Friday Flashback #277

It’s New Year’s Eve! How will you celebrate?

For more than 2 decades, Westporters had the choice of First Night.

Long after other towns and cities ended their December 31 parties, ours rocked on.

The indomitable Barbara Pearson-Rac — and a host of volunteers — ensured that the orchestral, jazz, swing, country and a cappella music; face painting, ice sculptures and model railroads; comedy and improv shows; horse-and-buggy rides; star-gazing; fireworks and more — went off without a hitch.

(So long as the weather cooperated.)

Times change. Celebrations go in and out of fashion. Costs rose. Volunteers dwindled. The last First Night was in 2017. Barbara Pearson-Rac died in August.

To honor her — and 2 decades of New Year’s Eveses — here’s a look back at First Nights past.

A First Night horse-drawn sleigh.

Fireworks over the Saugatuck River. (Drone photo/John Videler)

The Survivors Swing Band at the Westport Library. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

Model trains were always a big draw.

Barbara Pearson-Rac was at Town Hall, overseeing the 2015 First Night

The Westport Astronomical Society setsup a telescope outside the library. 

A mother wrangled her young son at the Saugatuck Elementary School bounce house.

7 responses to “Friday Flashback #277

  1. We are relative newcomers to New England and Westport. Do you think this First Night will come back?? Looks like great fun!

    • Much of the work was done by Barbara Pearson-Rac. Not sure if there is the volunteer spirit/time/energy to get it going again. Perhaps with so many new young families in town, it can be revived. It was a great alternative for lots of people.

  2. Nina J. Marino

    Thank you Dan, for this wonderful tribute to Barbara. She was a wonderful friend for 20 years and I miss her. A friend of ours is going to forward this to Barbara’s daughter Sara.

  3. gloria smithson

    Dan, thank you for this NYEve flashback. I was just thinking of our many family First Night memories over the years this afternoon: bonfires on Jesup Green, school bus shuttles to SES for shows in the auditorium, Seabury Center jazz concerts, walking on snow-covered streets to get a slice at Westport Pizza while still on Main St (with a happy new year to Mel), having a cup of tea and our palms read at Town Hall, and the SimonSez Guy who would entertain westporters of all ages and his finale ~ balance a child in a folding chair on his CHIN at KES and bring the house down! My youngest was one of the brave ones to try this once! These are Westport memories that I will have every NYEve. wishing everyone health and happiness in 2022 🙂

  4. Elisabeth Keane

    First Night was absolutely wonderful. The very was air infused with celebration; greetings and smiles whether you were acquainted or not; the excitement and wonder of the children. Every First Night celebration was filled with so many activities. Some years, face painting for anyone who wanted it. And the music! Enjoying hot cocoa, or stopping for a slice or other tasty morsel. One year there was a juggler and/or a magician, I think in the hall at C&HT. And as Gloria said, the SimonSez guy who I had forgotten about but yes, and his unusual entertainment. The telescope was fascinating. The horse drawn sleigh. The fireworks over the river! First Night was such fun. Our holiday visitors joined us and raved about First Night long after they returned to their respective homes. We went the first year and for many years thereafter. When we could no longer attend we watched the fireworks from our side window, flutes of champagne in hand.

    Happy New Year! And may the new year be kind to us all.

  5. Valerie Pettit

    Thanks Dan for this great tribute to Barbara and First Night, a celebration of community she and all the volunteers believed in deeply. As a member of her FN board, and Barb’s friend for years, this post meant a lot. Many can’t imagine the expense of producing Westport’s First Night, or know that it was a non-profit org. and over 80% funded by corporate sponsors. It was a privilege to work with Barb, her husband Frank and small team on First Night for many, many years. Hope another dedicated group can resurrect it. Happy New Year!

  6. Andree Brooks

    Hi Dan, thanks to my friend, Dianne Wildman I just heard about the death of Barbara Pearson. I was on her board of First Night for several years, organizing the more than 100 volunteers it took to make First Night work. She was tireless. I never understood how she could commute all day and then run First Night as well. She was one of those marvelous Chairs who was willing to do a lot of the work herself, contacting performers, persuading donors. Yes, it was a wonderful addition to Westport’s many benefits and I miss them all, now that I have moved across country to the Seattle area.
    May I add my name to those who remember what an asset she was to us all.
    PS I would like to contact Frank and send him my condolences. Do you have contacts for him. regards: Andrée Aelion Brooks, 1115 108th Ave NE Su. 537Bellevue, WA 98004 C: 203-722-1613