Twenty years ago, local mom Jennifer Hill, her then 9-year-old daughter and a friend attended Portland’s First Night celebration on New Year’s Eve. She came home to Belfast with the idea of hosting such an event in the Waldo County city, and the grassroots effort that followed led to the first New Year’s by the Bay. The citywide chem-free, family-friendly, multi-venue celebration marks two decades Saturday, Dec. 31.

Hill served as the NYBB executive director for five years, followed by Mary Mortier, who is still at the helm. Over the past 20 years, more than 40,000 people have participated in NYBB. The volunteer-run event is working this year with Our Town Belfast, a nonprofit whose mission is to grow and sustain a historic downtown.

Free fun in the afternoon

Bringing people to downtown Belfast certainly describes the effect of New Year’s by the Bay, as most of the offerings take place within walking distance of the harbor. But one of the first offerings of the day requires a short drive on Route 3. The Belfast Curling Club at 21 Belmont Ave../Route 3 is the state’s oldest and every New Year’s Eve afternoon, it opens its doors to the public. The annual open house offers an opportunity to learn about and watch some curling, an international team sport played by men and women of all ages using granite stones on carefully groomed ice.

Admission to the curling club open house, which runs from 3 to 5 p.m., is free, as are a couple of other daylight options. Another tradition that is quite popular is the special senior citizen concert/dance at the Belfast Boathouse, 34 Commercial St., at the waterfront. In partnership with Belfast Parks and Recreation Department, New Year’s by the Bay hosts the Mondaynite Jazz Orchestra, the Midcoast’s own little big band, from 2 to 4 p.m. Refreshments will be served during the free event, which returned to NYBB in 2014, after a hiatus.

Younger citizens have their own special free afternoon event in the Abbott Room of Belfast Free Library, 106 High St. Local folk musician and storyteller Jennifer Armstrong will present Traditional Stories & Songs For Families & Youngsters from 2 to 2:45 p.m. and 3 to 3:45 p.m.

Buttoning up the year

From 5:30 on, New Year’s by the Bay goes full steam ahead, and all it takes to attend is a $20 admission button, $5 for youth in grades K-12 and free for younger children. Buttons are available for online purchase until noon Dec. 31, via PayPal, at The reserved and guaranteed button orders will be available for pickup at the NYBB HQ —  Parent Gallery, 92 Main St., at the downtown traffic light — noon to 8 p.m. Saturday (bring receipt or ID).

Buttons also may be purchased in advance at the downtown Parent Gallery and Belfast Co-op; and Fireside Inn & Suites' Ocean’s Edge on Route 1. They will be available during the event at the HQ (until 8 p.m.) and most NYBB venues (until sold out).

Fueling the fun

There are both NYBB and commercial venue options for food and non-alcoholic drinks. The vestry/lower level of First Baptist Church offers hot comfort foods from 5 to 9 p.m.; and the second floor of First Church’s Parish Hall serves up full dinners from 5 to 9 p.m. Other NYBB food vendors include the Belfast Co-op (to 8 p.m.); the Colonial (hot dogs, corn dogs and more to 10:45 p.m.); plus Bay Wrap and Alexia’s Pizza.

What’s new?

New Year’s by the Bay 2017 will mark the inauguration of the next Poet Laureate of Belfast, named the week before by the City Council and chosen by the poetry-centric city’s Poet Laureate Committee. Thomas Moore will be inaugurated and draped with the position’s golden cape at 6 p.m. in the Colonial Theatre’s Dreamland screening room; see the story/linked below.

Samantha Lynn & the Little Rodeo Band will make an NYBB debut, playing two Boathouse dance sets. Lynn grew up in Waldo County; she and her band are based in Bangor.

Speaking of dancing, the venerable American Legion Hall is coming aboard as a NYBB dance venue. Its wooden floor has hosted the monthly Belfast Flying Shoes contra dances for years.

Everett Dumas is another NYBB newcomer. Using percussion and looping, Dumas is a one-man band performing classic rock, country, blues and originals.

Also new to the event are some very familiar faces. Kate Hall & Lincoln Blake are busy local performers, and Blake often performs multiple gigs during NYBB; their duo gives Broadway show tunes and more a seat at the table. John & Sandy Cameron also will perform as a duo; John is a longtime music teacher and accompanist and both he and Sandy have been fixtures in the local school system. And the Pinwheel Brothers, while new to NYBB, are familiar to local music lovers.

Returning favorites, after a year or two or few away, include Droplet Dance featuring Molly Gawler and Lao Gillam; the whole Gawler Family Band; and Bad Daddy & the Brotherhood, a new configuration of an NYBB dance favorite. Note that all venues have differing space limitations, so arriving early is best when possible. As for the end of the night, celebrants — buttoned or not — are invited to bring acoustic noisemakers to the traffic light intersection of Main and High streets and join the Drum & Rabble Corps beginning at 11:30 p.m. The procession down to the harbor begins at 11:50 p.m. sharp, so as to be in place for the countdown to 2017 and lighting of the annual Bonfire by the Bay.

Following is a by the Bay/by the venue breakdown of this year’s lineup; sets run 45 minutes, unless otherwise noted. The complete schedule and more details are on the event’s website.

New Year’s by the Bay 2017

• Belfast Co-op Café, 123 High St.

4 and 5 p.m.: Everett Dumas plays classic rock, country, blues and original music.

6 and 7 p.m.: Ann Delaney Jazz Duo (Delaney on vocals and Lincoln Blake on keyboard) offers out-of-the-ordinary standards.

• First Baptist Church, 95 High St.

5 and 6 p.m.: Belfast Bay Fiddlers offers a local take on the regional contra dance traditions.

7, 9 and 11 p.m.: Maine’s own traditional bluegrass band Katahdin Valley Boys takes the sanctuary stage.

8 and 10 p.m.: Mes Amis plays an infectious mix of traditional Gypsy, Latin and American jazz standards, as well as originals.

First Church UCC sanctuary, Church and Spring streets

5 p.m.: The Mid-Coast Ukuleles, led by Jeff Weinberger, kick things off in the church proper with fun instrumentals and sing-alongs.

6 and 10 p.m.: Positive People inspire with a reggae, jazz, funk and blues fusion.

7 and 9 p.m.: Longtime NYBB fave Hawk Henries offers Native American stories and flute music.

8 and 11 p.m.: The Sauternes revive tunes of the 1920s-‘40s with jazz overtones.

First Church UCC Parish Hall, Spring Street entrance

5 and 6 p.m.: John & Sandy Cameron sing and play favorites while diners fill the kitchen end of the second-floor hall.

7:15 and 8:15 p.m.: The Pinwheel Brothers blend vocals and instrumentals, both originals and plus folk, acoustic rock and bluegrass favorites.

• The Boathouse, 34 Commercial St.

5:30 to 7:15 p.m.: Steelin' Thunder, the Midcoast’s own community steel drum dance, brings an island vibe to New Year’s Eve.

8 and 9 p.m.: Samantha Lynn & Little Rodeo Band offer a variety of country, pop and rock dance tunes.

10:15 p.m. to midnight: Bad Daddy & the Brotherhood lay down a soul-filled original blues-rock groove.

Belfast Free Library (Abbott Room), 106 High St.

6 and 7 p.m.: Longtime city fave Willy Kelly brings a guitar-driven acoustic trio to NYBB.

8 and 10 p.m.: The John Nowak Quartet presents gems from the Great American Songbook.

9 and 11 p.m.: Singer/actor pairs with local piano star as Kate Hall & Lincoln Blake, performing Broadway show tunes and pop songs.

• Colonial Theatre  (Dreamland), 163 High St.

6 p.m.: Poet Laureate of Belfast inauguration and poetry readings begin a new era.

7 and 9 p.m.: Sugarbush brings its distinctively Maine mix of Americana back to Dreamland.

8 and 10 p.m.: Bob Lloyd returns as well, offering magic, juggling and illusions.

American Legion Post 43, 143 Church St.

7 and 8 p.m.: The Gawler Family Band plays lively acoustic music from folk traditions.

7:50 p.m.: Molly Gawler and her husband break out of the band for a Droplet Dance performance of acrobatic dance.

10:15 p.m. to midnight: The Midcoast’s own People of Earth dance band will have dancers grooving into 2017 with R&B, Latin, funk, reggae and New Wave tunes.