By Victoria Kidd
Its popularity has grown progressively from its early roots in 1986 when local resident Kathy Nerangis first conceptualized the idea of having a New Year’s Eve celebration of the arts. Today, First Night Winchester Executive Director Christine Germeyer describes the event as “an affordable, nonalcoholic celebration that unites the community in all its diversity through the visual and performing arts.” Entertainment is at the heart of the event, and each year offers something new for attendees. This year’s line up is one that makes Germeyer extremely proud.
“I could go on and on about the entertainment,” she says. “I’m disappointed I won’t be able to catch it all because we’ve acquired some great performers this year!” Throughout the day, performers will take the stage at locations in and around the downtown area, including a number of local businesses and churches whose support is critical to making the event successful. In fact, one of the most appealing things about First Night Winchester is that attendees can enjoy a wide range of entertainment at a variety of venues that are (generally) within walking distance of each other.
Some will spend their evening enjoying what is being offered by returning performers Mean Mary, Tricky-Person Productions, the Blue Ridge Thunder Cloggers, the Yesterday Swing Orchestra, the Rainer Trio, and the Robbie Limon Band. Alternatively, Skyline Indie Film Fest is presenting the 1957 classic “An Affair to Remember” at the Dharma Yoga Studio, while local performers (including VocalPoint, Apple Valley Ringers, Jona Masiya, and others) will be sharing their homegrown talent with everyone.
While these talented entertainers can be appreciated by people of all ages, young (and young-at-heart) attendees will likely favor the chance to visit the creatures of Reptiles Alive or the robots accompanying performer John Hadfield. These evening performances complement the Ronald McDonald visit, face painting, music, and activities occurring earlier at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley. Additional performers offer more music and energetic entertainment for the kids throughout the night while a model train layout set up by the Model Railroad Club of Winchester offers the chance to see tiny locomotives run on 18 scale-miles of track.
If all of that isn’t enough to keep small hands and minds occupied, the Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum is offering free admission after 4pm to First Night button holders. Buttons are the means of entry to the day’s events. They can be purchased at various locations throughout the area for $10. (Children ages 10 and younger are admitted free.) The fee is nominal, considering the fact that the button grants you access to as many of the days events—over 30 in total—as you care to attend.
Those events culminate in what has become the official countdown of the Northern Shenandoah Valley. Well-known WINC-FM radio personality Barry Lee is the official emcee helping attendees say goodbye to 2014 as they watch the “Apple Drop.” (What did you expect? A ball?) As the first few seconds of 2015 pass by, a large fireworks display will provide the percussion for impromptu performances of Auld Lang Syne that will assuredly break out.
It’s a day full of events that represent lots of hard work and dedication from many volunteers and supporting businesses. Germeyer explains, “It is a year-long undertaking to produce a community celebration this large. Our partnerships with the churches, retail businesses, museums, hotels, and restaurants are key to our success.” Sponsors such as Shenandoah Valley Westminster-Canterbury, the City of Winchester, Water Street Design, Bank of Clarke County, McDonald’s, Valley Health, and others are integral supporters of First Night Winchester, which is actually a nonprofit organization. (The necessary support of businesses may be apparent to most attendees, but it should also be noted that there is significant support provided by the city each year.)
In addition to securing the aid of local businesses and city authorities, there is the matter of the simple logistics behind the event, including everything from lining up talent to ensuring there are enough workers on hand at each venue. “Applications for entertainment consideration start coming in as soon as the New Year begins,” Germeyer says. “There really isn’t any “down time” throughout the year. Obtaining sponsors, securing venues, and finding volunteers are just a few of the elements that are crucial to our survival.”
For most attendees, all of that planning and hard work is evident each year. Repeat attendees find something new to enjoy, as scheduled performances change annually, while first-time guests have an entirely unique experience, according to Germeyer. “A first-time attendee is always amazed by the variety and quantity of entertainment,” she says. “Often, they are struck by the beauty of the church settings and the charm of Old Town. Our Apple Drop is sure to warm their hearts and the fireworks make for a great way of welcoming the New Year. Old Town Winchester is an inviting place and those first-time attendees will make their way back.”
If you are a First Night Winchester “newbie,” visit www.firstnightwinchester.com to see the performance and event schedule and plan out your experience. Be sure to obtain your button by visiting one of the eight service locations or by reserving one through the site itself. (Buttons are available while supplies last, so plan ahead.)
Whether you welcome 2015 at First Night Winchester or quietly at home, we hope you will share your New Year’s tidings, resolutions, and photos with us on our Facebook page. We wish all of our readers in Clarke County—and beyond—a very happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year.