WATERVILLE — More restaurants than ever before will offer culinary delights Wednesday at the 24th annual Taste of Waterville, which also will feature a new art exhibit, food, live music, vendors and children’s activities.

Presented by the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce, The Taste draws thousands of people downtown, with many planning their vacations around it so they can socialize and reunite with old friends from near and far.

“We have a record number of restaurants participating this year, so we’re excited about that,” said Christian Savage, the chamber’s program director. “We have 28 — 13 on Appleton Street at The Bite, and we have 15 restaurants on Main Street. It’s a food festival at its core, and a lot of restaurants sell out.”

The chamber expects 5,000 to 10,000 people will attend The Taste this year, according to Savage.

“Last year we had the biggest crowd to date. From 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., it’s packed,” Savage said. “It’s great to see that many people downtown and eating, enjoying what downtown has to offer.”

This year, Common Street Arts, which moved this summer to The Center at 93 Main St., will hold its first exhibit in the new space — “A Place to Grow: From Agriculture to Visual Culture, a history of the Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture,” Savage said.

Presented by Waterville Creates!, a nonprofit organization that supports the arts in greater Waterville, the exhibit is curated by Daphne Cummings, Elizabeth Mooney and Sarah Workneh and tells the history of the world-renowned art school and its effect on the visual arts, particularly postwar American art, according to Nate Towne, marketing manager of Waterville Creates!

A reception for the exhibit will be held 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday and the exhibit will remain open into September and feature many works of art, according to Towne.

The Bite opens The Taste at 11 a.m. and continues until 9 p.m. on Appleton Street, where food vendors will feature pizza, hamburgers, hot dogs, french fries, Chinese food, coffee, fudge and more.

Appleton Street and part of The Concourse will be closed to traffic at 5 a.m. and Main Street will be closed at 2 p.m. from Spring Street to Post Office Square. Common, Temple and Silver streets also will close at 2 p.m.

From 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., restaurants will sell food on Main Street and patrons may dine at tables set up along the street. Eateries include The Last Unicorn, Holy Cannoli/Napoli Italian Market, Inland and MaineGeneral hospitals, Parsonage House, Amici’s Cucina, Selah Tea, Mainely Brews, Jewel of India, Mei Dream, Oak Grove Center, Mainely BBQ, Pete’s Pig and The End Zone. Participating for the first time is Pizza Degree, which opened in Waterville, at Waterville Commons, in June after opening its first restaurant in Augusta in December.

Jazz musician Jake Hickey will perform at The Bite starting at noon, followed by Riff Johnson at 2 p.m. At 4:30 p.m., the Snow Pond Pantasticks Steel Drum Band will perform at Castonguay Square, where local artists also will exhibit their works.

Children’s activities on The Concourse will include a petting zoo, pony rides, face painting, inflatables, a giant tiger slide, a bounce house, music and activities hosted by the Alfond Youth Center.

Business vendors and nonprofit groups will be at the northeast corner of The Concourse, where the farmers market is held on Thursdays, with some selling items and some giving away informational fliers and small prizes, according to Savage. A beer garden will open at 5 p.m. on The Concourse and live entertainment will include The Downeast Brass Band at 4 p.m. on Main Street, Mike Rodrigue at 5 p.m. in the beer garden, Leaps N Bounds in front of Selah Tea, 5:30 p.m.; Tyler Healy Band, 6 p.m., beer garden; Downeast Brass, 6:30 p.m., Main Street; and Sparks the Rescue, 8:30 p.m., beer garden.

Meanwhile, Savage said restaurants along Silver Street will have outdoor dining during The Taste, as will The Proper Pig, a bar and restaurant that opened on Common Street last month.

“We’ll have performances by dance and gymnastics students in front of Selah Tea starting at 5:30 p.m.,” he said.

Free parking at Head of Falls will be available and volunteers will be on hand to help people park. Savage said there is a concerted effort to make the Taste a smoke-free event.

“We’re also recycling all of our waste again this year and we’re teaming up with the Sustain Mid-Maine Coalition. Ecomaine is sponsoring it and Exeter Agri-Energy is taking the trash. Fifty to 60 volunteers will be at various recycling locations and will sort the trash at Head of Falls, and Agri-Energy will take it to their family farm in Exeter and convert it to energy to power the farm.”

An event returning for the third time is the Amici’s Cucina meatball-eating contest, which will be held at 7:30 p.m. in front of the Main Street restaurant, according to Savage. He said there are about a dozen contestants so far, and all proceeds will be given to the Waterville Area Food Bank.

“It’s definitely a crowd favorite,” he said. “Two years ago when it rained, no one left.”

Savage said it is exciting to see thousands of people coming downtown for The Taste, particularly with so much energy invested in efforts to revitalize the downtown.

“There are tons of different organizations collaborating with us on this,” he said. “The big thing, really, is the city. About every city department has its hands on this, and we’re all working together.”

The weather is expected to be perfect Wednesday, and the weather dictates food sales and attendance, according to Savage.

“It’s supposed to be awesome. It’s looking great,” he said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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