First Night Celebrations are planned across New York’s North Country and Vermont today.
First Night began in Boston 38 years ago as a family alternative to alcohol drenched New Year’s Eve festivities. Most feature music and cultural offerings and end with a fireworks display.
Burlington Vermont is ringing in its 31st First Night, and board chair Becky Cassidy claims the celebration is now the oldest surviving First Night in the world. “I think it’s a combination of the tried-and-true. And it’s also a combination of the new and different things that we have added this year.”
Burlington organizers expect between 10,000 and 20,000 people to revel at entertainment venues today beginning at 1 o’clock. Performers include A2VT - an African hip-hop trio, the Bluegrass Gospel Project, the Burundian Women’s Dance Company, the Inseldudler German Band, Circus Smirkus, and the Burlington Taiko Drummers. Cassidy says they are lucky that the hundreds of events are so culturally diverse. “We’ve always had a commitment to being cross cultural. So as time has gone by, new opportunities that celebrate different cultures have become available to us.”
Across the state, on the eastern border, St. Johnsbury plans to ring in the new year with its 21st First Night program beginning at 4 o’clock. Catamount Arts Artistic Director Jerry Aldredge explains that they worked with First Night organizers to celebrate the region’s cultural heritage. “We’re a Scottish based community and we’re very happy to have the Catamount Pipe Band. We have Bob Amos and Catamount Crossing, representing bluegrass, which is also very big in our cultural heritage. We try to represent music that stands for not only all the age groups, but also all of the cultural groups in the Northeast Kingdom.”
Aldredge notes that St. Johnsbury is able to offer some unique First Night opportunities. “The Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium is the only planetarium in Vermont. So of course we wanted to make it a part of the community event for First Night. And also the same goes for Catamount Arts, our local arts organization, which is a full-time movie theater as well. And so, it becomes a community movie theater on First Night presenting films.”
After making the trek to Burlington for several years, Sue Patterson helped organize Saranac Lake, NY’s First Night festivities, now in its eighth year. She expects between 1,200 and 1,500 people to enjoy a mix of old and new performers beginning at 6 p.m. “We try and mix it up every year. We have some performers that have performed at forat night other years. And then we have some new people. We’ve got Woody Pines coming from North Carolina. The River Rats is a steel drum band from Carthage. And they are predominantely high school kids. And we have folk singers, country singers, and we have clowns. You know, we try and have a lot of different things.”
More than 10,000 are expected to attend Saratoga Springs’ 18th First Night celebrations, the largest in the state outside of New York City. More than 70 performers will be at more than 20 venues in Saratoga Springs. Saratoga Arts Executive Director Joel Reid told WAMC earlier this month that First Night is a community investment in the arts. “For us this is part of our mission is to support artists. So when we’re able to put on this event and then one night pay $50,000 to performers from the region, that’s really important to us, and really valuable.”
Admission to most First Night celebrations requires the purchase of a button or a wristband. Each community will end the evening with fireworks. Saranac Lake will drop a large snowflake at midnight instead of a ball. In St. Johnsbury, sky lanterns are released in the early evening, and at midnight, a lit ball is raised in advance of fireworks.