First Night's fourth year could be second to none


When a story lumps Thomas Jefferson, Renaissance madrigals, a world-renowned master illusionist, African drumming, Irish folk songs, ice dancing and Russian choral music together in the same paragraph, it can only mean one thing: First Night is back.

For the fourth straight New Year's Eve, downtown Annapolis, from the West Street corridor to St. John's College to the City Dock, will play host to a diverse, family-oriented, nonalcoholic celebration of the arts to usher in the new year.

As in the past, a single $8 button ($12 if purchased after Dec. 15) gives the buyer access to nearly 200 performances spread across about 50 venues in the capital city.

Master illusionist David Seebach, who set last year's enormous warm-weather crowd on its ear, will return. The dancing and drumming of Baltimore's Sankofka Dance Theatre will be on display, as will actor-historian Bill Barker, who has portrayed Jefferson across the country.

In fact, First Night has drawn such talent over the years that the entertainers themselves have felt frustrated at not being able to watch their counterparts at other sites.

"There was so much to listen to, and we had to stay put," said Chip Vogan of Dreamtree, a Virginia-based folk group that performed at the second First Night in 1991.

But the memories of their performances at Asbury Methodist Church are happy ones, and the quintet is bringing its folk songs and sea chanteys back this year.

"The audiences were wonderful, a mixture of old and young, all shapes, sizes and colors," Mr. Vogan recalled. Gordon Gustin, conductor of Maryland's Heritage Singers, said, "For a new group like ours, First Night was a nice chance to see what really was working for us."

Mr. Gustin's 12 singers will return this year and will conclude each set with an authentically Scottish version of "Auld Lang Syne."

Mick Moloney, a leading exponent of Irish music, will bring his singing and dancing friends to a First Night for the first time.

"I look forward to it," he said. "It seems like a very civilized way to celebrate New Year's."

Admission buttons are being sold at most Giant Food stores. Information: First Nightline, 787-2717.

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