For nearly 25 years, First Night has been a Westport tradition.
On New Year’s Eve, Westporters gather downtown and across the river. Indoors and out, they’re entertained by musicians, ice sculptors, comedians and caricaturists. They watch stars through telescopes, and see fireworks shot in the sky. They dance and dine.
It’s a family-friendly, alcohol-free festival.
Once upon a time, there were hundreds of First Nights across the country. Over the years though, they’ve dwindled. Last year there were only 2 in Connecticut: Westport and Hartford.
Now there may be just one.
Last night, the First Night Westport Weston board voted to end the event — immediately. They’d dissolve their corporation, and donate whatever money is left to charity.
The event costs $50,000 — perhaps more — to run. Ticket sales account for half. The town of Westport chips in $7,000. Weston gives $750 — but may eliminate that, perhaps in retaliation for higher beach fees.
Barbara Pearson Rac — the longtime volunteer director — explained that over the past few years, bank sponsors like TD, Patriot and People’s have pulled out.
Pearson Rac — who is 72, and works full-time as an accountant — notes that it’s been difficult to recruit younger board members. And, she adds, with so many great events throughout the year in Westport now, First Night has “lost its panache. It’s just another thing.”
Last year, the Saugatuck River froze. Fireworks were canceled. Attendance plummeted.
It sounds like First Night Westport Weston is now only a memory. There is no button design. Venues are not set. Performers already signed have been told it’s off.
But wait! A few moments ago, Pearson Rac agreed that if enough angels step up by a week from today — Thursday, November 15 — First Night might still live.
The First Night ball is in our court. If you’d like to help, click “Comments” below. Or contact Barbara Pearson Rac directly: firstname.lastname@example.org.