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Frigid First Night

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“You really have to be flexible,” said First Night Festival Director Carolyn Gibbons, juggling two cell phones at 2 p.m. inside the First Night Office at the start of First Night Missoula’s 11th New Year’s Eve. Around 10 a.m., the vocal and instrumental quartet Joyful Noyse cancelled its 6 and 7 p.m. performances due to illness. Gibbons thought fast: She dubbed her daughter Sophie (a violin performance major at McGill) and Sophie’s friend Mary Connole (who has played duets with Sophie at weddings) “Joyful Strings” and sent them to perform at St. Francis Xavier Church.

Outside the Florence Hotel at 2:30 p.m.—with the wind nearly toppling the Missoula Art Museum’s spinning sculpture—Don Gisselbeck wasn’t outside reading Sonnets on the Sidewalk. After weathering the first 10 poems in the cold, he’d left an impromptu sign saying he could be found reading in the lobby. “I’m a wuss,” the sign explained. Inside by the fireplace, Gisselbeck was 19 sonnets into the 154 he planned to read for about two-and-a-half-hours during his third First Night. Pausing between sonnets he said, “What a way to lose my voice.”

A block away at the Wilma, the Rocky Mountain Ballet Theatre finished the first of two shows before an impressive crowd. In the lobby was a more sober reminder of how important last-minute planning can be: A Red Cross booth was set up to accept donations for the tsunami relief fund; a stack of First Night featured artist Eden Atwood’s CDs were stacked on the table, with all proceeds going to the fund.

From 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the upstairs lobby of the Missoula Children’s Theatre, Erich “The Egg Man” Jonas played his Original Egg Game with about 100 people—which was fewer than usual, he said, likely due to the weather. Guitarist John Floridis, performing in his 10th First Night, agreed that nasty weather slimmed the crowds.

Nevertheless, Gibbons praised the roughly 400 volunteers who made Friday night a success (7,000 buttons were sold). Crowds for the finale performances by the Ed Norton Big Band, the Tropical Montana Marimba Ensemble and Eden Atwood and the Last Best Band, she said, defied the weather. As for Joyful Strings’ pinch-hitting performance? Gibbons reported the girls got a standing ovation.

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