With New Year’s Eve just two sunsets away, thoughts naturally will turn to celebrating. Of course, the 2020/21 transition is more than a shade different from previous years, and whether or not Anderson Cooper will camp out in Times Square, with snow falling and a pandemic raging around him, remains to be seen.
Here in St. Pete, the traditional downtown New Year’s Eve celebration, First Night, will take place for the 28th consecutive year. It will not, however, look remotely like any edition of First Night that’s come before.
Instead of a family-themed, scavenger hunt-styled walk between venues, theaters and other places where music, dance and other artistic things are being staged, this one – from 9 p.m. till midnight Thursday – is all virtual.
“It’s disappointing, but it’s the spirit of the current day and age,” explains director Jamie McWade. “We’re all being flexible and trying to make the best out of everything. Although my favorite part of First Night is being out in the community and seeing the smiles on everyone’s faces. And I surely will miss that this year.”
There are no fireworks this time out, and no actual scavenger hunt for prizes (always a highlight, for the youngest community members). “We’re trying to approach it this way,” McWade says. “We’re still a part of the community without being out in the community – we’re still together with our flashing buttons, we’re just not together in person.”
Those flashing buttons, which count as admission to the various public events, and mark First Nighters as they pass one another on the sidewalk, are still a part of the celebration. Tickets (and buttons) are available at firstnightstpete.com; you can also contact the director at Jamie.firstname.lastname@example.org. A “family pack” comes with buttons and fun stuff like bubble wrap for stomping when the clock strikes 12.
Preparations for First Night began in April, and it didn’t take long for McWade to realize it was going to have to be a virtual celebration. A company that specializes in shooting and producing virtual specials has been hired to do the work.
“The proceeds from this year will go towards paying for next year,” explains McWade. “We pay all of our artists, we pay for the fireworks, and we also pay the city for putting staff out there … everything goes back into putting on the event. And I’m the only staff for First Night.”
It’s a great show, she promises, and all local. Still, like all producers finding their way though the pandemic, McWade knows there’s nothing quite like the live experience.
“We like to get together and celebrate things, and First Night is definitely no different,” she says. “So hopefully next year we’ll be back and rockin.’”
Dundu Dole Urban African Ballet: Since 1991, Dundu Dole has been the bay area’s premier African dance and drum company. With its colorful costumes and joyous, exuberant choreography, the group performs at festivals and cultural events all over Florida, and is a First Night perennial.
Kasondra Rose: The singer, songwriter and recording artist, who’s a charter member of the Florida Bjorkestra, is also an accomplished aerialist whose work on the silks is as poetic and evocative as her music.
Nate Najar and Daniela Soledade: The jazz guitarist and Brazilian bossa nova singer are St. Pete’s poster children for virtual performance; they began “broadcasting” mini-concerts from their home studio a week or two after the Covid-19 shutdown began.
Cal Morris: Tarpon Springs-based violinist Caleb Morris is a regular (and well-loved) performer at the Sponge Exchange Village Center, at festivals and private events, and his CDs include Taylor Swift on Violin (just what it sounds like), Hits Through the Decades (music from Adele, the Beatles, Whitney Houston, Stevie Wonder et cetera), the inspirational Fight of My Life: Original Songs on My Cancer Journey and Fan Favorites.
Fred Johnson: The jazz vocal dynamo, a bay area resident since the ‘70s, toured as the singer in Chick Corea’s band, and has shared the stage with many of the greats. He is also a renowned arts educator who worked for many years as vice president of education at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center (before it was re-named for David A. Straz).
Plus demonstrations and/or presentations from Great Explorations Children’s Museum, Mad Science of Greater Tampa Bay, Keep St. Pete Lit, the Movement Sanctuary, artists James Oleson and Zulu Painter and more.