Bubble stomping,  First Night 2008.
Bubble stomping, First Night 2008. (Herald Archive/Vern Fisher)

MAKING EVERYONE part of the party is the happy mission of First Night Monterey, which has been ushering in the New Year in spectacular style since 1993. This year is no exception.

"Where else can you go to hear great bands and at most pay $25? It's a great deal," said First Night Monterey executive director Ellen Martin, who notes that there will be 75 performances to choose from this New Year's Eve.

The idea of First Night, which began in Boston in 1976as a family-friendly, community-oriented New Year's celebration, spread across the United States in the '80s and '90s. Some cities have had to scale back their celebrations or cancel them altogether due to budgetary restrictions.

Monterey Bay Lion Dancers make their way through downtown Monterey, First Night 2009.
Monterey Bay Lion Dancers make their way through downtown Monterey, First Night 2009. (Herald Archive/David Royal)

Not so in Monterey, Martin said, who added that First Night survives in Monterey because of strong support from the city, from participating artists and from a community that now considers the event a year-end local tradition.

"We do have the city of Monterey very much behind us," said Martin, and although First Night has had to tighten its belt, she admits it's actually been for the best. Venues are now concentrated in an easy-to-walk area on Pacific and Alvarado streets, for a more intimate experience.

Most of the performances take place indoors, so that even rainy weather won't dampen the celebration.

This year's First Night commences at 4 p.m. Dec.


31, as Japanese taiko drummers sound off on the lawn in front of Colton Hall on Pacific Street, and Aztec performers dance and bestow a traditional Native American blessing.

The first few hours are devoted to family-friendly activities like face painting, adding handprints to a New Year's mural, playing a giant board game, and do-it-yourself art projects. A twilight procession at 5:30 p.m.

Children in costume for a puppet play, First Night 2009.
Children in costume for a puppet play, First Night 2009. (Herald Archive/Orville Myers)
with puppets,stilt walkers and Chinese lion dancers leads the action to Alvarado Street, where First Nighters can attend performances by musicians and magicians, see exhibits and makemore of their own art.

Martin said that this year, in addition to local favorites,two new musical acts will make their debut. The Bay Area salsa band Mambo Tropical will get everyone dancing, and Nashville singer Heather Waters brings her brand of country western. A fiesta of world music is planned for the historic Golden State Theatre throughout the evening.

The event concludes with dual grand finales - at the Monterey Conference Center's Serra Ballroom and at the Golden State Theatre - at midnight.

One of the magical aspects of First Night is that its influence is felt all year long throughout the area. An extensive outreach program brings art projects into under-served South County communities like Big Sur, Greenfield and Soledad, where students have produced several art exhibits that will be on view at this year's festivities.

This year's celebration is also taking advantage of the latest social media. In addition to the website www.first-nightmonterey.org, where updates on entertainment will be posted regularly and First Night buttons may be purchased in advance, First Night also has a Facebook page and can be tracked on Twitter, at twitter.com/firstnighter.

And New Year's blinkies and jewelry, made specifically for First Night Monterey, will be available as well. Not only will you be stylin', purchase of this merchandise supports First Night's year-round art programs.

WHEN: Fri., Dec. 31, beginning at 4:00 p.m.
WHERE: Various locations in downtown Monterey
TICKETS AND INFORMATION: (831) 373-4778, or www.firstnightmonterey.org