AUGUSTA — Joe Karter was beginning to relax by early evening Saturday.

After weeks of worrying about the new venue, new format and ticket sales that seemed less brisk than previous years, Karter, the self-described co-head honcho of the Third Annual Central Maine Brew Fest, was being reassured by the bustling crowd, thumbs up, and open praise from festival goers and vendors.

“I’ve been nervous as a cat at a dog show,” Karter said. “People are happy.”

The festival, which was held at Point Lookout in Northport and the Augusta Civic Center, moved this year to the Augusta State Armory. The festival drew more than 800 people, which felt like the perfect number to give the Armory energy without feeling overcrowded, said Jon Laitin, the festival’s other co-head honcho.

“This has been the best show we’ve had so far,” Laitin said. “It’s just a great festival.”

The Pat Pepin Blues Band blasted out tunes as small groups formed throughout the auditorium. Some danced in small circles. Others pulled up a chair in front of the stage to soak in the music and the beer.

The festival featured 15 microbrewers, ethnic foods, live bands, souvenirs and raffle prizes. There were so many prizes to give away, in fact, that it became a problem, Karter said.

“It’s kind of hard because you have so many and people want to drink,” he said.

Vendors lined the wall and dotted the floor. Most stayed busy pouring beers into miniature steins given to the festival goers.

“It’s been phenomenal,” said Luke Livingston, owner of Lewiston-based Baxter Brew. “We were the first one to run out a keg.”

The festival was the first big event for Livingston, who debuted Baxter Brew in January. His beer had been well received.

“People are excited to try the newest guys on the block,” Livingston said.

Laitin and Karter decided this year to hold one longer show rather two shorter shows, the second of which typically went later into the evening than Saturday’s 6 p.m., cutoff.

“That works much better,” Laitin said. “The brewers prefer it because they don’t have to hang around until late at night.”

Livingston hopes the empty keg he took home will translate into future sales.

“You can’t ask for better exposure,” Livingston said. “It’s just great built-in, captive marketability.”

The festival, which started at 2 p.m., started filling up early.

“For the first two hours they just kept pouring in,” Laitin said.

Ticket sales were not initially as brisk as in previous years, but picked up at the end. A couple of local vendors called Laitin in recent days reporting the vendors had sold out of festival tickets.

“Which is great,” Laitin said. “People were worried about getting a ticket.”

Laitin said the changes in venue and format provided a model to follow in the future.

“This really has been tremendous,” Laitin said. “I think we finally have the right mix of venue and time. We’ll definitely be at the Armory next year.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]

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