A band plays as people sample beverages during the Kennebec River Brewfest in June 2019 at Mill Park in Augusta. This year’s version of the event begins Saturday at noon. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

AUGUSTA — With hundreds of people expected to converge in Mill Park on Saturday, organizations supporting downtown Augusta and area businesses are seeing their long-term strategy play out.

Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Katie Doherty holds a Kennebec River Brewfest sampler glass and T-shirt Thursday at the chamber of commerce in Augusta. Doherty said the annual festival, which is in its fifth year, is one of several events that has helped draw more visitors to Maine’s capital recently. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

By drawing attention to the Kennebec River and the capital city’s historic downtown to boost the local economy, they are racking up a record of success.

The Kennebec River Brewfest, now in its fifth year, is expected to draw between 500 and and 800 people for the event that begins at noon.

The brew fest will showcase the offerings from about 20 breweries, both local and statewide, with options from regional wineries and distilleries as well as food trucks and games.

Katie Doherty, president and chief executive officer of the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce, said the brew fest was launched five years ago because the market for that type of event was hot, and it would be a way to draw people to downtown Augusta who either had not been there before or had not been there lately to see what it has to offer.

“That’s been our mindset for events going forward. And it’s worked, because people are coming back,” Doherty said.


She’s received feedback from local business owners and visitors alike about interest in the capital region and their subsequent visits to the area.

In 2018, Augusta helped host an overnight stop for the Great Race, an annual rally-style race for vintage and antique cars, when the route brought the drivers and their support teams from Buffalo, New York, through central Maine to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

“There’s a family that has come back every single year since then because they fell in love with the city,” Doherty said. “They’re from Oklahoma.”

While that family has regularly visited relatives on the Maine coast, she said, they had never ventured inland to central Maine before that.

A Kennebec River Brewfest sampling glass and souvenir hat seen Thursday at the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce in Augusta. The beer festival, now in its fifth year, will take place at Mill Park on Saturday. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

For the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce, the brew fest will be its third large event in less that a month. On July 15, the organization hosted more than 700 people in Mill Park for the Kenney Awards, the chamber’s annual banquet. Last weekend, hundreds of athletes and their families and friends converged in Capitol Park for the Ironman 70.3, which the chamber helped recruit to central Maine for a three-year run.

It’s not always clear that special events result in additional sales for local businesses, but Ryan Hill, owner and operator of Wrapped Up Coffee House, said he noticed that business, specifically from tourists, picked up in late May and June this year, and he confirmed that from looking at receipts from last year.


That’s also true for his other business, Wrapped Up, near the Maine State House, which has seen tourist traffic mixed in with regulars.

“Being the only coffee shop (downtown), I might be biased, but I am pretty much a go-to spot, and I can 100% confirm the tourist season started earlier and has been stronger than in past years,” Hill said.

Tents are set up Thursday for Saturday’s Kennebec River Brewfest at Mill Park in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Beyond the special events, he said, Augusta has been featured in several widely circulated magazines including Down East, as a destination spot to visit.

The biggest thing that sticks out in his mind is a catered lunch he did for a bus tour that included a visit to Old Fort Western, a wooden fort that dates back to 1754, during the French and Indian War.

“I remember leading up to that being so stressed out because we had been so busy already,” he said.

The Augusta Downtown Alliance organized its own slate of events, including a performance of “I Hate Shakespeare” in Waterfront Park in mid July and the unveiling of its Sturgeon Stroll at the end of the July. The brew fest will not be the last event to come to downtown this summer.


Next weekend, the Alliance’s Franco American Heritage Days, planned and organized with the Calumet Club, kicks off in Mill Park.

A Flight Deck brewery sales representative pours a sample during the Kennebec River Brewfest in June 2019 at Mill Park in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

Michael Hall, executive director of the Augusta Downtown Alliance, said the event is the result of about seven months of planning to bring in bands both from Québec and Nashville to perform Aug. 12 and Aug. 13.

“This is a first-year event, and we’re doing it at Mill Park because the mill was integral in drawing a lot of Franco-Americans down from Québec,” Hall said.

For this weekend’s beer festival, about 400 tickets have been sold and tickets are still available. Those purchased in advance are $40, tickets at the gate are $50 and designated driver tickets are $5.

“The river and the downtown are assets for the events we do,” Doherty said. “I think Ironman showed that we can host bigger events, too, so hopefully people will look to us for bigger stuff.”

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