Unusually warm weather helped draw a record crowd to Columbia’s First Night celebration on New Year’s Eve.
Karen Ramey, First Night director, had predicted 8,000 people would attend, but on Friday night, she said, the crowd was even larger. Some venues were so full they had to turn people away.
“We’ve been coming for 10 years, and this is the first year we’ve been turned away from a venue,” said Linda Harlan as she and her husband, Tim, emerged from Sparky’s carrying ice cream cones.
The owners of the ice cream parlor had planned to remain open until midnight, but they were down to five flavors by 10:30 p.m.
“We’ll stay open until the ice cream runs out,” employee Scott Southwick said.
Holly Tatlow and her children, Chelsea and Trevor, braved a brief rainstorm while waiting for a carriage ride after the children’s fireworks show. They had already enjoyed a busy evening. It was Holly’s birthday, and they celebrated by going to dinner, joining an interactive music show and listening to the City-Wide Drum Line and Rhythm Band.
First Night featured 50 activities and performances in 12 venues. When the venues closed at 11:30 p.m., thousands poured into the streets to create the People’s Procession to the courthouse. Some carried giant puppets, while others waved oversize balloons.
The sounds of talking, laughing and singing filled the air in the Courthouse Square as the countdown to the new year began. The crowd counted in unison as a glowing pyroball descended. When the counting stopped, fireworks exploded from the top of the courthouse in a 10-minute show that had the crowd cheering.
“I think this is one of the best events we’ve ever had,” Ramey said. “It’s gone great. We haven’t had any problems. We’re always happy when everyone goes home safe.”