WATERVILLE — Dozens of people flocked to the banks of the Kennebec River on Wednesday for food, music and other fare being offered at the 28th Taste of Waterville.

The annual event was relocated this year because of road construction and other revitalization work on Main Street downtown.

Booths featuring pizza, deep-fried chicken and french fries, soft pretzels and other foods lined the perimeter of the parking lot near the railroad bridge. Vendors under tents sold culinary-focused items such as wooden bowls, charcuterie boards, food storage products, olive oil, pot holders and jams, while visitors sat or stood at tables to eat and chat.

The event, starting at noontime, was busy immediately after opening as volunteers drove patrons from downtown to Head of Falls and back in golf carts.

“It’s phenomenal,” said Shawn Michaud, chairman of the Taste and a member of the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce, which organizes the event. “The city has been great working with us and the public works department has been unbelievable. Volunteers are knocking it out of the park. People are showing up. It’s all exciting.”

Emma Van Remortel, left, and brother Elijah of Bakersville, N.C., dig into an order of Guinness poutine Wednesday during the Taste of Waterville at RiverWalk at Head of Falls. The dish features fries with cheese curds and house roasted brown gravy. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Michaud and other volunteers were setting up a stage near the RiverWalk at Head of Falls where live bands began performing in late afternoon, including the Downeast Brass Quintet and Borderline Express. People wanting to enter beer and wine gardens were required to be 21 or older.

Also later in the day, restaurants including The Last Unicorn, Front and Main, Oak Grove Center, Parsonage House and Portland Pie Co. were set to sell food and Oak Grove Center planned to offer its popular strawberry shortcake.

The chamber could not host the Taste last year because of the coronavirus pandemic, though it was being advertised as the 28th annual Taste of Waterville. Michaud tweaked that characterization.

“It’s the 28th annual with a COVID hiccup,” he said.

It was a balmy 75 degrees and sunny Wednesday as people strolled through the parking lots and grassy field by the RiverWalk.

Luanne Webber and Cindi Orlando of China were under a tent, selling hundreds of 8- and 16-ounce jars of raspberry, blueberry, jalapeno pineapple and other flavored jams to benefit the China Food Pantry where they volunteer. They said they noticed how much fruit was being discarded at the end of the day at the pantry and, though it was given to farmers for their animals, they thought it should be used to benefit the pantry itself.

“They provide us with all the fruits and we make all the jams,” Webber said. “The more we can sell, the more we can give to the food pantry.”

The women, wearing T-shirts that said, “Just Our Jams,” also volunteered to make face masks for the town of China and schools when the pandemic started, according to Webber.

“Between the two of us, we made well over 500 masks,” she said.

Luanne Webber, left, and Cindi Orlando of Just Our Jams in China offer a variety of preserves Wednesday during the Taste of Waterville at RiverWalk at Head of Falls. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

At the Twisted Pretzels booth, Erik Stitham and two workers were selling their creations at a brisk pace. Stitham said he loved the Taste’s new location near the river.

“Don’t ever move it,” he said. “This is perfect because you’ve got the river and the grass for the people to sit on, we don’t have traffic coming through. It’s ideal.”

Andrew Zelonis of Waterville was checking out the booths with his friend, Shawn Boyer. Zelonis also approved of the change in location.

“It’s very, very open and it’s still a family atmosphere,” he said.

Boyer, who lives in Florida during the winter and spends summers in Waterville, agreed.

“I like this better,” he said. “It seems like it has more space to get around and it’s not out by the road.”

A new feature this year: people could buy brew sampling punch cards for use. For $20, patrons could try 16 samples from eight area breweries.

Besides the Downeast Brass Quintet and Borderline Express, other music offerings were to be by Mike Reny, Jim Baumer and Dom Colizzi, Colby College’s African Drummers and this year’s headliner band, Stolen Mojo.

Major sponsors for the Taste of Waterville are Central Maine Motors Chevrolet, Colby College, Central Maine Power Co., Skowhegan Savings Bank, Kennebec Valley Tourism Council, News Center Maine, Maine magazine, Maine Office of Tourism, Valley Beverage, MaineGeneral Health, Ware-Butler Inc., Damon’s Beverage and Redemption, and Kennebec Savings Bank.

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