New Year’s Eve in Tacoma has become synonymous with one family-friendly event – the annual First Night celebration that takes place every Dec. 31 in the Theater District.
With roots to the national arts organization Revels, First Night began in Boston when members wanted to create an alternative to the traditional alcohol-based New Year’s Eve events and also something that the whole family could take part in and enjoy.
“This event is community-centered, and a celebration of the arts,” Patrice O’Neill, co-director of First Night 2010-2011, said. “It took off rapidly and at some point in time attracted a million people to the original Boston event – it was huge! First Night started to franchise across the country and world. In Tacoma, people who were involved with the theater district group got wind of this idea and thought it’d be great if Tacoma could pull it off and they did.”
Offering up multiple music stages running the gamut of genres, dance (to watch and take part in), programming just for kids, events just for adults, variety shows and more, First Night truly lives up to its purpose of fostering community, celebrating the New Year and highlighting the arts.
For the past few years, First Night in Tacoma has been taking on themes that end up encompassing the entire event and that follow the Chinese lunar calendar. This idea was one of O’Neill’s contributions to the event, and one that she feels helps center the program around the day.
“I always think there should be a theme,” O’Neill said. “The group got together and discussed last year, and rather than picking some random thing out of the air we decided to follow the Chinese lunar calendar, mostly the animals…so it’s sort of a rich thematic pool to draw from.”
For those who have attended the event in the past, O’Neill promises that this year’s programming offers up some new, interesting and appealing events to individuals of all ages, and the list definitely affirms that.
“There’s quite a lot more outdoor stuff this year as compared to years past, and more shows on the main stage,” O’Neill said. “There will be a few steampunk bands that will be around all night messing with people, which should be fun.”
One of them, she said, is Orchestra Zirconian: an 18-person steampunk band that will blow fire from horns. A group of metal sculptors called the Iron Monkeys will build zen fire gardens. “You draw in the sand, and fire follows,” O’Neill said.
For the 2010-11 First Night, planners are also aiming to set a new Guinness World Record for the most attempts at the bunny hop, in honor of the Year of the Rabbit. “There are all kinds of rules, and one is that we maintain it for five minutes straight,” O’Neill said. “We’ll have a salsa band onstage at the time, and they’ll be playing a salsa version of the bunny hop. Even if we don’t make the record we’ll have a ridiculous amount of fun!”
Admission to all four museums in Tacoma, (The Museum of Glass, Tacoma Art Museum, the Washington State History Museum and the Children’s Museum of Tacoma) is free all day Dec. 31 with a First Night button, making New Year’s Eve a daylong celebration for friends and families.
First Night organizers chose not to use fireworks to ring in the New Year due to the toxicity and the fact that it’s what most expect for New Year’s Eve events. As O’Neill affirmed, “they’re boring.” So this year there will be the burning of an effigy of the tiger instead, (symbolizing the year 2010). Attendants can pin wishes, dreams and resolutions on the tiger and at midnight it will all be burned. The Mobile Hot Shop from Museum of Glass will be present throughout the evening and will allow for molten fun, which is especially nice to watch at night.
In addition to all of the outdoor entertainment, indoors Urban Grace Church has been added as a stage this year, and a bluegrass band and Brazilian music will both be playing throughout the eve. The Metro Arts stage at SOTA will feature a music and dance party put on by the Warehouse including Ravenna Woods, Pickwick and Robert DeLong. First Night is also offering more opportunities for participatory dance this year, so there will be contra dance, salsa, New Orleans style jazz and a swing dance. Performers will also be playing multiple stages all night, so if you can’t make one of their performances you can catch them later in the evening.
The event is put on through the hard work of volunteers who work hard for months to get it up and running in time. “We work wonders with a small number of volunteers, and we could definitely use more. Last year we had 60 volunteers, which is almost frightening when you think of number of stages we have, but we did it! But we could always use a few more,” O’Neill said. “A volunteer is anything from checking buttons, checking artists in, helping with set up, putting up signs, checking recycling receptacles and putting everything away.”
In order to put First Night on every year, the organization depends on many grants and donations, most of which are from the city of Tacoma, O’Neill notes. “The event is run on a razor thin margin and a big, huge factor in the challenge for funding is you can go to First Night and have a blast and never have a button. You only have to show it for indoor vendors and museums. If you want to come and just ring in the New Year at midnight, you don’t need a button for that.
“The city and vendors are basically giving a big party to Tacoma for free. I think that buying a button is a way for people to say, ‘hey thanks!’ It’s one of the fundamental parts of First Night, the celebration of community, saying ‘hey, our community is a cool place to be, it’s safe and fun and we’re going to come and hang out with each other on last day of year,’” O’Neill said.
First Night 2010-11 takes place all day Dec. 31- 12:15 a.m. Jan. 1 in the Theater District downtown. Advanced purchase buttons (by Dec. 30) are: $10 for adults, $5 for kids ages 7-17 and $30 for a family of 2 adults and up to 4 kids. Buttons are available at LeRoy Jewelers, King’s Books, Glenna’s Clothing and many more locations. For event programs, schedules or venue information, visit www.firstnighttacoma.org, “like” First Night Tacoma Pierce County on Facebook and follow FirstNightTTown on Twitter.