Annapolis ushers in a new year with a lively night of the arts


Traditions have got to start sometime. First Night Annapolis rings in the new year with this new event showcasing the performing arts.

"Since the First Night concept of showcasing the arts began in Boston in 1976, it has grown to over 60 cities with their own First Night celebrations," explains Elizabeth Welch, co-executive director of the Annapolis event.

"Annapolis is already pre-disposed to the arts -- it has its own opera, symphony and ballet -- and what with all the nooks, crannies and streets all within walking distance, it's a natural to do a First Night here. The whole city will become a stage," she adds.

All told, there will be 25 groups giving more than 70 performances at 24 indoor locations including historic churches and houses in this Colonial city. Midnight will be greeted with church bells, bagpipes and fireworks.

First Nighters can easily walk from event to event.

"It's pitiful how stereotyped New Year's Eve has become. It ends up with a lot of sad, drunk people. So it's good to have alternative activities like this for New Year's Eve," says David Hildebrand. He and his wife, Ginger, are Annapolis-based folk musicians who are performing two sets New Year's Eve at First Church of Christ Scientist and a third set at the Banneker-Douglass Museum. Dressed in period costume, the Hildebrands will perform English wassail songs as well as tunes known to have been performed in 18th century Annapolis.

First Night Annapolis events start with a children's performance of mime, music and magic at 4:30 p.m. at the State House. Other performances, from 6:30 p.m. until midnight, include the Next Ice Age, skating to everything from Tchaikovsky to the Eurythmics; the Cajun/zydeco band Allons Zee!; griot Mary Carter Smith; the Continuum Chamber Singers; and one-man band Bob Devlin.

Also, Well-Met Productions premieres a one-act play written for the occasion, "The Party Crashers," in which the likes of Leonardo da Vinci and William Shakespeare visit Annapolis for what we can safely say is the first time. Other performers include country and bluegrass singer Ray Owen; the Baltimore Boar's Head Consort combining poetry and music; and Elliott Engel giving his literary impressions of such figures as Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, and Winston Churchill.

Setting up at the City Dock will be ice sculptors, who, in the winter carnival tradition, will have whimsical carvings on display. Ice sculptor Skip Guthier says he is carving circus animals for the occasion and, in the interest of preserving his ephemeral art for ,, as long as possible, he hopes for "clear and cold weather" on New Year's Eve.

An $8 button admits you to all First Night Annapolis performances. Children 6 and under are admitted free. There is also free parking and shuttle bus service available. For more information about First Night Annapolis call (301) 268-8553.

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