First Night Forges Forward

Barbara Pearson-Rac’s life is intertwined with First Night.

She lived in Boston when that city inaugurated the original First Night — an alcohol-free New Year’s Eve celebration at a variety of venues, with performances, entertainment and fun for all ages.

She moved to Westport 21 years ago — the same year our town started its own First Night celebration.

She joined the board 2 years later. Now she’s president.

First Night 2015 logoAnd though other First Nights have come and gone, Westport’s remains vibrant and strong. It’s one of only 3 left in Connecticut — and, judging from their websites, ours blows Danbury’s and Hartford’s out of the water.

Barbara is a strong believer in community service. She chairs Westport’s Make a Difference Day and is involved in breast cancer awareness, among other activities.

First Night — a happy, upbeat event, on a day when everyone looks forward and feels fresh — holds a special place in her heart.

“It’s live entertainment,” she says. “It’s a way of introducing children to talent, and for adults to have plenty of fun too.”

But keeping First Night alive is hard. There’s a perception that it’s only for kids (it’s not). More families now travel over the holidays. Non-residents don’t think they’re invited (they are). And the threat of bad weather always hovers overhead.

Fireworks in winter -- a tradition that moves this year to Jesup Green.

Fireworks in winter — a tradition that moves this year to Jesup Green.

First Night is an all-volunteer effort. Attendance — by button-buying people — is crucial. Costs include performers, sound engineers, insurance, police and fire support, and pyrotechnics. (A barge is being rented this year, because the new Levitt Pavilion is no longer a viable spot for shooting fireworks.)

Westport’s First Night lives on thanks to the ongoing support of sponsors and the town of Westport, along with a very fiscally responsible board. While many First Nights have folded, Westport’s is now 21 years years old. “We’re legal!” Pearson-Roc jokes.

But it’s still alcohol-free.

(New events this year include a fashion show with a “Project Runway” contestant; 2 children’s performers; telescopes on Jesup Green, with Westport Astronomical Society members offering guidance, and popular college comic hypnotist Jim Spinnato. Regular keyboardist Mark Naftalin — hot off his election to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — is back at the Westport Historical Society. For a full schedule, and information on buying buttons, click on

Former Paul Butterfield Blues Band organist -- and new Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member -- Mark Naftalin is a First Night regular.

Former Paul Butterfield Blues Band organist — and new Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member — Mark Naftalin is a First Night regular.


5 responses to “First Night Forges Forward

  1. Beth Berkowitz

    Do we know what time the fireworks will be?

  2. Betty Lou Cummings

    Thanks Barbara and the First Night Board…so glad First Night continues…we will be going…Happy New Year Westport!!!! Betty Lou Cummings

  3. Dan, I know how enthusiastic you are about Westport but I don’t find it necessary that you diminish Hartford’s or Danbury’s First Night in any way.
    Each town does what it is capable of doing, there is no competition here, only families and friends coming together for a good time. Every First Night organization works very hard, and all year long, to bring each town a memorable and safe celebration of New Year’s Eve. I was the Executive Director of First Night Westport/Weston for 5 years so I know how much work goes into each celebration. I was very proud to be in a state that cared enough to have 3 very outstanding community celebrations. I applaud the directors in Hartford and Danbury for keeping the tradition alive. Trust me, it is not easy – but it is very rewarding. The only thing that matters is that the people attending First Night have a wonderful time and come home safely. Happy New Year to Westport, Hartford, and Danbury – and all towns in between.