First Night New Year's Eve festival celebrates guitar, young performers

Thursday, December 27, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Acoustic music, swing dancing, interactive children-friendly activities and fireworks are set to fill Columbia's First Night celebration Monday.

First Night is a family-friendly New Year's Eve celebration with music, art and traditional festivities. This year will mark Columbia's 18th annual celebration, which will include more than 50 activities at different downtown locations.

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There will be an Acoustic Instrument Workshop from 1 to 4 p.m. on New Year's Day at Calvary Episcopal Church, 123 S. Ninth St., where Brad Davis, Dan Miller, Tim May and Gretchen Priest-May will teach all levels of guitar, mandolin, banjo, dobro, upright bass and fiddle. The workshop fee is $50, or $45 for those who buy First Night buttons.

"We have two themes leading to the festival: 'The Night is Young,' and 'It's all about the Guitar,'" said Jane Accurso, the executive director of First Night.

The overall theme, "The Night is Young," was selected by Sawyer Wade through a contest at Rock Bridge High School. Accurso then rolled in the entertainment theme, "It's All About the Guitar," to this year's celebration.  

Accurso, who has been working for the event for 12 years, said different themes each year distinguish the First Night celebration from the previous years.

"'The Night is Young' will showcase some of our youth performances and performers. 'It's All About the Guitar' will showcase multiple genres of guitar styles and guitar power players locally and also nationally," Accurso said.

Accurso said the acoustic Americana trio of Brad Davis, Dan Miller and Tim May will be the highlight performance of the night. Davis, Miller and May are nationally known guitarists who have been playing together as a trio for about 10 years.

Miller has been publisher and editor of Flatpicking Guitar since 1996.

"Both Tim and Brad have been featured in the magazine over the years," he said. "I've known them for 17 years. We just got together about 10 years ago, and since then we enjoyed playing with each other."

Davis is a Grammy Award-winning guitarist for his work on Warren Zevon's last album, "The Wind," which was released in 2003 just before Zevon's death. May has been selected as the best instrumentalist by Nashville Scene Newspaper's Best of Nashville 2012 Reader's poll, according to the trio's website.

Miller said he met Accurso in April at the MerleFest in North Carolina when he had a booth for his magazine. Miller introduced Accurso to the trio's music. That prompted her to invite them to play for First Night.

"I have been wanting to do a theme about the guitars," Accurso said. "Guitar has such a universal language to it, and every culture has a style of guitar in it. I really wanted to represent multiple styles of guitar playing."

Miller said his trio is excited about playing in Columbia.

"We like the town," he said. "We like the vibe, and we just thought it will be really fun to get together and play on New Year's Eve in a place like Columbia. We are looking forward to playing for the dancers. We love playing swing music, and we do it a lot, but we've never done it for the dancers, and that's going to be really fun."

Other activities

The younger crowd at First Night can visit the Create and Celebrate area at Calvary Episcopal Church, 123 S. Ninth St., then participate in their own procession at 9:15 p.m. that will end with a fireworks display. Teen bands will perform at the First Christian Church, 101 N. Tenth St., throughout the night. At 11:30 p.m., the crowd can participate in the People's Procession, which will end with a countdown and midnight fireworks at the Courthouse Square.

Earlier in the day, the First Night 5K Run/Walk will begin at 4 p.m. Monday in front of Cyclextreme, 19 S. Sixth St. Doors for other First Night activities open at 6:30 p.m. Entertainment begins at 7 p.m.

A map of First Night venues is posted online.

Seeking volunteers

First Night is largely the product of volunteers. This year, organizers are looking for about 200 volunteers to oversee button sales, to act as ushers and button checkers and to staff stages and the children's art area.

"We have such a variety of folk. It's multigenerational," Accurso said. "We have young teenagers volunteering. We have whole families volunteer. We have seniors volunteer. It's so diverse. It's great."

This will be the fifth year that Willie Jones, 62, his wife, Debbie Jones, 56, and his 17-year-old daughter, Kia Jones, have volunteered as a family to help with First Night.

"It's a family activity," Willie Jones said. "Initially, I was the original volunteer but then my wife got involved, and my daughter wanted to get involved."

The Jones family has also been volunteering for the city of Columbia's Cleanup Columbia program. They go around town and photograph people who are cleaning up trash. The city then uses the photos for promotional purposes.

During First Night, the Jones family will be working together at the Missouri Theatre venue. Willie Jones will be assisting guests and watching out for their safety as a First Night ambassador. Debbie Jones and Kia Jones will work as the button sellers.

"We are creating memories, and we also like to give back to the community that we live in, which we think is an awesome community," Willie Jones said.


Parking will be prohibited at the Armory Sports and Recreation Center and in the parking lot at Ninth and Ash streets from 5 p.m. Monday to 6 a.m. Tuesday for safety issues during the First Night celebration, according to the city's news release.

Parking on Ash between Seventh and Ninth as well as parking on Eighth between Park and Ash also will be unavailable during those hours.

The attendees for the First Night can park at all parking garages in the downtown area.


Admission buttons for First Night are available at the Columbia Parks and Recreation Department in the Gentry Building at 1 S. Seventh St.; at the Activity and Recreation Center, 1701 W. Ash St.; at Streetside Records at 401 S. Providence Road; and at Gerbes supermarkets until 4 p.m. Monday. Buttons are $8. Those 7 and younger will be admitted free, and those who buy buttons in advance will be eligible for prize drawings, according to a news release from the city of Columbia.

Admission will be $10 for those who arrive at the event Monday night.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

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