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Columbia Missourian

First Night festivities are celebrated throughout downtown Columbia

By Allison Ziemba, Caitlin Carter, Katherine Oriez, Tova Diamond
December 31, 2009 | 9:32 p.m. CST
"Cookie" Hagan directs the Columbia Parks and Recreation Ukulele Ensemble as they entertain diners in Stamper Commons on Stephens College campus on December 31, 2009. The Ensemble was accompanied by Delia White on keyboard and was joined by Tom "Artie" Lindsey from "Artie's Univibe."

COLUMBIA — Although temperatures headed into single digits on New Year’s Eve, members of the community turned out to celebrate First Night events around downtown Columbia.

First Night is the annual end-of-year celebration with more than 60 performances at eight venues.


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The highlight of the celebration, a fireworks display at midnight, had to be canceled because of strong winds. A spokesman at the Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts told the audience early Thursday evening that it would be a fire hazard.

Nonetheless, the community gathered to mark the beginning of a new decade at Stephens College, United Missouri Methodist Church, Missouri Theatre and elsewhere.

At the Methodist Church, Marnie Tyler and her 4 year-old daughter Ellinor, who were in town visiting family, watched the StoneLion Puppet show early in the evening.

“We are going to the puppet show, then to dinner … then back to a small gathering with friends,” Tyler said.

This is the first year that StoneLion, a group from Kansas City, has performed at First Night, said Tim Cormack, a puppeteer.

“There is a nice assortment of styles, including marionettes, rod puppets and mouth puppets, so it should be fun,” he said.

At 6:30 p.m. on the first floor of the church, Alex Upton,15, and Ryan Phillips,16, both sophomores at Rock Bridge High School, performed cover music on piano and guitar.

About 30 people turned out to hear Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “Fireflies” by Owl City, “Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton and Tom Petty's "Free Fallin'."

Outside the church, performers juggled sticks of fire in the 19-degree weather. They caught the eye of a few passersby, but most hurried into the church to escape the cold.

Across the street, the Missouri Theatre started First Night with a bang, opening a series of performances with the St. Louis Osuwa Taiko Drummers.

The musicians kept up an energetic, tightly choreographed drumming routine for 30 minutes.

Greg and Vicki Melton had driven up from Eldon to see their daughter Vanessa. It was the second time the Meltons had seen the drummers perform.

Vanessa Melton summed it up with one word: “Amazing.”

Meanwhile, at the Lela Raney Wood Kimball Ballroom of Stephens College, party-goers were treated to lessons in old-time American and Eastern European dance.

Margot Leverett & the Klezmer Mountain Boys provided the background music, and dance instructor Steve Weintraub and Jiim Thaxter coached the couples. Weintraub is an expert in Yiddish dance, and Thaxter teaches American folk dance.

Carolyn Oates, site manager for the evening’s events at Stephens College, said she was pleased with both the turnout and the interactive dancing in the ballroom.

“What I thought was really wonderful was that the leader made sure that everybody got up and danced, and I just thought that was really neat,” she said.

On the other side of Broadway, in the Stamper Commons, the Parks & Recreation Ukulele Ensemble performed while families ate dinner.

"As the Saints Go Marching In" and "Hey Good Lookin’ " added to the noise in the kitchen as the Stephen’s staff sang along.

“This is what we do best,” said band leader Janice "Cookie" Hagan as she thanked the audience for coming out and participating.

The band ended by telling the crowd, “We love you.”

Prompted by the musicians, the audience responded, “We love you back.” 

And the band replied: “We love you most.”