WATERVILLE — Singer Eddie Money rocked the city’s center Wednesday night, belting out tunes to thousands of revelers who converged on the downtown for the 20th annual Taste of Greater Waterville.
The crowd whooped and hollered as Money ran out onto the stage at 9:15 and started singing his hit “Baby Hold On.”
“How ya feeling?” Money yelled to the crowd, which roared in response. Then he urged the crowd to sing along and they did, “Baby hold on to me, whatever will be will be…”
The Concourse parking lot in the city’s center was closed off to traffic for the concert and a giant beer garden was a popular gathering sport for partiers.
A special police command dispatch center had been set up behind The Concourse to deal with trouble. As of 9 p.m., there hadn’t been any arrests according to police Chief Joseph Massey. “But the night is young,” he added.
The bands Borderline Express and Fallen Angel opened for Money, 63, whose musical career blossomed in the 1970s and 80s with “Baby Hold On,” as well as hits “Two Tickets to Paradise” and “Take Me Home Tonight.”
Main Street downtown was also cordoned off as area restaurants served up everything from lobster rolls to baked lasagna and patrons dined at tables along the sidewalks.
Longtime resident Peter Joseph, 88, and his daughter Mary headed to the Inland Hospital booth for some Lebanese cuisine.
“I’m going to get a little bit of everything,” Joseph, a hospital chaplain and deacon at St. Joseph Maronite Catholic Church, said.
John Dalton, Inland president Inland president and chief executive officer was serving up food and drawing patrons in with his light-hearted banter.
“Hi Rev. Joseph — we’re waiting for you to try this out,” Dalton said. “You’re the only food judge that counts for us.”
The Josephs chose the kibbee, stuffed grape leaves and loubia for dinner.
“It’s good — excellent,” Peter Joseph declared as he savored every morsel. “They did a good job.”
The downtown was a sea of color as people of all ages strolled about, listening to guitarists and singers perform from about every corner. Some people got up and danced in the street.
Gymnasts and dancers performed in colorful costumes on Common Street. Shopkeepers stayed open late and some had sidewalk sales.
On Appleton Street and part of The Concourse, visitors to the Taste munched on french fries, fried dough, pizza and gourmet fudge.
Children took advantage of the pony rides and gawked at sheep, a llama and tiny goats in little pens.
“I felt his horns!” exclaimed Sophia Hayes, 6, of Benton, as she stroked a white goat.
Hayes and her parents, Laurie Blake and Tom Hayes, were attending the Taste for the third year in a row.
“That’s her favorite thing to do besides the pony rides — feed the goats,” Blake said of her daughter. “We’ll eventually get one. Any time we go to a fair, she’s always wanting to do the agricultural stuff.”
A highlight of the Taste was a parade up Front Street by the Budweiser Clydesdale horses, driven by two men with green hats sitting next to a Dalmatian dog. As the procession passed the police department, officers came outside to watch.
The day was sunny and hot but Taste-goers got an occasional reprieve as a light wind blew through downtown and across the Concourse.
Dozens of police and fire officials, ambulance and rescue workers were on hand all over downtown.
Kimberly Lindlof, president and chief executive officer of the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce, which hosts the Taste, was thrilled with the turnout.
“It’s wonderful,” she said. “We’ve just had so many new faces in downtown Waterville so we can show them what we have here. It’s fantastic.”
The chamber is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.
MaineGeneral Medical Center served food, but also took the opportunity to show off its da Vinci robotic surgery system, used by only two other hospitals in the state, according to hospital spokeswoman Diane Peterson.
Karen Bossie, D.O., said she has been using the robot for three years as a tool in performing gynecological surgeries such as hysterectomies and it allows her to do much more complicated surgeries “minimally invasively.”
“It has really improved recovery,” Bossie said. “Most people are back to work in a week.”
Not everyone was happy with the new arrangement this year — closing most of The Concourse to traffic.
The Villager restaurant owner Joe Marcoux said the concert should have been held at a venue such as the newly-renovated Waterville Opera House, and the city should have kept The Concourse open.
“It’s a parking lot — we should utiliize it as a parking lot, not block it off,” Marcoux said.
Yardgoods Center co-owners Ken Vlodek and his sister, Joyce Vlodek Atkins, agreed.
Atkins said she had to cancel three knitting classes and a stamping class Wednesday because many people could not find places to park.
“I’d like to know why they didn’t have it at Head of Falls,” she said.
Ken Vlodek said many elderly people get their social security checks on the first day of the month and were unable to get to the banks to cash their checks. He said the Taste is a lot of fun, but closing off The Concourse posed an unsafe situation with too many people in such a confined space.
Vlodek said he is going to suggest that the Taste next year be held at the city-owned airport, as the event has outgrown the downtown.
He also noted that a Housing and Urban Development agreement with the city in the 1960s guaranteed 800 parking spots in The Concourse on any given day. Vlodek, who was one of the original founders of the Taste, said that agreement was violated Wednesday.
Amy Calder — 861-9247