Welcome to our 25th annual New Year's Eve celebration of the arts! Yes, when fireworks light up the sky over St. Johnsbury at midnight on December 31, First Night North will mark a quarter century of first-class entertainment for thousands of revelers of all ages to greet the New Year in a festive and alcohol-free way.
First Night 2108 promises to be the brightest ever. I mean that literally. Last year, people were delighted to see the glowing "First Night North" signs at each of the 13 buildings hosting our 18 performance venues. In addition to these signs - produced for us by The Foundry - you'll see decorative lighting here and there to brighten the night. The Foundry is working to make our big First Night ball of lights even more awe-inspiring as it hangs suspended 100 feet in the air by Classen's giant crane.
I also want to shine a light on the spectacularly bright 2018 line-up of talent. This amazing array of artists includes singer-songwriters and choruses, bands and solo instrumentalists, Vaudevillians and comics, poets and puppeteers, storytellers and galaxy guides, dancers and fire artists, a magician and a hypnotist.
As always, most of our First Night artists are musicians. Our region's rich musical scene has it all - classical and pop, folk and rock, jazz and bluegrass, sacred and silly, covers and originals, opera and art songs, early and contemporary music, some of it brand new.
There's so much more than I could ever mention. It's all packed into over one hundred shows by well over 250 performers in over 60 different acts. Of these, 24 are new this year.
Study the schedule carefully to map out a strategy to see the shows that most suit your fancy. It's hard, I know. They are all so good. But First Night falls on Sunday this year - right in the middle of a holiday weekend. That might just make it easier for more of you to get through a real eight-hour "entertain-athon." Join the pack of revelers right at the 4 pm start, running with breathless excitement all the way to the fireworks finish line at midnight. And you can always take a break to enjoy a tasty meal or a snack at one of our food venues.
Since we have reached our 25-year milestone, a little history is in order. In a way, celebrating New Year's Eve with the arts began in St. Johnsbury in the 1870's when Horace Fairbanks opened wide the doors of the Athenaeum for a public reception. Hundreds of townspeople enjoyed the annual festive occasion with band or orchestra music playing throughout the night. But the modern First Night era started out in Boston in 1975 as an alcohol-free festival of the arts to celebrate New Year's Eve. The concept soon spread to over 200 communities across the country and abroad. First Night came to St. Johnsbury in 1993 when a federally-funded drug abuse prevention program created a First Night celebration modeled after Burlington's popular festival.
The St. Johnsbury event was an immediate success, and when the federal grant ended three years later, First Night St. Johnsbury continued as the successor to that original prevention program. Directors were contracted each year to lead a team of volunteers. When a paid director was no longer feasible, volunteers committed to keep it going. But nine years ago, financial problems and volunteer fatigue nearly brought First Night in St. Johnsbury to an end, as happened with a majority of First Night celebrations in other towns. Fortunately, Catamount Arts, under its new executive director Jody Fried, stepped up to take over management of the event.
Since then, the festival - now called First Night North in St. Johnsbury - is enjoying even greater success. St. Johnsbury is certainly not the biggest town in Vermont, but I cannot find a New Year's Eve celebration. of any kind, in the state or even in all New England, that offers a greater number of shows at so many venues within such a compact area. I believe that what we have here is truly unique.
Catamount's Ashley Van Zandt is in her second year as First Night coordinator, overseeing the thousands of details that go into making this huge festival a reality. We are so fortunate to have such a able, and amiable administrator working with the First Night team of volunteers to fulfill Catamount Arts' mission to "inspire appreciation of and participation in the arts, promote the arts throughout the region, and cultivate the arts as an integral part of community life."
The present, and the future, of First Night North in St. Johnsbury are bright indeed. So let me be among the first to confidently wish you all a Happy New Year!