by Random Ideas, at 6, 7 and 8 p.m., with Michael Connors’ recovery raps at 6:45, 7:45 and 8:45 p.m.

Around the corner on Spring Street, the sanctuary of First Church UCC will host Maine Academy of Country Music bluegrass award winners The Katahdin Valley Boys at 6, 8 and 10 p.m. Filling in the schedule with lively folk music at 7 and 9 p.m. is The Gawler Family, which now includes John and Ellen Gawler; daughters Molly, Edith and Elsie; plus Bennett Konesi and Tyler Yentes.

In addition to hosting dance and magic, the Dreamland Stage of the Colonial Theatre, 163 High St., will present local singer and storyteller Jennifer Armstrong at 6 and 8 p.m.

The city held its inaugural Ukulele Picnic this summer and the Midcoast Ukuleles have been strumming up a storm ever since. They’ll play song-along favorites in the sanctuary of the Unitarian Universalist Church, 37 Miller St., at 6 p.m. Mes Amis plays Gypsy jazz at 8 and 10 p.m., alternating with the Great American Songbook-purveying John Nowak Trio at 9 and 11 p.m.

Before the up-tempo dancing begins in the First Church UCC Hall, electronic ambient project Quantum, featuring Jason Dean and Mike Whitehead, will play a set of all-original mood music at 7 p.m.

After opening the evening with the poetry gala and Poet Laureate set, the Abbott Room of Belfast Free Library, 106 High St., will switch gears to music with jazz/blues duo New Shades of Blue playing at 8 and 10 p.m.; and perennial favorite David Dodson performing his original songs at 9 and 11 p.m.

For photos of previous years and more info, visit the NYBB Facebook page.