From musicians and magicians to face-painting and fireworks, First Night 2012 at Grand Centerin St. Louis offers something for everyone this New Year’s Eve.
“I’m really excited about it this year,” said Travis Howser, director of events and theater for First Night. “It’s a wide range. I think there’s a general perception that this thing is specifically for families. Now it is a really family-friendly festival, and we do have a lot of families, but with the range of performances that we have, it’s for everyone. Every age, race, whatever—that’s what I find most exciting about the festival, is that it really covers all spectrums. And there really is something for everyone to see.”
The “something” includes a comedy illusionist, interactive drama, well-known St. Louis vocalists Jeannie Trevor and Kim Massie, a puppeteer, Polynesian dance demonstrations, a hypnotist, a Songs of Africa performance, music just for kids, a magician, acrobats, Latin-flavored music, dancing, the amazing Death By Tickle: Astounding Feats of Absurdity and much more.
The complete program for activities, some indoors and some outdoors, is available at the Grand Center website.
This is the 20th anniversary of First Night in St. Louis, and the 10th year it has been hosted by Grand Center, with activities concentrated along Grand Avenue between Lindell and Delmar boulevards.
“It really is all within a five-block radius,” he said. “One benefit of this being in Grand Center is our density of theaters and churches and venues that we can use. So your longest walk to get to the next venue is going to be half a block. But the good thing that we do is we purposely plan things on the street and light things in an attractive way, so if people have to do that half block to their next venue, they’re entertained along that way. There are all sorts of sights and sounds to see and hear as you’re going from venue to venue.”
The evening starts with the opening ceremony at 6 p.m. on the main stage at Grand and Lindell boulevards. Generald Wilson, a local recording artist and U.S. Navy veteran who sang the national anthem at two of this year’s World
Series games, will sing “The Star Spangled Banner.” This year’s First Night theme is Xanadu, chosen by the public through email suggestions that were then narrowed by a committee and voted for on Facebook.
“Xanadu can mean a really large spectrum of things,” Howser said. “So we really had to strategically think about how we were going to focus that this year.”
Some, he said, think of the 1980 disco-themed movie Xanadu with Olivia-Newton John and Gene Kelly. Others, he added, think of the nine Greek muses.
“Those are the two main elements we’re playing off of,” he said. “So this year with the Greek muses, we decided that we’d go ahead and do the Grand Center muses. We will have nine interactive muses on the street… They will be kind of these boxes that will be the muse of visual arts, the muse of architecture, the muse of education (and so on). What you will essentially be able to do is get inside this muse and pose and interact with it, and then you’ll be able to take a photograph. They’re very bright and colorful and very interactive.”
For the movie aspect, the film Xanadu will be projected on a large screen placed on the side of a building and run all night in a continuous loop.
“Next to that we will have the bubble bus, this kind of disco-esque bus that projects out all of these bubbles, and I mean they will fill the street with bubbles,” Howser said.
They will also have a disco ball mobile, with 30 disco balls at different angles, all rotating and shooting light.
“So there will be a little corner of the festival that is very Xanadu, the movie, disco,” he said.
Organizers start planning this event early.
“Right as one ends, we start thinking about the next one,” he said. “But we don’t hit it really, really hard until September… Pretty much September until next Saturday, we’re at it, and it’s pretty much our main focus.”
Organizers have also taken great measures to make sure the venue is safe.
“This festival is a critical staple for the community,” Howser said. “With that being the case, all of our community partners are really enthusiastic about helping us out with that. So the police department, the fire department, we also bring in some private security, they are all on board, and they all patrol, and they’re around. I can honestly say that we’ve never had any incidents at this festival… We have a lot of families down here, and they always feel safe.”
In an evening packed with highlights, Howser is particularly fond of the fireworks that bring in the new year at midnight.
“We have a great fireworks display, but it’s not just the fireworks,” he said. “Most of our venues close at about 11:30, and that allows people to have time to get out of the festival and get themselves placed where they’re comfortable to see the fireworks.”
Midnight is when people from all the venues converge on one area, and the spirit is electric.
“At the midnight fireworks display, the street gets incredibly packed with people, and you really get to see the age diversity, the race diversity, and you get to see the enthusiasm,” Howser said. “That really is a moment where you will see strangers hugging strangers, and people giving each other high fives and jumping up and down. You really see that dense group of people coming together and ringing in the New Year. You see people get genuinely excited.”
The fireworks will be large scale and last 15 to 20 minutes, Howser said. The ideal viewing area is near the main stage at Lindell and Grand boulevards, with a one block section offering unobstructed views, plenty of space, and proximity to the choreographed music.
“It’s exciting to see because you’re on the street,” Howser said. “You’re surrounded by buildings, you’re in a dense urban area… So you have all of these buildings, and then you see this massive fireworks display going off in this dense urban area.”
Advance tickets are $4 children, $8 adults, with event day prices of $5 children, $10 adults. The fee purchases a souvenir button, which is necessary to get into the indoor venues. The outdoor venues and the fireworks are free.
Take Highway 40 east to Grand Blvd and turn north. There is ample parking. For specific details about directions and parking, see the site’s directions and parking section.