SKOWHEGAN — River Fest has been a lot of different things since it started 40 years ago.

It’s been Harvest Days, Summer Fest and, more recently, River Fest. It began in 1977 as Skowhegan Log Days to commemorate the last of the log drives down the Kennebec three years earlier, but it evolved over the years to showcase the potential of the Kennebec River Gorge as the future home of the Run of River Whitewater Recreation Area.

River Fest 2017 gets under way Wednesday and runs through Sunday with chicken barbecues, band concerts, live music, river demonstrations, rafting and the popular bed races Thursday night as part of Moonlight Madness.

Log Days was discontinued in 2002 after 25 years, taking the popular Moonlight Madness with it. It was resurrected briefly in 2007 as Harvest Days by the Downtown Business Association, which later folded into Main Street Skowhegan. Then there was Summer Fest.

Now the five-day festival is a showcase for the Run of River project — the proposed $4.3 million downtown whitewater park through the Kennebec River Gorge that town officials hope carries with it an economic boon that will draw visitors and jobs to Skowhegan.

“We really want people to interact with the river by taking a raft ride on Saturday, participating in the support paddle for Run of River, or watching the people in the river from the walking bridge or the deck of the pub,” said Kristina Cannon, executive director of Main Street Skowhegan. “The Kennebec River is a huge asset for our town, and we need to better utilize it as both a local recreation feature and a draw for tourists. River Fest is just the beginning of future events focusing on the downtown river gorge.”

Action gets going Wednesday with tours of the Sappi Somerset Mill at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3 p.m. Visitors will learn about the paper-making process, forest sustainability and company innovation. For safety reasons, all visitors must be at least 16 year old. Pants, a shirt with sleeves, and closed-toe shoes are required. Tours last about an hour and a half, so visitors are asked to be prepared to walk at least a mile. To reserve a spot, call or email Charlie Savoy at 238-3098 or [email protected]

Fun continues Wednesday in the Big Top with a Lions Club chicken barbecue in the municipal parking lot at 11:30 a.m. and again at 5 p.m. The meal includes half a barbecued chicken, coleslaw, chips, a roll, butter, bottled water and a whoopie pie. The ticket price is $10.

There will be a Classic Car Cruise-In at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday under the Big Top with classic, restored and modified cars from the area on display.

Also, from 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, “Museum after Hours: Remembering Locke’s Tavern” is scheduled at the Skowhegan History House. Museum Director Melvin Burnham will lead a discussion about the historic tavern, a local landmark destroyed by fire in February. The discussion will center on the role Locke’s Tavern played in the community’s history and the stories and legends surrounding the 1811 tavern.

The Skowhegan Community Band will perform at 5:30 p.m. in the Big Top, followed by karaoke from 7 to 10 p.m. at Bloomfield’s Tavern.

Thursday will feature Moonlight Madness from 5:30 to 10 p.m. on Water and Commercial streets. Hosted by the Skowhegan Area Chamber of Commerce, the madness includes children’s activities provided by Skowhegan Parks and Recreation, live music under the Big Top, numerous vendors and the famous bed races, in which teams of five people compete head-to-head by pushing beds on casters down Water Street.

Live music is expected to include local indie-punk band Uncle Spudd from Skowhegan from 6 to 7 p.m. and again from 8 to 9:30 p.m. The Dave Mello Blues Band also will perform live from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Old Mill Pub. DJ Ralph will be on the mic from 6 p.m. until closing at Bloomfield’s Tavern.

At 8 p.m., “The Savannah Sipping Society” will be performed on stage at Lakewood Theater on U.S. Route 201 in Madison.

According to advance billing for the play, Randa, a perfectionist and workaholic, has lost her job. Dot, on the brink of an idyllic retirement, has lost her husband. Marlafaye, a good ol’ Texas gal, has lost her lifestyle. And spunky Jinx, who offers her services as a life coach for the women, has lost herself. Through misadventures, laughter and libations, they discover a renewed determination to live in the moment.

On Friday, the Skowhegan Rotary Club will host its annual lobster bake from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. under the Big Top. The Drivers and Duffers Golf Classic is scheduled for noon at Lakewood Golf Course. Registration includes one round of 18 holes, one ticket for a lobster dinner and one player’s portion of a cart.

Live music Friday will include the band The Shack at 5 p.m. at Bigelow Brewing Co. and The Misty River Band from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Big Top downtown.

The annual Glow Stick River Run is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. Friday at the U.S. Route 2 rest area east of downtown.

Paddlers are equipped with glow sticks for a visually compelling experience. The registration fee is $5 and includes glow sticks.

There will be a pancake breakfast from 7 to 9 a.m. Saturday at Tewksbury Hall, next to the Federated Church; the Skowhegan Farmers Market will be open next to the grist mill from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m.; and musician Hope Savage will perform at the market from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., with the Main Street Craft Fair from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Big Top. Main Street Skowhegan presents the fair featuring vendors with a variety of hand-crafted wares.

Saturday at River Fest is Family Fun Day from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the municipal parking lot, offering rock-wall climbing, river-rock painting, a watermelon-eating contest and more.

Moxie Outdoor Adventures will offer free raft rides at 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m., and 2:30 p.m. down the Kennebec River Gorge. There also will be river paddling demonstrations from 1 to 3 p.m.

Kendall Jackson will perform at the Old Mill pub from 6 to 9 p.m., with The Song Pirates performing live at Bloomfield’s from 7 p.m. until closing.

Fireworks close out the day on Saturday at 9 p.m. at the Great Eddy of the Kennebec River, east of downtown.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow