Tag Archives: First Night Westport Weston

First Night Westport In Peril

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 year’s button

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.

A horse-drawn sleigh was one of First Night’s many attractions.

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: bpr1946@yahoo.com.

First Selectman Jim Marpe (left) is a long-time First Night volunteer.

First Night Is On! (But Fireworks Are Off)

Today — the last day of 2017 — is forecast to be one of the coldest of the year. Temperatures will peak at about 17 this afternoon, then drop to around 13 at night.

That should not deter anyone from First Night. In fact, it should inspire you! Sure, you’ll be chilly moving from event to event. But once inside the various venues, you’ll be toasty warm. And the outside stuff includes snuggle-close activities like horse-drawn carriage rides, stargazing and a warming fire.

In fact, the only casualty of the weather is the fireworks display.

For good reason: The Saugatuck River is frozen.

The Saugatuck River, as seen from Grace Salmon Park. The photo is from 2015 — but you get the idea. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

The barge can’t get on the water. So — even though First Night director/guru Barbara Pearson-Rac spent the day with fire officials and the fireworks contractor trying to figure out a solution — that’s been scratched.

But that’s it! Everything else is on. Here are a few highlights:

  • Musical performances from Broadway, movies, jazz and the blues — including Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Mark Naftalin, award-winning pianist Chris Coogan, musical theater great Michele Grace and the School of Rock
  • A hypnotist
  • Train displays
  • Saugatuck School’s Kids Park, with indoor bounce houses, dancing, sing-alongs, balloon twisters, caricatures, a Magic Genie and ventriloquist
  • Theater acts
  • Puppet shows
  • Vaudeville
  • Family Zumba classes
  • Psychic readings
  • Comedy
  • Magic

Sites include Saugatuck Elementary School, Toquet Hall, the Westport Historical Society, Christ & Holy Trinity Church, Seabury Center, Jesup Green and more. (Click here for the full schedule.)

All performances are within walking distance. Free shuttles run from Jesup Green to Saugatuck Elementary.

First Night kicks off at 3:30 p.m., and runs through 10.

All you need is a button. They’re $15 each (kids under 2 are free), available online or at Trader Joe’s, Westport Library, Westport Historical Society, and Westport and Weston Town Halls. They’re also for sale during First Night itself at Town Hall and all venues.

Who needs fireworks, anyway?

Happy New Year!

(Hat tip: Kami Evans)

First Night: Fun Family Tradition Endures

For the past 4 years, Jim Marpe has been a familiar presence at First Night. Westport’s 1st selectman sits happily at Saugatuck Elementary School, welcoming families to the fun, festive New Year’s Eve event.

As he begins his 2nd term, Marpe is not the only selectman volunteering at the turn-the-calendar celebration. Running mate Jen Tooker will belt out karaoke at Seabury Center on Church Lane.

Jim Marpe takes service to a new level. Every December 31, he volunteers at First Night.

Those are just 2 highlights of our 24th annual First Night. The family-friendly, alcohol-free festival has become an integral part of local life. This year it’s stronger than ever — even as other First Nights around the country have faded away.

Westport’s First Night survives because leaders like Marpe and Tooker — and plenty of area residents — value its small-town ambience, relaxed fun and wide range of activities.

Everyone loves the train guy.

No one knows what 2018 holds. But everyone can count on these December 31 activities:

  • Musical performances from Broadway, movies, jazz and the blues — including Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Mark Naftalin, award-winning pianist Chris Coogan, musical theater great Michele Grace and the School of Rock
  • A hypnotist
  • Train displays
  • Saugatuck School’s Kids Park, with indoor bounce houses, dancing, sing-alongs, balloon twisters, caricatures, a Magic Genie and ventriloquist
  • Horse-drawn carriage rides
  • Theater acts
  • Puppet shows
  • Vaudeville
  • A warming fire
  • Stargazing with the Westport Astronomical Society
  • Family Zumba classes
  • Psychic readings
  • Comedy
  • Magic
  • Fireworks by the river

John Videler’s drone captured 2016’s First Night fireworks over Westport.

Sites include Saugatuck Elementary School, Toquet Hall, the Westport Historical Society, Christ & Holy Trinity Church, Seabury Center, Jesup Green and more.

All performances are within walking distance. Free shuttles run from Jesup Green to Saugatuck Elementary.

First Night kicks off at 3:30 p.m., and runs through 10. Fireworks shoot off at 8 p.m.

All you need is a button. They’re $15 each (kids under 2 are free), available online or at Trader Joe’s, Westport Library, Westport Historical Society, and Westport and Weston Town Halls. They’re also for sale on First Night itself at Town Hall and all venues.

Get yours now. They’re going fast.

Just say Jim Marpe and Jen Tooker sent you.

(For more information, click here.)

The Last Night Shall Be First

Tonight, Westport celebrates the final night of 2016 with a First Night celebration.

The family-oriented event includes a slide at Saugatuck Elementary School …

first-night-2016-slide

… Dennis the Train Man at the Westport Library …

first-night-2016-trains

… and a telescope for stargazing on the banks of the Saugatuck. In the background are launch boats, for the 8 p.m. fireworks.

first-night-2016-telescope

Hundreds of volunteers — including 1st Selectman Jim Marpe and Jacqueline Devine — make First Night possible:

first-night-2016-jim-marpe-and-jacqueline-devine

It all takes place in and around downtown. There’s music, magicians and more at Town Hall, Toquet Hall, Jesup Green, the Westport Historical and Christ & Holy Trinity Church, through 10 p.m.

first-night-2016-light

First Press For First Night

Lots of local organizations ask for coverage on “06880.” They want me to promote their events, fundraisers and what-not.

First Night is different. I’ve never received a personal email or call from anyone associated with Westport’s annual ring-in-the-new-year festival. Some years they don’t even send a press release.

So I’m doing their job for them. Here’s what’s going down December 31.

This is First Night Westport’s 22nd year. It’s one of only 2 First Night celebrations left in Connecticut (the other is in Hartford).

Municipal and corporate donations have slumped. In fact, they’re waaaay down.

But a small corps of volunteers slogs on. They sign musical acts, magicians and ice carvers; arrange carriage rides, bonfires and fireworks; find venues, design buttons and sell tickets — all so families can enjoy a fun, alcohol-free New Year’s Eve.

Then they spend days staring at weather reports, praying a blizzard or deep freeze won’t scuttle their work.

It works. Last year’s turnout set a record.

John Videler's drone captures the First Night fireworks over Westport.

John Videler’s drone captures the First Night fireworks over Westport.

This year, over 25 performances take place at 10 sites. Chris Coogan returns, as do the Washboard Slims, and Dennis the Train Man. There’s comedy, drama, dancing, and music from rock to Broadway.

Buttons go on sale Friday (December 2) at the Library, Town Hall, Westport Historical Society, Saugatuck Sweets, Trader Joe’s and Weston Hardware, or online here. They’re $10 each ($15 after December 15),  and allow entry for everything. Children under 2 are free.

Fun fact: Button prices have remained the same since the 1st First Night, back in the (ahem) Clinton administration. Take that, Cablevision!

For some reason — perhaps their own low-key approach to publicity-seeking — First Night flies under the radar.

Like the fireworks they shoot off in the frigid sky, First Night should soar.

(First Night depends on volunteers — to make the event happen, and to fund it all. To help, click here or email chair Barbara Pearson-Rac: bpr1946@yahoo.com. She’d especially like to hear from potential sponsors!)

first-night-button

 

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 www.firstnightww.com.)

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.

 

Main Street Mural Needs A Home

In preparation for the it-can’t-come-too-soon makeover of the pedestrian tunnel between Main Street and Parker Harding Plaza, the mural created by local children in honor of Westport’s 1st “First Night” celebration in 1995 will be removed on Monday.

David Waldman will find a place for it in his Bedford Square project. But until then, it needs a home.

There are 6 panels. Each measures 4′ x 6′.

Downtown mural

If you can store it — perhaps even display it — for the next year or two, contact “Tunnel Vision” designer Miggs Burroughs: miggsb@optonline.net. First come, first served.

Let’s see — the mural is nearly 20 years old. The kids who created it are now in their 30s. I’m sure at least one of them owns a house big enough to provide a temporary home.

Just think of it as a McMansion version of refrigerator art.

Last Call For First Night Volunteers

For 20 years, First Night has provided Westporters with a fun, family-oriented (but great for kids of all ages), alcohol-free New Year’s Eve.

But all the ice sculpting, singing, horse-drawn sleighing, fire warming, face painting and random other stuffing doesn’t fall from the sky.

It takes volunteers. Plenty of them. And First Night is still searching for more.

First Night buttonThey’ve got plenty of jobs to do, all December 31 long. It’s a great way to give back to the community. To meet new people. And to answer that question that’s been asked ever since Dick Clark was a toddler: “What are you doing on New Year’s Eve?”

If you’re interested in volunteering — or want to learn more — email bpr1946@yahoo.com.

Do it today. The end is at hand.

(To learn more about First Night — and check out the entertainment schedule — click here.)

For The Heart, For First Night

I’m a For The Heart groupie.

The Westport-based group of teenagers arranges all their own songs. They harmonize beautifully. And they bring their upbeat music to nursing homes, schools for underprivileged kids, and community events — all for free.

Tonight, For The Heart performed for First Night. They packed Toquet Hall.

If you missed it — no problem. Here are 3 selections — from For The Heart, to you.

Happy New Year!

First Night?

Have you heard anything about First Night?

Neither have I.

Just 2 days before the 17th annual event, there’s been almost no publicity about the annual New Year’s Eve celebration.

They never asked me for some press — or any other media outlet, it seems.

But I appreciate all that these hard-working volunteers do to make New Year’s special (and, swimming against the tide, alcohol-free).  So here goes:

This year’s festivities begin at 4 p.m.  They end at 9:30, with fireworks on Jesup Green.  (Toquet Hall is open until midnight.  Teenagers, you know.)

There are over 30 events for “children of all ages”:  music, puppets, square dancing, face painting, caricaturists, arts and crafts, psychics and more.  The featured attraction is blues pianist Mark Naftalin, who has played with Van Morrison, Etta James, Buddy Guy and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

Food, too.

All venues are downtown — the library, Y, Town Hall, TD Bank, Seabury Center and the Westport Historical Society — making it a compact, walkable event.

Admission is by First Night button ($15 each, kids under 2 free).  They’re available at the library, Y, Senior Center, Trader Joe’s, Oscar’s, TD Bank Main Street, Weston Hardware, and Fitness Edge Norwalk.  Or you can buy them online (click here).

It’s a shame First Night hasn’t sought more publicity.  It’s a fun, community-type event.

Oh, yeah.  The weather forecast for Friday night is mostly clear, with temperatures in the upper 20s.

Not a snowflake in sight.

(For more information on First Night, click here.)