As I look forward to First Night North in St. Johnsbury 2019, I cannot help but look back on last year. In a word, it was COLD. I heard lots of people complain about how cold it was. And many people who were planning to attend decided to stay home.
I'm hoping for the weather we had at our very first First Night in St. Johnsbury. Those who attended 25 years ago can recall that night. The temperature was about 30 degrees ABOVE zero, with the lightest of fluffy snowflakes falling gently all evening. It was like a Hollywood set for a sentimental holiday movie.
We've never seen weather quite like it since.
But we don't call it First Night NORTH for nothing. We who live in northern Vermont and New Hampshire have got to expect some incredibly frigid winter nights. So why would we let a little really cold weather keep us away from the hottest festival of the year? We know the drill: Bundle up. Dress in layers, etc.
Yes, the near-record cold on last New Year's Eve kept many people away. But many who did come out and brave the elements commented that it was "the best First Night ever."
I am confident that this year's line-up of talent is equally impressive. We've got 56 acts with well over 250 artists putting on 83 shows, all ready to give you eight full hours of entertainment. Of these acts, 21 did not appear last year, and the majority of these are making their First Night debuts.
But to make it truly the very best First Night ever we need YOU to be here on New Year's Eve. It's a fact: No other festival in the area, including all of Vermont, can begin to match First Night North for the sheer quantity and quality of entertainment. But what makes First Night so very special is how it can bring the whole community to celebrate together in an atmosphere that is family-friendly and alcohol free. And if you are among those who come to St. Johnsbury "from away," we welcome you to experience, and add to, the sheer joy that is what First Night is all about.
As someone who has been a part of the past 25 editions of First Night North in St. Johnsbury, there's one common complaint I love to hear. It goes something like this: "There's just too much. I want to see it all. But I can't." No, you can't. But allow me to share some of the things I have learned about how to get the most out of your evening.
Come early. Those who arrive in time for the first shows at 4 and 5 pm get to see our wonderful opening acts. Of course, some of these shows are especially for families with kids. But let me assure you, all of these shows are great for everyone. And there's plenty of more "grown-up" fare in the early hours, too.
Plan ahead. Read the descriptions of all the First Night shows in this program guide or on the First Night website. On the website (www.FirstNightNorth.org) you will also find links embedded in the names of artists to their own websites, YouTube videos, etc. to give you even more information about their shows. Decide which artists you most want to see and use the Schedule table to map out your night.
Take the shuttle bus. There's 20 minutes between shows, which is generally enough time to get from one venue to another. But if it's too far to walk, the shuttle bus stops by all16 First Night venues every 15-20 minutes. And the friendly driver will stop anywhere along the route if you wave.
Stay put. If you're too tired, or if you really can't stand the cold, you can pick a venue with shows you would enjoy and spend the evening comfortably entertained.
Sample. Feeling ambitious? Try checking out a couple of shows in a given hour. First Night artists understand that their audiences can be fluid, with people arriving late and leaving early. It's not impolite to to get a "taste" of a show and go on to another. Just slip in and out quietly.
Try something new. When it comes to First Night, variety really is the spice of life. There's almost every kind of music. Our region's rich musical scene has it all - classical and pop, folk and rock, jazz and bluegrass, sacred and silly, covers and originals, opera and art songs, early and contemporary music. I can't overstate the variety of music. But First Night also offers fascinating storytellers and planetarium shows, hilarious comedy, fire artists and even a rock band with outdoor shows, lots of dancing, and more.
Stay to the end. Stick around for the countdown to New Year's 2019 as our ball of light - 13-feet in diameter and bigger than the one in Times Square - rises high. The guys from the Foundry have decked it out with new high-tech lighting and programmed it to dazzle you with awesome surprises right before the terrific fireworks display. But even more wonderful is the display of community spirit that fills the air when we gather not just in the glow of lights and pyrotechnics, but in the radiance of each others happy faces. Then and there it will be our great pleasure to personally wish everyone a Happy New Year!