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And the last shall be first

An entertainment horn of plenty ushers in the New Year

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Not to be nit-picky, but this whole gig is a misnomer, given the magnitude of the event. There is nothing remotely “first” about First Night. It comes on the last part of the last day of the year, a sequence that seems fairly clear-cut in terms of etymological inspiration. The only thing “first” that First Night is even close to is the first morning of the first day of the following year, which kicks in at 12:00:01 am, or precisely when New Year’s Eve noisemakers have reached a thundering crescendo.

So why not call a spade a spade here and rename the thing “Last Night?” What’s wrong with casting a grateful glance at the year upon whose big shoulders we have just collectively ridden to a new segment in our lives? Sure, 2001 had its obvious low points, but 2002–promise of better days and all–wouldn’t be possible without it.

Perhaps the name-fudging is simply an effort to avoid confusion among potential attendees. The questions “Are you going to Last Night?” or “Did you boogie down at Last Night last night?” would result in a confusion on par with the famous “Who’s on First (Night?)” routine.

Whatever the reasons behind the temporal name choice, First Night 2002 is approaching like a steam train, and it’s bigger and better than ever. The events are far too numerous to give detailed accounts of each one, so check your First Night Missoula program for specific times and locations.

As you’d expect from a booze- and smoke-free extravaganza, First Night has much to offer those who float on a natural and perpetual high (I’m talking children here, not Zen Feng-Shui herbalists). Many of these activities begin early in the afternoon, and some continue on towards the witching hour.

Anyone with kids marvels at their natural instinct to smear colored substances over their faces, so the several face-painting booths should prove a smash hit. Wooden horses and pipe-organ music are also time-tested successes with the youngsters, and a Carousel for Missoula will oblige them most of the day. There’s a puppet show for toddlers, a puppetry-and-blacklight-theater show for those a bit older, and two different creative balloon artists give an introduction to “pop art.”

There are several opportunities for kids to get a musical groove on with participatory jam sessions, a demonstration of precision team rope-skipping, and live pony rides. Clowns and magicians figure into the mix as well, and the little ‘uns will also get the chance to get all Medieval with the Society for Creative Anachronism. Additionally, the McCormick Park ice rink will be open and serving hot chocolate all day.

There’s probably no form of celebration more universal than dance, and First Night offers a wide array of American and international dancing programs, many of them with a heavy participatory bent. There’s the meditative movements of Elemental Energetics and Soul Motion, the family-oriented enthusiasm of Lizzi Juda, the graceful ballroom moves of Martha Jane Newby, and the quietly astonishing contortions of the Rocky Mountain Ballet Theatre.

On the international dance front, L.E.D.A. boasts a specifically-choreographed piece from West African master dancer and drummer Mabiba Baenge, the Missoula Irish Dancers kick it with some lordly moves, a high-energy display of African dance and storytelling from Unity Dance and Drum, and a belly-shaking greeting of the new year from The Missoula Committee for American Belly Dance and the Troupe Ya Habibi.

You’ll get the opportunity to flex those newfound moves from a variety of dance-band performances. Along with the appearances from the venerated Big Sky Mudflaps, dancing grooves will be provided from the likes of the jazz and swing Ed Norton Big Band, the multi-faceted Lockwood’s Versatiles, the swinging and jumping Critical Martini, a Latin-spiced shakedown from Cocinado, the’40s-inspired stylings of the Sentinel High School Jazz Band, and local pop maestros Volumen.

There’s no reason you can’t dance to the rest of First Night’s live music lineup, a list as long as a 10-year-old’s letter to Santa. If acoustic folk and/or pop music is your bag, you’re in for a loooong night of dashing to and fro, staring with some local faves. Bitterroot chanteuse Jenn Adams leads her trio, Tom Catmull powers his quartet, John Floridis gives the bluesy juice to his trio, Amy Martin does that guitar-and-vox thing like only she knows how to, and Larry Hirshberg and Richie Reinholdt play a mix of rough gems.

Other acts include the Irish and Celtic folk tunes of Dublin Gulch, the original acoustic tunes of Brian Kopper and Chris Cunningham, the sweet voice-and-guitar of Mariss McTucker, and the acclaimed father-and-son duo of Watercarvers Guild.

The country and bluegrass genres get a fair shake here, too. Starting with local stars Cash for Junkers, the lineup includes the conglomeration of local talent that is Cottonwood, the mandolin and guitar duets of Mike and Tari Conroy, the bluegrass throwback stylings of The Gravely Mountain Boys, the banjo-and-piano madness of Bob McKinnon and Jerome Kolan, and the big-stage fireworks of Rob Quist and Great Northern.

If the only voices you want to hear are the ones inside your head, First Night delivers with an impressive lineup of instrumental music. The Blue Mountain Winds offer a woodwind quintet, the Celtic Dragon Pipe Band will be joined by Missoula’s Scottish Highland Dancers, four local players will be plucking Celtic Harps, William LaCroix will ply the guitar, banjo and cardboard(!), both the Montana Guitar Ensemble and the Montana Piano Trio are self-explanatory, Quiet Drum and Percussion encourages audience participation, and Tango Nouveau tackle the avant-garde works of Argentinean composer Astor Piazzolla.

But if it’s the voice–and nothing but the voice–that you want to hear, a bevy of a capella performers will oblige you. Cantanti Missoula give voice to Renaissance music both sacred and secular, the Missoula Community Chorus gives its inaugural performance, the Montana Women’s Chorus hits the high notes, Nothing Sacred delivers their own brand of vocal arrangements, the Bitterroot-based trio Refresh tackle some doo-wop numbers, and Silcher & Skyrud harmonize on some folk and bluegrass ballads.

In miscellaneous categories, Mandir and the Drum Brothers give separate tail-shaking, world-beat performances, Velma Cameron and Friends combine the smooth stirring of Celtic harps and their own rich voices, and Lee Zimmerman straps on a cello and fuses his baritone voice with deep clarity of his instrument, and the couple tandem Sidhe create a music and poetry hybrid.

In the “Eleven Readers Reading” category, a host of mostly-local authors and poets will read from their works. Poets David Dale, Mark Gibbons, Sheryl Noethe and David Thomas will give their stanza-ed take on life here and elsewhere, and Peter Larson will deliver the word of the Bard as he reads all 173 of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Multi-tasking poet/novelists Zan Bockes and Vicky Rostovich will dip from their prose and poetry bags, and the Montana Writer’s Guild will offer a broad cross-section of work as well. Rounding out the highbrow stuff is an intriguing mosaic of poetry, prose and jazz (take that, Kerouac) from Bob Athearn and LeDoux Hansen.

A trio of speakers will illuminate topics dear to their hearts and minds. Victoria Christie tells the story of the women’s suffrage movement with an emphasis on Montana’s role, Hal Stearns presents little-known facts from the Lewis and Clark expeditions, and Arch Ellwein revisits a colorful chapter of Montana history with a first-person portrayal of Missouri River steamboat captain Grant Marsh.

The theatre gets a fair shake in First Night cultural contributions. Elenita Brown performers celebrate the cultural diversity of Spain in Alma Espanola!, MCT is sure to get a barrel of guffaws out of Bits and Pieces, Michael Delaney sheds light on current events as seen by old Sam Clemens in Mark Twain: From Time to Time, the No Borders Indigenous Theater Company keeps the native voice alive in theater, former Missoulians Moira Keefe and Charlie Oates present their take on the long road of couple-dom in Staying Married. Troupe 483 goes off the wall with comedic improvisation, and Craig Menteer directs Shaun Gant’s new comedy, The Visitors, about a woman with short-term memory loss who encounters a decidedly Missoulian cast of characters.

In addition to all the aural stimuli, First Night is presenting a host of visual arts. From children’s art and classic cartoons to ice sculptures and quilts, you’ll find it all in the program.

Finally, First Night bids a fond farewell to the last daylight of the year at Caras Park, where a bevy of musicians and street performers join Grandfather Time and Baby New Year in creating a Time Capsule to be opened 25 years from now.

Maybe by then they’ll have this whole thing straightened out, and the capsule will be unearthed at Last Night 2026.

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