Going out with a bang: 20 years of First Night
By Jack Tarditi
After presenting a family-friendly, alcohol-free celebration of the arts on New Year’s Eve for twenty consecutive years, the organizers of First Night Haddonfield have decided to take a bow and retire.
There will be no First Night celebration in Haddonfield on December 31 this year, but we are looking at other ways for folks from Haddonfield and throughout the region to welcome the new year.
The first First Night was in Boston on December 31, 1975. It was designed to provide ways for the city’s young, innovative artists and musicians to celebrate the arrival of the new year on both indoor and outdoor stages. The organizers also wanted to avoid the emphasis on alcohol that is all too common at New Year’s Eve parties.
In the years that followed, some nearby communities started their own First Night events and by 2000 there were more than 250 official First Night celebrations in the United States and around the world. But post-9/11 jitters and the recession that began in late 2007 resulted in many First Nights being scaled back or canceled.
Haddonfield’s first First Night was December 31, 1999. All 5,000 admission buttons for the event were sold by December 29. Some who missed out placed notices on bulletin boards around the town, offering to pay a premium for buttons. The “millennium” celebration on December 31, 2000 was even bigger. An additional 2,000 buttons were made available, and again the event was sold out.
Fireworks on Kings Highway were introduced in 2001, with shows at 9pm (the children’s countdown) and midnight.
What made First Night work so well in Haddonfield?
There are a number of reasons.
• First – the Kings Highway “spine,” a magnificent main street
with more than a dozen indoor and outdoor venues of varying sizes from the Methodist Church to the High School. It was very easy for First Nighters to get from one venue to the next.
• Second – right from the beginning we had a wide variety of first-class entertainment. Each year we would bring back some popular performers from the past, but always book new talent as well. There was something for everyone, from age 3 to 93.
• Third – our sponsors – scores of them. The Haddonfield Foundation and Archer & Greiner were founding sponsors, and continued their support until the end. AllRisk Property Damage Experts sponsored the fireworks for many years. More recently, Comcast and Subaru became major sponsors. We can’t thank them enough, and we hope to find ways to keep them connected with New Year’s Eve in Haddonfield.
• Many people don’t realize what it takes to plan and present an event of the scale of First Night. Our “secret ingredient” was a large pool of enthusiastic volunteers. Each year, we signed up more than 100 volunteers – some to work throughout the year; most to work at venues and button outlets on the night itself.
• We also had a core group that was on board from Day One – people like Tish Colombi, the vice president of the Haddonfield Cultural Events Commission (the “parent” of First Night), treasurer Gene D’Orazio, and entertainment director Jane Mathers, who booked the performers for all twenty years – a huge, demanding job.
Since the one constant in life is change, events such as First Night must change with the times. We do not yet know what might come next – stay tuned!
On behalf of the Haddonfield Cultural Events Commission and the members of the First Night Steering Committee, I extend my heartfelt thanks to all of the sponsors, venues, performers, municipal departments, and First Nighters from near and far who helped make our twenty New Year’s Eve celebrations so successful and so much fun.
We wish you a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2019!