ST. JOHNSBURY — First Night North organizer Jay Sprout reminisces every year about St. Johnsbury’s inaugural First Night event more than a quarter-century ago. “Thirty degrees above zero with the lightest of fluffy snowflakes falling gently all evening,” says Sprout. “It was like a Hollywood set for a sentimental holiday movie. We’ve never seen weather quite like it since.”
The weather’s been dramatically inconsistent every year since, but Sprout says one thing never changes: year after year, First Night North promises eight hours of spectacular entertainment for revelers of all ages. With 250 performers in 80+ shows, First Night boasts far more entertainment than anyone can possibly take in, even in a full 8-hour stretch. Thankfully, Sprout has honed a few tips over the years to maximize every family’s First Night Fun.
Come early. Those who arrive at 4 and 5 p.m. get to see First Night North’s opening acts, which include the No-Strings Marionettes, Modern Times Theater’s Punch & Judy puppet show, music from the Academy Hilltones, Not Quite Dead, and Fifth Business, among others. The Family Fun Fair also kicks off early, and new this year is the 2020 Intentions Generator art installation, located at 142 Eastern from 4 p.m. to midnight.
Plan ahead. Visit www.FirstNightNorth.org or pick up a print program guide to learn about all of the evening’s scheduled performers. Visit the performers’ web sites and YouTube clips to decide which artists you most want to see, and use the map and schedule to plan your night. Note that many performers, including the Nimble Arts Circus, Modern Times Theater, and most musicians, have multiple sets scheduled throughout the evening. Others, like Kingdom All Stars, Third Shift, and Tritium Well, have long sets scheduled, running for two consecutive 45-minute slots instead of one.
Hitch a lift. First Night North performances are scheduled 20 minutes apart to allow patrons to walk from one venue to the next, but that’s not always enough time for everybody. The RCT shuttle bus will run a 15-minute loop among all venues all evening, and drivers will stop anywhere along the route if you just wave your hand. Butler’s Bus Service will also run a smaller loop from St. Johnsbury School to Fuller Hall to the Morse Center.
Stay put. Every First Night North venue has a packed schedule featuring a variety of entertainment, so there’s no need to swap venues every hour if you’d rather not. Check the schedule and find out which venues are best suited to keep you amused for hours at a stretch. Seat yourself, shed your winter wear, and settle in for as long as you like. Note that St. Johnsbury School is particularly well-suited for families with small children, with kid-friendly programming, the Family Fun Fair, and the Maple Grove pancake supper all under one roof.
Sample the goods. If you’re feeling ambitious, try checking out a couple of shows within a given hour. First Night artists expect audiences to come and go all night, so it’s not impolite to slip quietly in and out of shows to make sure you see a little bit of everything. There are over 20 first-time First Night performances scheduled this year, so enjoy your old favorites, but make time to try something new. Feeling a bit overstimulated? Settle into the welcoming darkness of a Planetarium Show, running every 30 minutes at Fairbanks Museum from 6-9 p.m., or quietly browse the Arts Connect Juried Art Show at Catamount Arts.
Eat! Keep that energy going by fueling your spirits and your stomach with a wide variety of delectable goodies ranging from full meals to on-the-go snacks and sweets. Sit down to a spaghetti dinner, falafel sandwiches, Genuine Jamaican, or hot soup and bread. Grab some handcut fries, cider doughnuts, coffee, cocoa, or desserts in between performances.
Stick it out. There’s something truly extraordinary about counting down to the New Year with the whole community while the 13-foot ball of light (bigger than the one in Times Square!) rises overhead. The First Night Ball will be right on Main Street this year adjacent to South Church Hall. Be the first to wish your friends and family a Happy New Year by the light of the eagerly anticipated midnight fireworks show.
First Night North is in its third decade of substance-free, family-friendly, festival-style entertainment, featuring comedy, fire artists, dancing, storytelling, and every music genre imaginable. These tips are sure to help revelers of all ages ring in the New Year with magic and joy. Of course, Sprout has one final tip: don’t forget to dress for the weather!