New Yearís Eve, Boston, 1976: picture a gaggle of rangy artists dressed uproariously, costumed and colorful, parading around Boston Common, blowing on instruments, banging on drums, manufacturing New Yearís madness and merriment. And picture onlookers, confused, startled, and perhaps delighted, wondering what the hell is going on, and who are these people, and why arenít they in a bar or at home watching the ball drop like normal humans.
New Yearís Eve, Boston, 2002: picture 1000 artists, 250 performances, and 40 venues all over town. Picture a million button-wearing participants marveling, dancing, and wondering why anyone would stay home to watch the ball drop when he or she could take part in such epic revelry. Picture a sweeping, sparkling, swirling celebration complete with plenty of drum banging and horn blowing, plus music to suit everyoneís tune tastes, drama, comedy, storytelling, dance, movies, and a gargantuan Grand Procession. Little did those original artists and onlookers know what that first First Night would grow to become.
Itís an unwieldy beast, and weíre here to help you tame it. Below youíll find a selection of what and where your $15 button will get you. Events run from 9 a.m. to midnight on December 31. A word to the wise: donít try to do it all. You may have to stand in line for popular events (itís first-come, first-served), so pick a couple of your favorites and allow yourself plenty of time.
One thing you wonít want to miss is the Grand Procession. Puppets, performers, musicians, and merrymakers will assemble at the Hynes Convention Center, 900 Boylston Street, at 5:30 p.m. and ramble their way down Boylston Street, finishing up at Charles and Beacon Streets. You can expect a 16-foot human-powered Star Wheel, Dinoman! (accompanied by three life-sized dinosaurs and a pet raccoon), a variety of weird wheeled machines, steady stilters, and a torrent of dancers, music, masks, and marvels.
The glistening impermanence of the ice sculptures is another trademark First Night spectacle. Each of these monumental constructions will weigh between 15 and 25 tons. Thatís enough for one Cribs-style igloo. At Copley Square, creatures are the thing: youíll find Noahís Ark and the Last Unicorn. On Boston Common, Eastern Europe will glimmer with "Russian Troika" and frozen children can ride a "Crystal Carousel." And in Northeasternís Krentzman Quad (360 Huntington Avenue), thereíll be an icy eight-foot model of the Husky mascot.
An entire generation of indie-rockers have reached child-bearing age, and theyíve developed the same distaste for the music of Raffi that they once held for genetically engineered Top 40 pop. Their solution, then as now, has been to take matters into their own hands. From chamber-rock cult stars Ida (whose Elizabeth Mitchell just released her second kidsí album) to former Del Fuego Dan Zanes (who got Lou Reed to duet on "What a Wonderful World" on his recent kidsí album Night Time) to the alterna-country roster of Chicagoís Bloodshot Records (which released a kidsí compilation last year entitled The Bottle Let Me Down: Songs for Bumpy Wagon Rides), indie-rockers are bringing new life to an even younger all-ages scene ó and fashioning a back-to-roots folk movement that parents can enjoy. One of the most successful kid-rockers is Chicagoís Ralph Covert, who has three albums for children out on Minty Fresh, a label known best for caffeinated cult-pop acts like Papas Fritas and Veruca Salt. Covert will play his "hip music for hip kids with hip parents" at the Hynes Convention Center at 1 and 2:15 p.m. Fellow Chicagoan Jon Langford, the British expatriate who founded legendary punk-rockers the Mekons (and also holds down gigs with the Waco Brothers and the Pine Valley Cosmonauts, among others) began toying with kidsí music after the birth of his son Jimmy, and at 3:30 and 4:45 at the Hynes heíll unveil some of his handiwork. Other than the subject matter and the later set times, there isnít so much difference between the kidsí music of Covert and Langford and the adult neo-country blues of the Tarbox Ramblers, whoíll play the Copley Theatre (225 Clarendon Street) at 7:30 and 8:45 p.m., and Joe Pernice, whoíll perform at the same venue at 10:15 and 11:30 p.m. Pernice, who has a string of superb country-pop discs under a succession of monikers including the Pernice Brothers and the Scud Mountain Boys, will play with frequent collaborator Peyton Pinkerton; the Ramblers will contribute a set of reverent pre-war folk blues.
Hip parents aside, the AM-only Radio Disney network, with its novelty-hit appeal and unapologetically glossy pop contrivances, has become a guilty-pleasure destination for more than a few of our critics. The station is hosting a line-up of pop/R&B unknowns at the Hynes from 3 to 6 p.m., including Back II Back, the identical-twin boy-band duo who were discovered and signed by Boston Celtics forward Eric Williams as the inaugural group on his Top Shelf Entertainment label. Itís all part of the Hynes Convention Centerís Kohlís Family Festival, which will also feature storytellers, magicians, and workshops throughout the day. Master Czech puppeteer Dusan Petran puts on hand-carved marionette theater from 1 to 4 p.m. The Airborne Comedians juggle lawn chairs, guitars, and birdbaths at 1 and 2:15 p.m.; the Maximum Velocity team push skateboarding and rollerblading to the extreme at 1, 1:40, and 2:20 p.m.; and the SkyRiders perform trampoline acrobatics with skis, snowboards, and hula hoops at 1:20, 2, and 2:40 p.m.
Of course, thereís a whole symphony of choice when it comes to First Night music. For the jazz-minded, Tony Pérez, Bostonís imported (Cuban) breakout piano star of 2002, brings a trio to Emmanuel Church at 6 and 7:45 p.m., followed by Donal Fox making pan-stylistic connections in his Monk-Bach program, with bassist John Lockwood and drummer Yoron Israel, at 9 and 10:15 p.m. Thatís at 15 Newbury Street. Meanwhile, at Berklee Performance Center, 136 Mass Ave in Boston, the Rusty Scott Quartet offers one of its "Battles of the Saxes." Scott writes originals whose lived-in quality harks back to the arrangements of Benny Golson (think "Whisper Not") ó a brainy, soulful kind of hard bop. The saxes in this case are Quartet regular Tim Mayer going up against local legend Bill Pierce. Thatís 8:30 and 9:45 p.m. And at the First Baptist Church, 110 Commonwealth Avenue, Carolyn Wilkins mixes jazz and gospel in a program called "Spirit Jazz" at 7:30, 8:45, and 10 p.m.
An ever-shifting consortium of some of the local sceneís finest talents, Boston Rock Opera has created fully staged productions of such classics as Jesus Christ Superstar and such obscurities as the Small Facesí Happiness Stan. BRO has also begun to flesh out classic-rock concept albums into full-fledged theater pieces. Tonight Harry Nilssonís 1970 album The Point (later turned into a childrenís animated film of the same name), which is about a pointy-headed boy whoís born into a round-headed world and thereafter is banished to the "pointless forest," gets the royal treatment in a production featuring a crack six-piece band, a choreographed dance extravaganza, puppetry, and appearances by local stars Valerie Forgione (Mistle Thrush), John Surette (the Deniros), and Mr. Curt. Thereís a 4 p.m. open dress rehearsal preceding shows at 7:30 and 9:20 p.m., all at the Castle at Park Plaza, Columbus Avenue at Arlington Street. Afterward, Boston pop-rock journeymen the Gigolo Aunts return home from an extended sojourn to celebrate the release of their new Pacific Ocean Blues (Q Division) with sets at 10:30 and 11:30 p.m. at the Castle.
You wonít need global vision to find music from around the world. The Klezmer Conservatory Band will be performing at Berklee Performance Center at 6 and 7:15 p.m. Jazz guitarist Issi Rozen will fuse the rhythms and melodies of the Middle East and the soft touch of Brazil with jazz improvisation at 7:30 and 8:45 p.m. at the Boston Public Library, in Copley Square. Mixing mambo, merengue, and bachata, Kilombo Mambo will play Cuban roots music at 7:30 and 8:30 p.m. at the Hynes Convention Center. Also at the Hynes, at 9:30 p.m., Sali Oyugiís East African rhythms will pulse with funk and soul. And St. Paulís Cathedral, 138 Tremont Street, Furong Gardner and Fan Li will perform Chinese folk and art songs at 3 and 4:30 p.m. and Ping Li, Jun Chin, and Zhan Tao Lin will play Chinese classical music at 7:30 and 8:45 p.m.
Then we have classical. Charles Ansbacherís Boston Landmarks Orchestra has been a summer hit in Boston; now the BLO shows it can play in the winter too as it gives us a program of works by Johann Strauss. Thatís at Trinity Church, in Copley Square, at 7:30 and 9 p.m. Vermont Symphony Orchestra principal cellist Eugene Kim will give a solo recital at 7:30, 8:30, and 9:30 p.m. at the First and Second Church, 66 Marlborough Street. Also at the First and Second Church, Geert van Gele and John Tyson will perform a mix of Baroque and contemporary music at 9 and 10:15 p.m.
Cinema on First Night? Yes indeed. Thereíll be a smattering of sneak previews as part of the First Night Family Film Festival at the Hynes. At 1:15 p.m., Spellbound documents a bunch of brainiac kids buzzing their way to the US National Spelling Bee. Based on a collection of short stories by A.M. Homes, Safety of Objects screens at 9 p.m. Eighties heartthrob Scott Baio stars as a corporate raider by day and the owner of a biscotti company by night in The Bread, My Sweet at 7 p.m. And Bostonís kings of comedy, Tony V. and Jimmy Tingle, star in the premiere of By the Sea at 9:15 p.m.
"Midwinter Repeats" showcases award-winning films from the Roxbury Film Festival. The filmmakers of color featured include Leigh Dana Jackson, Aimee Dixon, Kona Khasu, and Christine Swanson. The films screen at the Hynes at 7:30, 8, 8:30, and 9 p.m.
Weymouth native Rusty Nails (letís hope heís up on his tetanus shots) has curated "Smartoons," a program of independent animated shorts. The afternoonís loop is appropriate for kids; the evening program is more adult oriented. Thatís at the Hynes from 1 to 6 p.m. and from 7:30 to 11 p.m.
At the Museum of Fine Arts, 465 Huntington Avenue, Bo Smith presents the annual First Night "Festival of International Short Films." This year, the selections hail from Australia, the US, Brazil, Germany, and Japan. Programs run at 12:15, 1:30, 2:45, and 4 p.m.
And if you want to move, thereís lots to dance about on First Night. At John Hancock Hall, 180 Berkeley Street, David Parker & the Bang Group will perform "gender-blind toe-dancing" using Velcro suits for hanging and sticking ó which will make for some "hilariously dysfunctional" dancing. Thatís at 9:30 and 10:30 p.m. Earlier at the Hancock, the urban step team Raw Earth will use dance to deliver their anti-violence message at 7:30 and 8:30 p.m.; the young women from Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan, and the South End who make up OrigiNation will perform hip-hop at 7:30 p.m.; and the All Stylz Crew will breakdance old school and new at 8:30 p.m. Or you can swing, swirl, and dip your partner at the Park Plaza Hotel, 64 Arlington Street, with swing dancing at 7:30 and 8:45 p.m. and tango dancing at 10 and 11:15 p.m.
You can get your New Yearís ya-yas out with Improv Boston at the Hynes at 7:30 and 11 p.m. For the first time this year, the innovative improv team wonít be cramped in tight quarters. Tony V. will be joined by Jan Davidson, "who does a mean and funny Susan B. Anthony." Weíre already in stitches. Thatís at the Hynes at 7:30, 8:45, and 9:45 p.m. At 10 and 11:15 p.m. in the Boston Public Libraryís Rabb Hall, thereís campy cabaret with John OíNeilís "Miss Gulch Returns: The Wicked Musical." And thereís poetry, prose, and anything goes when the Boston Poetry Slam encourages audience participation and poets compete before judges at the Hynes at 7:30, 8:15, 9, 9:45, and 10:30 p.m.
This is just the tip of the First Night iceberg. For the complete program, check out www.firstnight.org. Buttons can be purchased for $15 at participating McDonaldís, Stop & Shops, Borders, the MFA, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Store 24, the Institute of Contemporary Art, and a variety of other places. Or call (617) 542-1399.