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Northampton’s First Night draws crowds to city streets for revelry

  • A group of people watch a fireworks display, launched from the E.J. Gare Parking Garage, during First Night Monday in Northampton.

    A group of people watch a fireworks display, launched from the E.J. Gare Parking Garage, during First Night Monday in Northampton. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Talya Solomon of Amherst, performing with Hooping Harmony, dances to the rhythm provided by Ellen Clegg, background right, and Found Sounds following the First Night Northampton parade into Pulaski Park on Monday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Talya Solomon of Amherst, performing with Hooping Harmony, dances to the rhythm provided by Ellen Clegg, background right, and Found Sounds following the First Night Northampton parade into Pulaski Park on Monday.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Logan Gonzalez, right, 5, of South Hadley applauds acrobat Elise Sipos of SHOW Circus during her portion of the First Night Circus Show in the Northampton Center For The Arts on Monday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Logan Gonzalez, right, 5, of South Hadley applauds acrobat Elise Sipos of SHOW Circus during her portion of the First Night Circus Show in the Northampton Center For The Arts on Monday.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Paintbox Theatre actors, from left, Troy Mercier as the cat, Carissa Dagenais as the mother and Jason Czernich as the title character perform "The Ugly Duckling" at Smith College for First Night Northampton on Monday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Paintbox Theatre actors, from left, Troy Mercier as the cat, Carissa Dagenais as the mother and Jason Czernich as the title character perform "The Ugly Duckling" at Smith College for First Night Northampton on Monday.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Zoe Ware, 6, and Naomi Ware, 2, dance to the beat of the Ray Mason Band at Thornes Marketplace during First Night Monday in Northampton.

    Zoe Ware, 6, and Naomi Ware, 2, dance to the beat of the Ray Mason Band at Thornes Marketplace during First Night Monday in Northampton. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Members of Ines Arrubla Flamenco perform at the Academy of Music during First Night Monday in Northampton.

    Members of Ines Arrubla Flamenco perform at the Academy of Music during First Night Monday in Northampton. Purchase photo reprints »

  • A group of people watch a fireworks display, launched from the E.J. Gare Parking Garage, during First Night Monday in Northampton.
  • Talya Solomon of Amherst, performing with Hooping Harmony, dances to the rhythm provided by Ellen Clegg, background right, and Found Sounds following the First Night Northampton parade into Pulaski Park on Monday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Logan Gonzalez, right, 5, of South Hadley applauds acrobat Elise Sipos of SHOW Circus during her portion of the First Night Circus Show in the Northampton Center For The Arts on Monday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Paintbox Theatre actors, from left, Troy Mercier as the cat, Carissa Dagenais as the mother and Jason Czernich as the title character perform "The Ugly Duckling" at Smith College for First Night Northampton on Monday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Zoe Ware, 6, and Naomi Ware, 2, dance to the beat of the Ray Mason Band at Thornes Marketplace during First Night Monday in Northampton.
  • Members of Ines Arrubla Flamenco perform at the Academy of Music during First Night Monday in Northampton.

— For the 28th time, downtown Northampton was alive with First Night revelers walking snowy sidewalks, greeting friends with new-year salutations, heading to performances ranging from circuses to plays and rock concerts and watching fireworks light up the sky.

For those too young to stay up until midnight, the fun started 12 hours earlier. First Night kicked off at noon Monday with the family-friendly First Night Circus at the Center for the Arts, the A2Z Yo-Yo Team at the Academy of Music, Caravan Puppets at Thornes Marketplace and Northampton High School improv troupes at Smith College’s Hallie Flanagan Studio Theatre.

Avery Brown, 7, lay on the hallway floor at the packed Center for the Arts, watching the circus finale through the glass door with her aunt Alex Risley Schroeder. Avery lives in Wethersfield, Conn., but for the last four years she has come to Northampton to visit her aunt and take in the First Night festivities.

“It’s our little adventure,” Schroeder said.

Avery watched entranced as a male circus performer hanging from a trapeze dangled a blonde acrobat by her arm and leg high above the floor of the crowded hall.

Later they planned to see Henry the Juggler and Avery’s favorite, Ed the Balloon Man.

“It’s more like a magic show,” Avery said.

Rick Metz and his 8-year-old twins, Aidan and Ethan, were among the standing-room only second show of the Yo-Yo Team, but at 2:30 p.m., they were looking for a little outdoor entertainment as well.

“We came out for a snowball fight,” said Metz, of Northampton, as Aidan and Ethan made for the snowy park with friends.

They planned to dry out afterwards while taking in the Paintbox Theatre production of “The Ugly Duckling” at Smith College.

“We’ve come a few years in a row,” Metz said. “It’s nice, easy and great if you have kids. And there are fireworks at a reasonable hour.”

Watching the fireworks was how five friends closed out their day of First Night activities.

“I thought it was really cool. I would definitely come again,” said 13-year-old Seth Barrett of Granby, who was attending First Night with twin sister Allie Barrett.

They had earlier taken in a performance by their fellow students at the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School, the Catalyst Dance Co., at the Academy of Music.

Also sitting on the railing next to the Northampton Bike Path were sisters Emma Ostrander, 14, and Chloe Ostrander, 10, of Holyoke.

“This year was good. I liked how we brought our friends,” Emma said.

“We had so much fun being together for the day,” said Allie Barrett.

Maddie Schott, 10, said she has been to First Night many times, and made a point to return, even though she now lives in West Hartford, Conn.

“I’ve been coming since I was really little,” Maddie said. “It’s a lot of fun.”

When the 15-miunte fireworks show concluded, the five friends joined many others gathered nearby in whoops of joy, with many families taking off for the evening and adults heading to venues for more entertainment.

Meanwhile, at mid-afternoon, music wafted onto the Main Street sidewalk from the sanctuary of First Churches, but the tunes were not hymns. The Valley Rock Choir entertained crowds with renditions of classic rock songs such as the Doobie Brothers’ “Black Water.”

As the approximately 40 choir members swayed and sang Hall and Oates’ “You Make My Dreams” from the crowded stage, one woman danced animatedly in her socks in the back of the sanctuary. Ariel Elan said she is a former member of the choir and she doesn’t miss a chance to see them perform.

“I’m always dancing, I wish more people would,” she said in between songs. “With danceable music, that’s the joy of it.”

A kids parade marched along the sidewalks to the rhythm of the OffBeat Drumming Ensemble, beating on drums and plastic buckets, along with the gyrating members of Hooping Harmony, who swung hula hoops around their necks, torsos and arms as they promenaded up the street.

As the parade turned from Center Street to Main Street, Jeremy Galvagni of Shelburne held his 3-year-old son, Alaric, up to see the procession and danced to the beat.

Alaric had a special interest in the OffBeat Drummers — his mother, Kim Pinkham, is a member of the group.

Father and son had already taken in the First Night Circus at the Center for the Arts.

“I love it,” Alaric said of the acrobats.

“We’ve been coming every year since before he was born,” Galvagni said. “We come earlier now, in time for the circus and acrobats. We like all the shows.”

This New Year’s Eve was the last time the Center for the Arts will put on First Night. The arts group will be forced to leave its location on the corner of Main and New South streets in June, but the event has also gotten a bit bigger than its volunteers can handle, said Executive Director Penny Burke.

As evening performances began, including one by the band Klezamir, which she was set to introduce, Burke said the event appeared to be going well.

“This feels to me like a normal First Night,” Burke said.

The recent snowfall and the cold temperatures may set the mood for the season, but likely made attendance a little thinner than a year ago, when weather was much milder. “My sense is it would be impossible to exceed last year,” Burke said.

She said crowds were good at most performances and two shows at the Academy were sold out, and she had heard few complaints from people not able to go to the shows they wanted to. One challenge that came before First Night began was the recent closing of Theatre 14 at Smith College, forcing a change in venue to Hallie Flanagan, which is about half the size.

Burke said she doesn’t know what the organization’s role will be in future First Nights.

“We just don’t know what the event will be like or how it will be structured,” she said. “After 28 years, it’s time to review it.”

Many who come to Northampton on the final day of the year conflate First Night with New Year’s Eve festivities. Burke said that people don’t need buttons to see the fireworks or the concluding event, the rising of the ball from the roof of the Hotel Northampton.

Early in the afternoon, Burke said she was too busy keeping things running to be sentimental about the change.

“Ask me again at midnight, or after the fireworks in the evening, and it will probably dawn on me,” she said. “I’m sure then it will feel bittersweet.”

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