Tag Archives: First Night Westport

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.

Unsung Hero #29

More than 40 years ago, Boston welcomed the new year with a “First Night” celebration. The city was filled with activities: music performances, comedians, kids’ stuff, ice carving. It was fun, family-friendly and fresh.

In the years that followed, communities around the country organized their own First Nights. They were great ways to ring in the new year.

They were also a ton of work. Gradually, most First Nights fell by the wayside.

But not Westport’s. For 22 years, residents — and anyone else who wants to wander by — have flocked downtown on December 31.

We’ve enjoyed carriage rides and bounce houses; dance recitals and sword swallowers; Rock & Roll Hall of Fame musicians and classical pianists; comedy troupes and model train displays. We’ve gazed at the stars through telescopes, warmed ourselves by bonfires, and watched fireworks light the sky. (Unless, of course, the river freezes and the barge can’t get near the bridge.)

First Night Westport would not be possible without volunteers. For over 2 decades, Westporters of all ages have helped make it happen.

But none of it would be possible without Barbara Pearson-Rac. She’s the longtime president of the board of directors of First Night Westport — but even that title does not encompass what she does. She oversees — and rolls up her sleeves for — booking, scheduling, promoting, food, volunteers, on and on and on. Quite simply, without Barbara, there would be no First Night.

In her spare time, she’s chair and founder of Westport’s Make A Difference Day, and vice president of the Breast Cancer Survival Center.

Plus, she’s a published author (“On Track: A Diana Jeffries Mystery”).

Barbara Pearson-Rac — shown here at Town Hall, overseeing the 2015 First Night — is the mastermind behind Westport’s First Night.

I hope Barbara does not see that she is this week’s Unsung Hero. I hope she is taking a well-deserved rest, preferably on some warm tropical island.

But I doubt it.

(Do you know an Unsung Hero? Email dwoog@optonline.net)


Pics Of The Day #259

Susan Feliciano never tires of this view from her Lyons Plains bedroom….

… while JP Vellotti captured this First Night view of old-time downtown Westport.

Frigid First Night Frolic

A little c-c-cold didn’t deter this crew from taking a horse ride around downtown Westport.

It’s part of First Night, the annual celebration taking place now through 10 p.m.

Besides the carriage, there’s stargazing and a warming fire by Jesup Green.

For the less hardy, tons of stuff happens at a variety of indoor venues.

Click here for details.

Happy new year!

Fireworks Over Westport

Sure, this photo is 3 days late. But it’s worth the wait.

On New Year’s Eve, ace Westport photographer John Videler launched a drone.

Hovering over the Westport Arts Center, it captured this spectacular view of the First Night fireworks celebration. (Click on or hover over to enlarge.)

(Drone photo/John Videler)

(Drone photo/John Videler)

If 2016 is anything like this First Night “first photo,” we’re in for an astonishing year!

First Night Fireworks And Fun

For years, fireworks have been a First Night highlight.

Fired from downtown an hour or so before midnight, they traditionally mark the end of the fun, entertainment-filled family festivities on New Year’s Eve.

The fireworks are back this year. But they can’t be shot from the new Levitt Pavilion. The only launching site is the Saugatuck River — and this year the late-night tide is so low, the barge would be mired in mud. So the fireworks are set for 7:30 p.m.

Organizers hope that when the final firework fades this year, First Night-goers don’t pack up and go home.

First NightThere’s plenty of activity, for a few more hours. Back by popular demand is the rock band Squeaky Clean. Washboard Slim and the Bluelights bring jug band music into the 21st century. School of Rock will rock. The Silver Steel drum band gets everyone dancing. Broadway baritone Beau Allen debuts. Longtime favorite Chris Coogan will once again appear, and the Westport Community Theater offers intriguing vignettes.

Also on tap after the fireworks: a balloon artist, caricaturist, magic genie, fortune tellers, psychics, and palm and tarot card readers. And, of course, horse-drawn carriages, a warming fire and star-gazing on Jesup Green.

Westport’s First Night is one of the oldest — and best — in the nation. Get ready to enjoy them this year. Then be sure to stick around long after the fireworks end.

(For more information, including how to purchase a First Night button, click here.)


First Night Nears

First Night has been a Westport mainstay for 19 years.

But — unlike many local institutions — organizers seem content with low-key marketing.

First Night WestportThere’s a button-choosing contest, some newspaper inserts, and posters and displays around town. But they don’t bombard the media with dozens of requests for coverage, and they don’t email updates every time they add a new Scottish dancer to their entertainment roster.

So I’ve decided to do some publicity for them.

First Night is one of those reasons why you move your young family to Westport. It’s traditional, it’s fun, it goes on for several hours, there’s plenty to do, you see friends and folks you haven’t seen all year, and — well, maybe this is the reason some people don’t like it — it’s alcohol-free.

This year’s lineup includes an antique car parade down Main Street; music from  For the Heart, Chris Coogan, Mark Naftalin, Leslie Orofino, Bob Lasprogato and (of course) Washboard Slims and the Bluelights; puppets, ice sculptures, ballroom dancing, animal caricatures, square dancing, fortune-telling, drumming, face painting, food — and, at 10;30 p.m., a laser show set to music over the Post Road Bridge.

Buttons ($15; children under 2 go free) are available at www.firstnightww.com, and at all venues — the library, Toquet Hall, Westport Family Y, Christ & Holy Trinity Church, Seabury Center, Historical Society, Town Hall, TD Bank and Moja Cafe — the day of the event.

Oh, yeah. That day is Monday:  December 31. First Night is the last night of 2012.

First Night Forecast

(Button design by Miggs Burroughs)

For the 2nd straight year, First Night might get slammed by bad weather.  Last year it was snow; this year could bring sleet and freezing rain.

A town-wide, evening-long celebration is a great idea.  But First Night might have better odds by moving to summer — say, July 1 — and rebranding itself as 182nd Night.

Nah.  Thunderstorms.

And a few disgruntled Westporters would demand their money back.

First Thoughts On First Night

First Night was always a tough sell.

(Button design by Miggs Burroughs)

The idea — an alcohol-free New Year’s Eve celebration with a variety of events for little kids, teenagers and adults — is great.  It began in Boston in 1976, and spread around the country.

Westport’s First Night began a decade or so ago.  It wasn’t easy. 

There were venues to find — performances have taken place in schools, Town Hall, the Westport Arts Center, the Y, even bank lobbies and Save the Children.

There was the need to find “something for everyone”:  face-painting, political satire and ice sculptures were a few of the attractions.  Music ranged from folk and rock to chamber and kids’ songs.

And organizers had to change Westporters’ longstanding habit of creating their own fun on New Year’s Eve.  Adults had traditional parties, teenagers their own, with little overlap.

Horse-and-buggy rides are a First Year tradition.

But First Night flourished, more or less.  The main demographic was parents and young children, plus some older folks happy for a chance to get out and socialize too.  Teens attended reluctantly, if at all.

Last year, First Night was hit with a perfect storm.  Four inches of snow and 50 mph winds kept all but the heartiest souls home.  The midnight fireworks display was canceled.  Coupled with an economic downturn that depressed button (ticket) sales and sponsorships, the drop in revenues put this year’s First Night in jeopardy.

But organizers weathered the storm.  A corps of dedicated volunteers created First Night 2010.  In keeping with new realities, it’s a slimmed-down celebration.  All entertainment is confined to downtown; the fireworks start at 9 p.m., and only a “Battle of the Bands” at Toquet Hall will run later.

Buttons cost $10, 1/3 off last year’s price (children under 2 go free). 

This being Westport, there is controversy.  The fireworks are too early! some people say.  I’m not gonna pay $10 until I know the schedule! others cry.  What if it snows again? someone wonders.

Hey:  Chill.  Give props to the small group of Westporters working  hard to make this one night fun, creative, even memorable.  First Night is a relatively new Westport tradition, and they’re doing their best to keep it alive.

Even if many Westporters are not sure they want it or not.

(For more information on Westport’s First Night — including volunteer and sponsorship opportunities, and button sales — click here.)