1st Night 1st Impressions

Star-Spangled SkyI can’t claim that we gave ourselves over fully to First Night; we didn’t buy the pins, missed the early spectacle, and then skipped the prime-time build-up from 9pm-11:30pm to party elsewhere. So there’s a strong likelihood that the event was much more than met the eye, but my overall pre-fireworks impression was that First Night evening program was a little sparse.

The South 1st / City Hall complex, where we joined the party, was vibrant and festive both early and late. Artificial snow, public graffiti and chalk art, food stands, continuous outdoor performances, and two fireworks displays definitely made that the place to be for the casual wanderer. Once we ventured up Congress, however, First Night became more sporadic, more indoors, and more tedious. Upon trying to enter the “court dance” inside the Frost Bank lobby, we were disappointed to find out the pins were only available for purchase at select locations … our bad for not checking beforehand, but on-site pin sales would have promoted a bit more spontaneous exploration, not to mention pin sales. We made it to 8th St. before boredom propelled us back to City Hall.

In spite of some disappointments, the evening culminated with a satisfying blend of Eyeore’s drumming and July 4th fireworks. And even without the big finish, it was also a great opportunity to explore Austin’s burgeoning downtown amid outdoor music and unusual events. First Night seemed tepid as a glorious New Years celebration, but succeeded in capturing the vision of what a truly walkable, populated downtown can become. If First Night becomes an Austin tradition, this underwhelming debut may be remembered with ACL-esque nostalgia as a gloriously under-crowded coming out party for the revitalized Central Business District.

So what was your 1st Night experience? What events were a hit, and what aspects were a dud?

PHOTOS: My First Night Flickr photos are here. Some other nice shots can be found here.

8 Comments so far

  1. Rusty (unregistered) on January 1st, 2006 @ 12:01 pm

    I have to admit, I was a bit underwhelmed with the whole thing. But, like you, I didn’t purchase a button (seemed a little un-Austin to me). I was toting little Ms. Toddler, so we did the early show. The procession was great fun for her and I have to admit, I really enjoyed the Segway Ballet.

    More art cars would have been cool. And having food and drink booths all up and down Congress would have been swell too. Having Congress shutdown completely (at least in certain areas) would have made it feel more like a festival. We ventured into the Mexic-Arte Museum at 3 pm and it was horribly crowded and HOT. I was glad I didn’t buy a button. I wasn’t interested in seeing the indoor exhibits at that point.

    One thing that really struck me was the lack of music. There was a mariachi band but they were done at 5ish and then no one else played. Isn’t this the ‘Live Music Capital of the World’? Did I miss something?

    But all in all, we had fun and the kettle korn was great. It was a good first year effort. I think it can only grow bigger and better.

  2. wae (unregistered) on January 1st, 2006 @ 4:04 pm

    If the goal of a first year event is to build interest and avoid disaster, then the organizers succeeded, although it sounds like the event was better at catering towards kids in the early program than it was for adults in the later one.

    I think Rusty’s right that closing Congress could build more (much-needed) festival atmosphere … with the street open to peds, they could probably dedicate less of Congress for First Night, keeping some cross-streets open for traffic. More creative events like the Segway Ballet, plus more music and food options would help a lot too.

    I’m still puzzled by the pins. Granted the fees help keep the event afloat, but there didn’t seem to be anything all that great behind closed doors. If the event grows, then I guess the “pin” activities might become more appealing if only to get out of the crowds.

  3. Rantor (unregistered) on January 1st, 2006 @ 4:36 pm

    There seemed to be lots of police and not all that many people and to all appearances not enough Port-O-Sans for all the little kids in the daytime part of things. It would have been easy to have a flatbed or two full of musicians playing their way along Congress. The event seemed to be full of people completely unfamiliar with downtown. Earlier maps of the event showed more streets scheduled to be closed, then it was to be Congress during the parade plus the bridge, then it included part of Cesar Chavez again and sometimes other streets temporarily. I almost never miss a parade downtown but at the last minute this one didn’t seem worth bothering with. I was downtown off and on in various places and it sure seems that attendance was over-reported for some reason unless all those people had paid up and were hiding indoors at one of the private parties that was non-non-alcoholic.

  4. Rusty (unregistered) on January 1st, 2006 @ 6:23 pm

    I should mention that back in the late 80’s I went to First Night in Boston several years in a row (FN Austin was fashioned after it). It was worth it to buy a pin because there were all kinds of good music shows all day and they were inside. Everything “cool” was pretty much inside, because, well, it’s Boston and it’s darn cold at the end of December. I guess we lucked out here in Austin, having a perfectly fabulous warm day. But maybe that’s also where things went wrong…?

    That’s it! Change the weather in Austin!

    Oh wait.

  5. Josh (unregistered) on January 2nd, 2006 @ 9:28 am

    as a proud pin buyer and wearer, i was delighted by the inside options. i was able to sample quite a few bits of Austin’s culture that are typically out-of-reach financially… the Creative Opportunity Orchestra’s amazing holiday show, renown hoofer Acia Gray and her Tapestry Dance Company, Sally Jacque’s aerial dance, a lively steel band, a dance performance on escalators, etc… wasn’t too crazy about the oldies rock of Freddy Steady 5, but all this for only $8? C’mon! You all missed out.

  6. Jorge (unregistered) on January 3rd, 2006 @ 10:56 am

    It seems odd that you think the First Night program was sparse, considering you showed up as late as you did. I think First Night was a success, considering this was its first year. Sure some things could have been done better, but it’s difficult to improve something without precedent.

    I thought the parade was great. Congress Avenue made for the perfect backdrop. The organizers did a good job of arranging the music groups within the parade so that they didn’t “bleed” into one another. But the parade finale at City Hall could have been better arranged. It seemed odd to have the Samba School playing behind the crowd as the other parade groups marched by.

    The City Hall Plaza evening program was great. The Samba School and the Forro group were rockin’ and the Segway Ballet was intriguing.

    I liked that several interactive works were incorporated into the program. Everyone who had a statement to make (everything from “Hook ’em Horns” to “I [heart] Bahrain” did so in chalk drawings on the 1st Street Bridge.
    The Town Lake Dragon was cool too. Where did it come from? Where is it going? Who knew?

    I did find the finale somewhat disappointing. The drumming countdown was lame. It was like Eeyore’s Birthday Party on the bridge. I heard several in the crowd mocking the drummers. It seemed like a lot of people were there to see the Samba School, but everytime they started to play the African drummers would make them stop. The fireworks didn’t seem very extravagant, but considering the fires ranging in North Texas perhaps that was on purpose.

    On the whole I think First Night was great. I’ll definitely attend next years.

  7. TNH (unregistered) on January 3rd, 2006 @ 11:21 am

    I don’t understand why it was called First Night, when it was actually the last night. Calling the event Last Night would’ve been funnier, as well as more accurate.

  8. Shay Reynolds (unregistered) on January 20th, 2006 @ 5:54 pm

    Gliding Revolution sponsored dancers for a Segway Ballet to kick off 2006 (New Years Celebration). The Segway dance is very interesting and may start a trend for dancers of all ages.

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