Columbia's First Night New Year's celebration makes noise

Saturday, December 31, 2011 | 8:31 p.m. CST; updated 8:56 a.m. CST, Monday, January 2, 2012
Colin Wolinski, 9, participates in a hydrogen balloon fire experiment with "Nitro Joe," known in real life as Joseph Higgs, at the Daniel Boone City Building as part of the First Night events in Columbia on Saturday. Wolinski and his family traveled from San Diego to visit family in Columbia.

*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misstated Harry Odette's age. He is 4.

COLUMBIA — Jane Accurso, director of First Night, is one of the busiest people in Columbia on New Year's Eve.

Accurso not only checks different performances but also performs on the stage herself. After playing the guitar and singing in Ironweed Bluegrass Band, a local band formed in 1994, she was busy making sure the band "People’s Republic of Klezmerica" was ready to go on stage afterward.

People of all ages came out to celebrate Columbia's First Night, filling many of the 12 venues to the brim.

Accurso has been working with the event for eight years. She said Columbia has a great level of talent and wants to represent it at First Night. Contacting local artists was not difficult because she said she knows a lot of them.

The event is a year-round process for Accurso, but the most challenging part of the planning is watching for weather, she said. Thanks to milder weather this year, she said buttons sold out and the number of participants this year probably topped the number from last year — 8,000.

— Dalrae Jin

A team of Missourian reporters talked to people enjoying the venues.

6:15 to 7:10 p.m.: Calvary Episcopal Church, 123 S. Ninth St.

Create and Celebrate Children's Art Area

The Schulte family of Springfield came into town for the 5K Run/Walk at CycleExtreme at 4 p.m. but decided to stay for First Night and make it a weekend trip.

After eating dinner at Flat Branch Pub & Brewing, the family geared up for the festivities ahead.

At Calvary Episcopal Church, tables were set up in a square for children to make crafts including mask, crown and button decorating, 2012 temporary tattoos and streamers attached to sticks.

"We are very excited about all the family activities for all ages," said Piper Schulte, mother of three young children, Kyla, Lakin and Brooklyn.

Schulte said the event was well-organized and the beautiful weather made the trip easier.

Erin Carrillo, recreation specialist for Columbia Parks and Recreation, said because of the weather, the Children's Art Area expected 2,000 people — much more than the 500 people in previous years.

Carrillo said each year she looks for new crafts, but they are hard to find for New Year's and afford for 500 children.

"We want to find activities that don't take long, so people can move along," Carrillo said. "We are always open to suggestions for new activities."

— Jessica England

7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.: First Christian Church, 101 N. Tenth St.

Teen rock show

Lasers, smoke and stage lights directed at the stage gave young bands a taste of the spotlight at the First Christian Church Saturday for the First Night Teen Venue.

Families and teens packed the room to cheer and support the young performers.

"I'm here to see Table for Five," said Hickman High School student Rosie Robinson. "They're amazing and never let the audience down."

The buzz in the room seemed to be centered on the six-piece fusion group, all high school students from Columbia.

The group had the audience dancing and singing along. They mixed soulful vocals with breaks for the fast-paced guitar licks of Jacob Carter and sax solos from Ben Bergstrom.

At center stage was Carly Allen, a 16-year-old bass player and student at Rock Bridge High School.

Allen danced with her bass in the pink light and smoke as she plucked away at the strings. Her jazzy vocals and energetic bass playing provided a solid foundation for the massive sound of the young band. After the show, her blistered fingers showed the result of her practice and dedication. 

The band played several jams, including their own version of the Christmas tune “Carol of the Bells.” During the set, each member was given a chance in the spotlight, either on vocals or with a solo on their respective instrument.

“We’ve been playing together maybe like four years, since we were way little,” Allen said “It’s almost like a family thing, too, because our families all know each other.”

— Kile Brewer

7 to 7:30 p.m.: Missouri United Methodist Church, 204 S. Ninth St.

Children's Illusionist Show — Jeff Copeland

The second-floor auditorium of the Missouri United Methodist Church was standing-room-only for the opening performance of the night by illusionist Jeff Copeland. Copeland was recently named Heartland of America Magician of the Year.

Elizabeth Odette, 5, thought she had figured out Copeland's illusion of his missing green handkerchief.

"Open your hand," she said. But then Copeland produced the handkerchief from his mouth.

Michelle Brandt, who was baby-sitting Elizabeth and her brother Harry*, 4, said it was their first time at the First Night event. They were going to the art area after the illusionist show and to the fireworks to finish the evening.

Brandt said she made alternate plans for the children in case of bad weather but was pleased the weather stayed nice.

Despite warm temperatures, the winds picked up, causing the fireworks at 9:30 p.m. to be canceled.

Elizabeth and her brother both said they looked forward to the fireworks the most on Saturday evening and were upset about the cancellation.

Copeland kept the audience engaged, plucking excited children from the group to assist him in his illusions. Copeland entertained his audience by making a large coin appear out of a handkerchief and guessing the correct card from his deck.

He finished his performance by doing a series of illusions with his stuffed pet skunk, Stinky. 

"I liked the skunk the best," Elizabeth said.

— Lauren Schad

7:15 to 7:45 p.m.: Daniel Boone City Building, 701 E. Broadway

Wild Science Experiments — Nitro Joe

Fire with flash paper and balloon hydrogen kicked off the experiments, followed by a dry ice explanation to show how to freeze water balloons and bananas. "Nitro Joe" also used baby shampoo and denatured alcohol to make bubbles.

Nitro Joe, or Joseph Higgs, said his show involves interaction because if it doesn't, it's not fun.

"Everything went great," Higgs said. "It's better with more flexibility, and the kids enjoyed all the interaction."

Colin Wolinski, of Carlsbard, Calif., said his favorite part was getting to participate in the balloon hydrogen fire experiment.

The Wolinski family heard about First Night from Wolinski's grandparents, Stan and Jean, who are from Columbia.

"It gives us something to do and is a great event for younger and older people," said Joe Wolinski, Colin's father.

The science program had about 200 people in attendance, said Rich Eyler, site manager. Eyler said the Daniel Boone City Building ran out of buttons this year with all the number of people and various events.

"There were great crowds, and everyone seems to be having a great time," Eyler said.

— Jessica England

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