Entry buttons on sale for annual First Night Columbia celebration

Monday, December 19, 2011 | 4:22 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — It's shaping up to be a noisy New Year's Eve in downtown Columbia.

Columbia’s annual First Night celebration, an alcohol-free community event held Dec. 31 in The District, has two themes this year to celebrate the visual and performing arts.

The main theme is “Make Some Noise.” Jane Accurso, director of First Night Columbia, said the theme is a reflection of this year’s performers.

“We have a lot of fun, rowdy bands this year,” Accurso said. “There will be lots of noise.”

The tribute theme is “Local Explosion” because the festival is dedicated to the local art community. Accurso said all of the performers are either past or present members of the Missouri music scene.

Buttons to get into the 12 First Night Columbia venues went on sale Dec. 1. If purchased before Dec. 31, buttons cost $8; the price goes up to $10 at the door. Buttons can be purchased with cash, check or debit cards at all Gerbes locations and with cash or check only at Streetside Records, the ARC and at the downtown Parks and Recreation office, 1 S. Seventh St.

Early button buyers will be entered in a drawing for prizes, including a Bristol acoustic guitar, music lessons from Columbia Academy of Music or a cajon box-drum.

First Night Columbia, Accurso said, has been around for about 17 years, and Columbia is only one of the many cities around the world that celebrates New Year’s Eve with a First Night event. The event includes art, music, ritual, fun and festivity.

“People really enjoy celebrating the arts and their community and just having a fun place to go on New Year’s Eve with family and friends,” Accurso said.

The event takes yearlong planning, about 200 volunteers and funding from grants and donations.

Amy Schneider, director of Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the festivities are a great way to bring the community together. The Convention and Visitors Bureau is one of the sponsors.

“First Night is one of the only opportunities within the mid-Missouri area, if not the regional area, for a family-friendly event, and we feel it is important to be a sponsor of that,” Schneider said. “And it also has a possibility to bring in visitors to Columbia for the event.”

Accurso wouldn't state the total budget for the event, but Schneider said her agency provides $12,000 with the condition that $2,000 goes toward marketing.

First Night also needs donations of time.

Lisa Rohmiller, volunteer programs assistant, said the event usually requires about 200 volunteers, and organizers had less than half of the number needed as of Monday. She is not discouraged, though, because many volunteers come back each year.

“We are fortunate to have a lot of volunteers do this year after year,” Rohmiller said. “And they tell me it’s because they enjoy it and they love being involved. And seeing the entertainers is a big draw for the volunteers.”

Volunteers get a free button and usually schedule their shifts around what performances they want to see, Rohmiller said. 

First Night will begin with a 5K run/walk at 4 p.m. New Year's Eve in front of Cycle Extreme, 19 S. Sixth St., followed by performances at each of the 12 venues. There will be an art area for children at 6:30 p.m. at Calvary Episcopal Church. The night will end with fireworks at midnight.

“It’s multigenerational. We have every age,” Accurso said. “There is something for everyone.”

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