Unlike the last 27 years, the streets and performance venues of downtown St. Johnsbury were empty on New Year’s Eve, but that didn’t stop First Night North from delivering quality entertainment to a large audience.
The annual show of multiple performers couldn’t go on as normal because the pandemic prevented people from gathering in the same spaces, but Catamount Arts organizers kept the tradition alive by putting the talent on the TV for free.
Sponsors supported the move to a recorded 8-hour show. Performing artists who have entertained crowds of people gathered in various St. Johnsbury locations in past years welcomed the opportunity to supply pre-recorded entertainment, and the folks at Kingdom Access TV put it all together for viewers to enjoy from the comfort and COVID-free safety of their own homes.
“FNN and Catamount Arts did a terrific job planning this project and we were very happy to help and I’m also pleased so many viewers have enjoyed this event during such unusual circumstances in our world,” said Jamie Dimick from Kingdom Access Television. “KATV’s staff did a wonderful job managing this project and getting it out — so people could forget about Covid-19 for a while.”
KATV’s affiliation with the Vermont Access Network means the other cable access channels throughout the state can share content, and most of them (22 out of 24) chose to show First Night North. The recording is still entertaining people, Dimick said, with KATV.ORG experiencing record traffic with close to 4,700 visits to the website in the last few days.
The crew at KATV handled the technical aspects of putting together the individually-recorded segments of music and other performing arts. KATV’s participation was provided free of charge.
“This project has helped us to fulfill community needs in our area and our greater State,” said Dimick. “This provided a safe First Night event for many, many people and sustained the FNN tradition of community, during News Year’s Eve.”
Organizers from Catamount Arts said it was gratifying to see the televised First Night North after months of planning.
“We were thrilled with how the event came together!” said Ashley Van Zandt, First Night North coordinator for Catamount Arts. “After nearly five months of planning, it was surreal to see the final product playing on the ‘big screen’ TV in my living room.”
“It was so heartwarming to have our sponsors come through and show their continued support for the arts, and we were excited to be able to present a program celebrating the arts to our community — and beyond — thanks to Kingdom Access Television,” she said.
Van Zandt shared some feedback from viewers of the event.
From someone watching in Ayer, Mass: “My 89-year-old dad and I watched your New Year’s Eve Performance Show and we loved it! My 34-year-old son also watched it from a Tall Ship and loved it also … You all did a wonderful job and really made a creative and positive start to the New Year for everyone!
From someone in St. Johnsbury: “I just wanted to thank you, thank you, thank you all for the virtual First Night North celebration last night! It was just what the doctor ordered! It really exceeded my expectations and in some aspects was even better than the normal First Night celebrations, although I truly missed seeing everybody and sharing New Years greetings.”
From Jonathan Rosen, performer of First Night past and present: “Thanks so much for including Annie & the Hedonists in First Night North. It was quite strange being at home on NYE rather than roaming the streets of St. Johnsbury. We thoroughly enjoyed the show. We love the community spirit and the way you mixed top musical acts in with local performers and teens.”
Molly Stone, associate director of performance for Catamount Arts, said seeing the final show was an emotional experience because she knew how much went into the effort. She spent hours with the KATV team and helped some performers overcome technical difficulties with providing a recording. She also needed to negotiate performance fees with the acts.
“To watch the final product with all of that in mind was just overwhelming,” she said.
Despite the positive response and the realization that a recorded, screened show can be successful, organizers are looking forward to a return to live performances.
“Even though the virtual program came together perfectly and was a smashing hit, I did miss going to each venue and watching community members enjoying and celebrating the arts in person,” said Van Zandt. “Fingers crossed for First Night North 2022!”
Catamount’s Executive Director Jody Fried said despite a time of social distancing, the First Night North 2021 presentation brought people together.
“In the midst of a pandemic, residents of the Northeast Kingdom found a way to celebrate together this place and each other through music, dance, magic, comedy, puppetry and circus on New Year’s Eve,” he said. “The shared experience of artists, performers, sponsors, presenters and audience members united our community when we desperately needed it.”