It's hard to believe...
...but 20 years ago First Night St. Johnsbury came into being. A group of citizens gathered to dream about a family-oriented, drug-and-alcohol-free New Year's Eve celebration. Some of us had been to First Night arts festivals in larger towns (okay, Burlington and Boston), and came back from those celebrations inspired (okay, a little envious). We saw no reason why St. Johnsbury couldn't pull off a First Night of our own. We were sure that no town our size had more talented artists or better facilities to present them in, all within easy walking distance.
And were we ever right! The call to artists drew a flood of responses. Churches, the Academy, the Athenaeum, the Museum, and other public buildings opened their doors wide. Area radio stations and newspapers made sure everyone knew about the big event. Businesses and individuals contributed generously to make sure that the price of admission was not a barrier to anyone.
And it even seemed that nature itself wanted this ambitious project to succeed. The weather on December 31, 1993, made for about as perfect a winter evening as you could imagine – comfortably cold and still, with a light snow falling, just enough to create a magical atmosphere as people greeted one another as they strolled the streets from venue to venue to take in the wide variety of entertainment.
Since that phenomenal inaugural event, we’ve also seen a wide variety of weather conditions over the years. But despite some nights with extreme cold or rain or snow or even ice, First Night St. Johnsbury has never disappointed the thousands of revelers who have come out to make this wonderful festival a New Year’s Eve tradition.
But other than a tradition of plenty of first-rate entertainment, First Night has never been a static or predictable experience. It has grown and changed over the years. We got at least 63 acts and activities lined up for our 20th anniversary bash – the biggest ever! And 18 of those are making their First Night debuts this year.
There isn’t room here to highlight them all, but we should take this opportunity to call attention to our headliners featured on the front cover. They’re the Wicked Smart Horn Band, who have been suggested by many of their fans as a perfect fit for our New Year’s Eve celebration. We are delighted to welcome them and all the other acts and activities you’ll find described in this program guide.
But at this 20-year milestone, let’s review a little more of our history…
As successful as the event has been, it may surprise some even folks who have been with us from the beginning that back in 1993 there was no pancake supper, no fireworks, no rising lighted ball to welcome the new year.
But there were a handful of charter artists and events from our first First Night that have been a part of the festival every year. Among those, the planetarium shows at the Fairbanks Museum have been consistently “sold-out.” In fact, about the only regular complaint we’ve gotten is from people who couldn’t get in. That problem may be solved with the installation of the planetarium’s new state-of-the-art equipment offering continuous 20-minute shows for three straight hours. That means nine shows instead of four (and no reserved ticketing!)
The Museum’s Mark Breen and the women’s trio he sings with – who have called themselves Windrose for a number of years now – have been First Night perennials, too.
Several other acts fall into the category of “almost-every-year.” Among them are the Maple Leaf 7 jazz band, the duo Bobbi and Me, Patti Casey & Bob Amos, Marko the Magician and Hypnotist, comedy by both The King of Silly and Kingdom County Comedy Theater, plus the Academy’s jazz band and the Hilltones vocal ensemble.
And there have always been opportunities to move to the music with square dancing, contra dancing, and rock and swing dancing along with special activities for the kids like those at the Family Fun Fair.
In more recent years, a roster of First Night favorites has evolved, and Bob Amos and “whoever he brings with him” probably leads the pack, whether he and his friends are into Bluegrass or folk rock. And Dancing Djinn draws big crowds outdoors with their fiery street entertainment.
Finally, let’s salute Catamount Arts, which has offered film entertainment throughout First Night history. And since moving to their spacious Masonic Temple facilities, with two movie theaters, they have been able to show four different films all evening long. And in keeping with First Night’s emphasis on music of many genres, all of this year’s movies are concert movies where you could spend eight hours with banjo players, opera singers, Sun Records rock stars, and “The Boss,” Bruce Springsteen. And the Catamount Cabaret has live music all night long.
In fact, Catamount Arts has become “First Night Central.” Now in their third year of providing professional management, Jody Fried, Jerry Aldredge, Paul Seaton, and other Catamount staff and volunteers have proven enthusiastic partners with the First Night board of directors in this major community endeavor. Catamount Arts, along with your loyal participation and support, is key to making sure that the show goes on for another 20 years.
-Jay Sprout, President First Night St. Johnsbury
Jay Sprout, President
First Night St. Johnsbury
3:00pm - 2:00am
The First Night shuttle bus will run counterclockwise and the route will service every venue. Once at the Catamount Arts, it will travel down Eastern Ave, turn left onto Pearl St, left onto Maple St., then left onto Cherry Street. It allows a safer pickup/dropoff of passengers by having them on the curb side so they don't have to walk across the street, ample room to turn the vehicle around and offer you the opportunity to provide more parking spaces; the lot near the Star Theater and the lot behind Dunkin Donuts.