The Mayan calendar would have allegedly seen the world end more than a week ago, but for First Night, the only effect is to inspire enormous serpent puppets and smoke-breathing temple boats. The arts-based, family-friendly, alcohol-free New Year’s Eve celebration has rocked Tacoma’s theater district for the past six years after a rebirth in 2007. And, despite holding to the same budget, has expanded the offerings inside and outside, as well as making the whole program smartphone-friendly.
“It’s the same budget as last year, but we’re trying to be judicious with dollars,” says co-organizer Lance Kagey. “We feel like we’re transitioning from a small community event to a big blow-out event. We’re trying to give people lots of options.”
SNAKES AND SERPENTS
Among those options is the annual opening tradition of the World’s Shortest Parade, a noisy, dancing procession that begins near the graffiti garages on Broadway and ends just one block later at the Pantages Theater. Each year, the First Night nonprofit group commissions a giant puppet to add to the parade, honoring the Chinese zodiac with rabbits or dragons. This lunar New Year (actually beginning in February) is the Year of the Snake, and puppet-builder Annette Matteo is creating a giant, hand-held, lamp-lit one similar to her previous ones. Last year’s metal fire-breathing dragon also will take part.
But the attraction of the Mayan calendar was impossible to resist. First Night organizers had Metro Parks Tacoma organize the decoration of three derelict boats into an enormous flaming Mayan serpent, with a replica temple in the middle spouting dry-ice fog. Led by artist Allison Greer Morse, the snake boats were created out of papier-mché and painted by community members and local schoolchildren attending MetroParks’ after-school SPARX program.
“We did a snake because in Mayan culture the snake is responsible for taking the sun and stars across the heavens,” said Metro Parks organizer Mary Tuttle. “So the kids are learning about the symbols and beliefs of the culture, as well as about repurposing things and how to protect the environment.”
Also joining the parade will be Tubaluba, a New Orleans funeral-style marching band, Brazilian carnival band VamoLa and other dancers and musicians.
GLASS, ICE AND SCAVENGER HUNTS
Other new items this year are an Ice Walk and two art scavenger hunts. One hunt is on paper: Festival-goers look up and down the First Night “footprint” along Broadway from the graffiti garages to the Hotel Murano (including the Rialto Theater) looking for various pieces of public art, including a new mural at 11th and Market streets that has space for viewers to chalk their own contributions. Secret words will be written at all of the art points, and those who compile the whole list can enter their answer slip in a drawing for a night at the Hotel Murano.
The other hunt is for glass medallions made by Monkeyshines, the anonymous glassblowers who hide Asian New Year glass balls around town.
And if you don’t find anything, you can still brave the Ice Walk: a stretch of ice outside the Woolworth Windows on Broadway (which will have new installations) that passes through a 20-foot-high crystalline sculpture and rewards those who make the whole walk barefoot with a free cup of hot cocoa.
“We did the Ice Walk in 2004, and are reviving it,” says Kagey.
MUSIC AND MORE
While the budget may be the same, the musical line-up is definitely more extensive, with plenty of crowd-pleasers on multiple stages indoor and outdoor. Opening the main stage near the Pantages is local indie rock favorite Owl Parliament; others include Goldfinch, Shogun Barbie, Death by Stars, and Ivan and Alyosha – fresh from a Brandi Carlile tour. There’s folk from the Tune Stranglers and Tallboys, hot club jazz from Pearl Django, kindie rock from the Fun Police and Latin from VamoLa, Mariachi Guadalajara and Los Flacos, plus various hip-hop, singer-songwriters and dance.
Hilarious old-guy trio The Mud Bay Jugglers are back, and other family acts include the Clay Martin Punch and Judy puppet show, magician Louie Foxx and a magic lantern show.
There also are plenty of hands-on activities: a drum circle, Xbox contest, a hip-hop class and art-making. Vendors will be selling crafts and art just inside the empty space behind the fountain at 11th and Broadway, and outside at each end of the footprint will be food vendors.
FIRING IT UP
First Night has made a tradition of using fire (not fireworks) to usher in the new year, and this year a new influx of volunteers is making more possible, Kagey says. Fire hoopers and dancers will perform at the end of the parade, sporadically through the night and again at 11:45 p.m., when there’ll also be the burning of the 2013 numbers and the snake effigy with all of the wishes that participants have thrown in during the night. Ongoing outside Theater on the Square will be the Zen fire gardens, where you can draw fiery patterns in sand, and at 7 p.m. artist Kyle Dillehay will pour molten metal into ice.
“It will be spectacular,” says Kagey.
FIND IT ON THE PHONE
How to find out where things are going on? Well, there’ll still be paper programs available at downtown locations and at the First Night information booth near the Broadway Center’s box office, but this year the First Night crew has beefed up the website and made it smartphone-friendly. Big visuals and easy navigation help festival-goers scan different acts, and on the night itself, the display will automatically pop up to the current line-up depending on the time.
BUTTONS, PARKING, TRANSPORT
Outside events at First Night are free, including the parade, the main stage, the fire events and the midnight closing finale. For inside access, a button gets you into all venues, including the Museum of Glass and the Children’s Museum. They also get you free skate rental at Polar Plaza ice rink on Pacific Avenue. Buttons are available on brownpapertickets.com, as well as at various downtown locations (see information box).
Parking is free at the Tacoma Dome Station garage, and the Link light rail runs until 1 a.m. into the downtown area. Many downtown restaurants and cafes will be open, including Varsity Grill, El Toro, Sundance Café, Ravenous Restaurant, Broadway Quickstop, Tully’s, Mad Hat Tea Party and AmeRAWcan Bistro.
Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568