For the past 25 years, Springfield has held a "First Night" event on New Year's Eve. First Night is a celebration of the arts that benefit programs and services of the Springfield Area Arts Council, such as grants and resources to local artists, arts organizations, social service agencies with arts programming and educational arts programs in public and private schools of some of Springfield's surrounding counties.
What does all this really mean? After living in Springfield for nine years and not having anything going on for the 2011 New Year's Eve, I decided to check it out.
First Night was supposed to kick off with a fireworks show at the Illinois State Capitol but it was too windy to safely shoot them off downtown. That was a bit of a bummer. Representatives from the arts council, Springfield's mayor and a few former mayors started the evening with speeches instead.
I then headed to the Old State Capitol and saw a collection of short films by the Springfield Public Schools Student Film Club. The films are created and edited by area high school students with assistance from faculty members. I wish my school in Missouri had that when I was that age. (That makes me sound old!)
Next, I headed to "Representative Hall" for a Civil War-era ball by the Springfield International Folk Dancers. Friends of mine were dancing with the group, so I stuck around and took some photos and videos of the performance. Below are a few of my favorite shots from the ball, along with a video montage of some of their dances. You can see all of the ball photos at my SmugMug site.
After the ball, I went to the Hoogland Center for the Arts. There was a lot going on at the Hoogland all night. I saw Brian the Juggler, a.k.a Brian Pankey, who is from Springfield and has been juggling and performing since he was 13 years old. He holds numerous records, has appeared on "Late Night with David Letterman," and works at the Department of Motor Vehicles. His juggling and balancing feats were great. I made the highlight video below of his performance. You can find out more about Brian at brianthejuggler.com or his YouTube channel.
I stuck around to see the beginning of the next performance, Troupe Zahava, a middle-eastern dance company, but wanted to see The Muni's "25-Year Retrospective," before the night was over. The Muni is Springfield's outdoor theatre. On New Year's Eve, performers sang numbers from the last 25 years of productions at the Muni. The theatre was packed and the performances were amazing, as always.
I'm glad I got around to checking out First Night. Even though all was over by 11 p.m., I was happy to get out and join hundreds of others for the night's festivities.