Months of preparations culminate in First Night 2010

Thursday, December 31, 2009 | 3:47 p.m. CST; updated 2:02 p.m. CST, Friday, January 1, 2010
Michael Butterworth of Butterworth Music tunes one of the two baby grand pianos that will be used in Thursday's duel between Sutu Forte and Ken Kehner, as part of the First Night New Year's Eve festivities at the Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts. Butterworth began playing the piano at age 4 and has been tuning pianos since he was 14, when his father began teaching him the trade.

COLUMBIA — Last-minute adjustments and sound checks dominated preparations for the 12th annual First Night.

These adjustments are nothing new to Jane Accurso, First Night's entertainment and technical director. She has had her hands busy in all aspects of the performers’ and technical staff preparations for that last eight First Night celebrations.


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Accurso first began her involvement in First Night as one of the celebration's performances, as guitarist and lead vocalist for the Ironweed Bluegrass Band. Accurso and the band will also be seen at the Windsor Auditorium in Stephen’s College tonight at 8:30 p.m.  

At the Missouri Theater, the rich sound of string instruments echoed off the walls Thursday afternoon.

While First Night 2010 lasted only six hours Thursday evening, the preparations began months in advance.

The Hot Club of Cowtown started their sound check early Thursday afternoon, but they were invited to perform months ago by Accurso, band member Whit Smith said.

The sound check will prevent feedback during the performance, Brad Parker said; Parker is the assistant engineer for Nelson Audio, which provided audio for multiple venues for the event.

He has only missed First Night 2000 because he was a computer administrator during the Y2K scare for the University of Iowa, Parker  said. He has been the sound engineer at the Missouri Theater for First Night before.

“There’s a good chance there’ll be 1,000 people in here,” Parker said during the sound check. “I’ve seen it standing room only.”

Lights flashed over the band’s faces seemingly randomly. The job of “focusing (the lights), getting them set up, making them look pretty" falls to John Gilbreth who has been the full-time light designer for the theater for a little over two years, he said.

The Hot Club of Cowtown consists of Elana James on fiddle, Whit Smith on guitar and Jake Erwin on double bass. Thursday evening was the band’s first performance in Columbia, James said.

“It’s neat that you have the whole town involved with multiple venues,” Smith said.

Parker and Erwin appreciated the renovations the theater has undergone in recent years. Parker pointed out the modern equipment now in the sound booth, while Erwin said it was an honor to play in such a beautiful theater.

Evan Spaulding has seen what goes on throughout the years at the different venues and said, there is a “smorgasbord of different things you can see.”

Spaulding has been a part of the technical staff to set up with Nelson Audio and Light for four years, and this year he  helped set up at the Lela Raney Wood Kimball Ballroom. The first sound check at the ballroom was La Movida, Latin and Salsa dance musicians who will be accompanied by dance instructors who will teach those attending to dance.

The dances attract a fairly large crowd because “people have a good time learning new things” and not only just sitting and listening to artists, Spaulding said.

Margot Leverett & The Klezmer Mountain Boys along with Steve Weintraub, a Yiddish dance instructor and an old-time dance instructor, Jim Thaxter, will also be playing and dancing with those that attend from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Stamper Commons Lounge, another venue at Stephens College will feature Violet Vonder Haar of the band Ginger Blue as a part of the Compass Women’s Music Showcase. This is Vonder Haar’s second year performing at Columbia’s First Night but has attended First Night for many years as a Columbia resident.

Meet the Musicians, Vicky Leighty Band and Hilary Scott Trio will also be part of the Compass Women’s Music Showcase. Together with Drumming with Sally Burnley started off the events at the Stamper Commons Lounge at 6:30 p.m.

"The way I’ve laid it out the last couple of years we’ve got a pretty good balance where venues have a good flow throughout the night," Accurso said.

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