– By ELIZABETH MARGOLIS PINEO

Special to the Maine Sunday Telegram

Our friend Bill Thomas has a keen sense of wonderment and is a gas to travel with.

While the Damariscotta oyster is as tasty a reason as any to wander up the coast, when Bill told us about the Damariscotta Blues festival and offered a stay at his lakeside cottage, we were packed and ready in two shakes of an alewife’s silver tail.

Where Damariscotta and Newcastle meet on shore of the Damariscotta River is a magical spot known for aquaculture, boating and the blues. Not to mention galleries, shops and a thriving restaurant scene.

Damariscotta is gateway to Pemaquid Point, Fort William Henry, plus pristine lakes and rivers.

A sunset cruise on Damariscotta Lake is a must. Bill’s tour is a feast of loon sightings, eagle nests, and alewives, the quick silvery fish that populate local waters. If “Damariscotta” means plenty of small shiny fish, it’s a perfect name.

If you don’t have a knowledgeable friend like Bill with a cute lakeside cottage, there are plenty of terrific B&Bs in the area. Our stay at the Alewives and Ales B&B was tranquil and restorative — don’t miss innkeeper Mimi McConnell’s blueberry pancakes and cranberry scones.

Damariscotta is famous for its oysters and the enormous shell heaps, or middens, along the riverbanks. The middens are solid proof that Native Americans enjoyed oysters as much as I do. King Eider’s Pub is great place to enjoy your first plate of oysters and a Maine microbrew. We devoured our first dozen briny and delicious Glidden Point oysters in six minutes.

Fortified, we arrived at the Blues Festival, affectionately known as “Dam Blues.” Racky Thomas, perhaps a distant relative of our host, had the audience up and dancing. Temps topped out in the 90s but the music was even hotter. It was definitely more comfortable outside, but no one wanted to miss the action inside Darrow’s Barn.

The audience enthused by dancing, clapping, or just slowly sipping beer. Dan Stevens wailed, “How long do I have to wait?” and the crowd roared back. Fiery guitarist J.P. Soars and his swinging band the Red Hots were followed by the Delta Generators’ nifty mash-up of delta blues and early rock ‘n’ roll. The Blues Fest continued into the evening with a pub crawl through local restaurants and clubs. Blues revelers are admitted gratis to places that normally charge a cover, so don’t lose your DamBlues bracelet!

Damariscotta River Grill on Main Street offers Pemaquid oysters with a “three-ring circus” of sauces. A circus is always fun, but I prefer the little jewels naked with maybe a squeeze of lemon. Delicious seafood dishes, Thai curry-coconut fish stew, lobster cakes, and steaks flew out of the kitchen all evening as Pat Pepin’s band played to a packed River Grill crowd. The blues scene can make dining chaotic — we recommend the prix fix option during the festival, three simple courses and no surprises.

Chives Bistro, in a handsomely restored 1860s home on Main Street, offered some memorable Maine flavors on our blues weekend. First of all, they mix an outstanding dry martini. Second, their crispy-skin seared duck and Maine greens salad with blueberries and goat cheese were outstanding.

Breakfast at the Contented Sole at Pemaquid Point was more about the view than the food. (OK, maybe it’s more about the gift shop.) But the view is exquisite and this crowded Sunday breakfast spot is as good a ringside seat as any. Skip the fancy stuff and go for the classics, pancakes or eggs over easy, and enjoy the endless blue sky.

Damariscotta’s lively downtown scene includes The Stable Gallery, a big barn full of paintings, prints, jewelry, metalwork and furniture by over 40 local artists. Intarawut is a gallery-shop of textiles, antiques, and jewelry from Southeast Asia that provides a nice sensory break from traditional gift shops.

Weatherbird’s artisan cheeses, decadent desserts and wines beckon the road-weary traveler. Next door you’ll find Tin Fish, corrugated roofing tin recycled into whimsical pieces of art, and upstairs, the glorious color and patterns of Damariscotta Pottery.

Best of all was a trip to the Alewives Fish Ladder. Bill said when the lilacs are blooming the alewives “run” up the Damariscotta River and into the Great Salt Bay before swimming up the fish ladder into Damariscotta Lake to spawn. Many die, though some survive to do it all over again. Each fall you can see schools of young making their way out to sea. Amazing!

Hey, Bill — you were right. Damariscotta is one of the loveliest villages in midcoast.

Elizabeth Margolis-Pineo is a freelance writer and creator of EpicuriousTravelers.com