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Celebrating the arts on the last 'First Night' of the decade

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 29, 2009 -  On the final night of a decade that saw the swift rise of touch screens and other types of digital technology, the organizers of First Night-Saint Louis are asking revelers to pay homage to old-fashioned paper.

People who want to put their hopes for 2010 in writing can help fill a 40-foot wall that will be covered in Post-it Notes. The small and sticky colored squares will contain the varied dreams of St. Louisans that will be on display on what’s being called the Wonder Wall of Wishes. It’s keeping with this year’s theme, “Wonderland.” 

On the flip side, those who want to cast off bad memories or move past their regrets from 2009 can see these written messages temporarily vanish into a replica of the Big Ben clock tower and later be thrown into flames.

Finding creative ways to help New Year’s Eve partiers look back and move forward has become a tradition for the planners of First Night, an annual celebration of the arts that takes place across the country and had its first run in St. Louis in 1992. This is the eighth consecutive year that Grand Center Inc., the license holder that is sanctioned to produce the First Night festival here, has held the event.

Last year, an estimated 12,000 people came out for the alcohol-free New Year’s party, according to Rachel Beatty, project manager of events and marketing at Grand Center. While the celebration is largely geared toward families, Beatty said plenty of people in their 20s, 30s and beyond also attend.

This year’s event features more than 75 different performers who are sharing stages in 15 venues across the Grand Center district, which is once again lit up to celebrate the occasion. About a third of those are musical acts, which Beatty said is more than usual. “We try to feature as many local artists as we can,” she said. “This year we had an overwhelming response from the music community, and we’re going with that.”

One band that is considered a headliner, given its slots during the evening, is The Cadence, a drum troupe from Springfield, Mo. The group plays on the Grand Countdown Stage, and its two performances lead into the 9 p.m. and midnight firework shows that are put to music and set off from a Saint Louis University parking garage. (The first fireworks display runs about seven minutes and the second about 15 minutes.)

“We always try to have a buildup going into the fireworks, and we’re excited to get [The Cadence] because they bring so much energy,” Beatty said.

Other musical groups celebrate everything from disco to pop to folk to bluegrass. There’s a tribute to women in jazz and men in Motown. There’s magic, comedy, storytelling and a puppet show. Kids also have a crafts station and a maze to keep them busy during the late hours.
The First Night performance roster is too long to list in full, but here’s a quick look at one possible itinerary:

6 p.m.: Opening ceremonies kick off the more-than five hours of performances. The opening act is the national anthem performed by Charles Glenn the Harris-Stowe University Honeycombs and Drumline march from the corner of Grand Avenue and Lindell Boulevard to the main stage.

6:30 p.m.: Jeff Raz, a Cirque du Soleil star, performs circus with Circus Harmony’s St. Louis Arches in an acrobatic show inside the Scottish Rite Auditorium.

7 p.m.:  The Winter MUNY Kids perform insde St. Francis Xavier College Church.

7:30 p.m.: Performer Chris Jones does the first of his 15-minute shows inside Third Baptist Church called Star Wars in a Box. He celebrates the original Star Wars Trilogy by utilizing a box filled with characters and props.

8 p.m.: After a four-year hiatus, it’s the return of the Lazer Vaudville artistic troupe, which performs glow-in-the-dark juggling acts and rope tricks. The show is inside the Scottish Rite Auditorium.

8:30 p.m.: The Cadence drum troupe performs its first of two shows at the Grand Countdown Stage. The percussion group was featured recently on America’s Got Talent.

9 p.m.: The early fireworks show begins.

9:30 p.m.: There’s Latin dancing in the Sheldon Concert Hall Ballroom until 11:30 p.m.

10 p.m.: Sean Holland Band, a group with soft rock and Motown influences, performs on the Washington Main Stage.

10:30 p.m.: Keltic Reign, a band with myriad Celtic influences, performs at Third Baptist Church.

11 p.m.: The Tim T. Band, which features gospel music, helps in your Bingo game of musical genres.

11:30: Get ready for the fireworks finale at midnight.

Buttons for the event can be purchased in advance at Borders, Dierbergs, Schnucks (Richmond Center, Ladue Crossing and Webster Groves locations), or online. They cost $8 for adults, $4 for children ages 6-12 and free for ages 5 and younger.

At the event, buttons can be bought under the Fox marquee, in the lobby of the Grandel Theater in the lobby of the Scottish Rite Auditorium or inside the St. Louis University Busch Student Center. The cost then is $10 for adults, $5 for children 6-12 and free for children 5 and younger.

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