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First Night: Something to think about…

first-night-new-englandAs the city welcomes in the new year and another year of growth and development, I also wondered if they might consider a trend that is gaining strength exponentially in many other “cities on the grow” — a First Night celebration. Family friendly.  Multicultural. Affordable.

If frigid northern and east coast cities can do it and find a faithful turnout even when in snow and sometimes subzero cold, Clarksville, with its ability to organize events such as Rivers and Spires and Riverfest, should be able to pull this off with equal flair.

What’s a “First Night” celebration?

First night’s are multi-venue events of performance, music, games, and of course, food. These events often begin at noon with a children’s parade and shows geared for the youngest city residents (puppet shows, or a puppet- or mask-making class, storytelling, magic shows, etc). Adult events could be a one-act play, performances by dance or music groups, book readings, and more. A restaurant might host a small band or jazz combo, or perhaps a vocalist.

Each performance runs 40-45 minutes longs, and at least three to four shows run at any one time, so that one show missed can be regained on a second of third run-through. Individuals and families who have bought the low cost one-ticket-for-all-venues WALK from site to site, using a map and schedule of locations.  Locals restaurants stay open until at least 11 p.m., offering  something free (hot chocolate, cool punch, cookies and such) along with their paid menu.

In my favorite First Night city, as many as a dozen churches, dozens of restaurants, theatres  and public spaces stayed open until 11 p.m. or midnight. My favorite First Night was spent with thousands of other people running from site to site along snow covered streets, bundled up to brave a midnight low temperature of zero degrees. The shows and the hot mulled cider were worth it.

These events usually end with the dropping of a ball at midnight, and sometimes with a fireworks display in the background.

Clarksville has several unique venues that could accomodate this kind of family-friendly entertainment: the downtown district with its restaurants, the Roxy theater’s two performance spaces and its many church spaces; the APSU campus, Strawberry Alley — which seems to be designed for such events; and  with its Christmas on the Cumberland Display (accessed from downtown by a non-stop CTA trolley shuttle to event locations and parking lots/areas outside the district). Utilize downtown church parking lots for additional parking.

My best First Night (back when I could walk longer and a bit further) encompassed more than four city blocks and began with my viewing the children’s parade down “Main Street” from a college art site where they had made masks to wear. It continued with a scene from The Nutcracker played on a small theatre stage, followed by Jazz in a local church, a vocal quintet doing “Broadway” show tunes, a young modern dance troupe, a session of salsa dancing, more music, a reading in abistro, and a pause to eat at one of many unique ethnic restaurants in that community (the choices included restaurants serving pizza, burgers, Greek dishes, Asian cuisine, vegetarian menus  — all price ranges and styles, some restaurants serving up food at odd locations such as community center or public hall). It ended with that crystal “glitter ball” dropping down from the roof of the city’s tallest building, as fireworks went off from another central location.The event ran the length of its downtown “Musante Mile,” a Main Street business district named for the visionary who redveoloped that once-dying downtown district into a Mecca of small locally owned retail, theatre, and restaurant businesses. Its downtown looked a lot like Franklin Street but with twice the width of that street.

It’s something that Clarksville, with its downtown business district perched at the top of a hill, with the river as its backdrop, and its businesses, could format to highlight some of the city’s most unique and interesting features.

At least, it’s something to think about. A family-friendly New Year’s Eve celebration.


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