Burlington, Vermont is gearing up for its 34th First Night festival, the largest single-day arts festival in the state.
Burlington First Night is the longest running standalone non-profit celebration of its type in the country. Festivities will begin with arts education sessions at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Flynn Theatre. Performance events start at noon. The family-oriented-non-alcoholic festival includes theatre, music, dance, art and activities at multiple venues in downtown Burlington. Executive Director Tom Ayres notes that they are now seeing the third generation of attendees coming out on New Year’s Eve. “We're expecting close to 90 performances in 18 different venues over the course of 14 hours. And most of those venues are churches in the downtown. And we also make use of the, of course, of the historic Flynn Center for the Performing Arts for some of our headliner performances. Everything is kind of concentrated in the downtown core particularly our kids and family oriented programming, which is all concentrated in the afternoon hours within a about a four block area so that parents don't have to march all over town with the toddlers to get from event to event.”
Each year the organizers try to mix new performers with old favorites. Ayres says one of the new events this First Night is a Celtic celebration at the Flynn Main Stage. “It features the McFadden Academy of Irish Dance a wonderful award winning Irish step dancing troupe. And they'll be performing live to music by a traditional Irish band called Rowan from here in Chittenden County Vermont. And then they'll be followed by a Scottish folk rock band called Prydein that actually has bagpipes in the rock band and they'll be performing with the Catamount Pipe Band which is a full-blown Scottish regimental pipe band from Manchester, Vermont.”
Ayres adds that people expect to see certain performers return each year. “Ray Vega is certainly one of them, one of the world's premier jazz trumpet players. And also Circus Smirkus has been a longstanding First Night favorite, a wonderful internationally renowned youth circus troupe.”
Although First Night Burlington is celebrated in the downtown business center, Burlington Business Association Executive Director Kelly Devine says there has never been an analysis of its economic impact. “The First Night celebration and the business community are pretty tightly connected because so many of our local businesses sponsor the event. They donate space to the event. You know much of the activity occurs you know in the local theaters. Vermont Comedy Club I think is involved this year. Many of the public spaces and churches are involved. So it really is a community celebration that brings folks together.”