Columbians revel in First Night celebrations

Monday, December 31, 2007 | 10:14 p.m. CST; updated 6:13 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008
Hanna, 4, Angie, Jacob, 1, and Ben Liess watch Aesop's Fabulous Tales Puppet Show at the Missouri United Methodist Church as part of First Night celebrations on Monday. "It's totally cool," said Hanna of the puppet show. The Leisses participated in arts and crafts activities before attending the puppet show.

COLUMBIA — Families with small children crowded the lobby of the Missouri United Methodist Church to play the rhythm bones with Darryl “Spike Bones” Muhrer or toot party favors. There weren’t nearly as many people using the craft rooms next door, suggesting a slow start to the First Night Columbia event.

Volunteers and organizers, however, were optimistic. Connie Zullo, a first-year volunteer selling admission buttons at United Methodist, said the turnout began to pick up a bit before 7 — less than an hour after the official start.


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Norma and Ernie Falloon, who have volunteered for the past five years, said the turnout seemed “pretty good,” adding they hadn’t seen a lot of the traffic due to their out-of-the-way position at the Boone County Government Center.

First Night Director Karen Ramey said she wouldn’t know how many New Year’s revelers turned out for the evening until later, but that the organization expected about 12,000 people. About 200 volunteers helped with the event that had an $85,000 budget this year, Ramey said.

Bus driver enjoys crowd

Robert Hamilton has been driving a bus for Columbia Transit for 11 years.

But Monday night was only the second time he had worked during First Night. The last time he worked for the event was 1994. Not much has changed in that time, he said.

“The event started out to be a pretty good success,” Hamilton said. He said one thing has changed, though: the number of people.

Hamilton volunteered to drive the bus for First Night when the bus company asked if drivers were interested. While he does get paid for the hours, he said he enjoys the time he spends throughout the night.

“Everyone is in such a good mood,” he said. “The night is a great way for people to get out and get to know each other and Columbia.”

The fun of the event plus the chance to meet new and interesting people is why Hamilton volunteered his time, he said.

So is he bothered by having to work on New Year’s Eve? Not really.

“I just sit around the house and don’t really do anything,” he said.

— Laura Chapuis

A different type of art

Performers rushed congas, atabaques and birembaus upstairs and onto elevators for their second show of the night at Missouri United Methodist Church. Their earlier First Night performance at Stephens College ran later than scheduled, giving the entertainers little breathing room before their next act.

(The congas and atabaques are drums. Birembaus are gourds with a single string.)

Women changed quickly from their white sweat suits and jackets into primitive dress, including grass skirts and bright tops with stringed beads wrapping their bodies. On the other side of the room, men stretched their legs.

Grupo Axé Capoeira, Portuguese for spirit, performs martial arts disguised within music, dance, acrobatics and rituals for audiences throughout the Kansas City metro area. It was the first performance at Columbia’s First Night for the international group.

“We have an unique art form, and some people don’t understand it,” said a performer who would only identify himself as Maracuja. “Here, they seem to appreciate it.”

Part of the group’s routine contains different dances from different regions of Brazil, such as Colheita , a rice dance, and Coco de Roda, a coconut dance using various instruments for expression or emphasis.

Grupo Axé’s participants span more than 10 different countries with more than 10,000 members according to their Web site.

— Aja J. Junior

Tapping with friends

A man who has tapped his way around the world warmed up the early show at Columbia’s First Christian Church. Water and popcorn (50 cents each) don’t make for much of a party, but Reggio “The Hoofer” McLaughlin knows how to liven up a party.

Tapping down the stairs separating the plywood-protected stage from the primly smiling audience in folding chairs, the dancer in tuxedo and spats brought up the tempo by persuading young Margaret Lipton of Columbia to take his hand and follow him back on stage. A quick learner with a great smile, Margaret, almost 4, wowed the crowd with her foot-stamping, twirling, arm-arabesques and a graceful bow.

Allison Bivens, 2, also from Columbia, wasn’t ready for show business, but her father, Nathan Bivens, leapt at the chance to carry his child onto the stage. Try hoofin’ with a 2-year-old on your hip. And if you’re the 2-year-old, try keeping your thumb in your mouth while your daddy’s dancing with Chicago’s own authentic traditional tap dancer, Reggio McLaughlin.

— Molly Frankel

Helping with the horses

Georgia Morehouse, 74, has been a volunteer for First Night since the event began 14 years ago. As a member of the Steering Committee, her responsibilities this year included coordinating the horse-drawn carriage rides with Paragon Carriage Rides of Warrenton.

While the carriage rides have always been one of the more popular events at First Night, Morehouse likes the fact that there is something for everyone.

“It’s a fantastic thing, and a wonderful event for the community,” she said. “I appreciate that they do things for children and have entertainment for everyone. The fact that it is nonalcholic is important, too, because it offers a fun alternative to your typical New Year’s Eve activities.”

Carol Thompson, 48, was volunteering at First Night for a second year, helping Morehouse this year with the horses.

“It’s a great experience to come out here,” Thompson said. “I’m single, I don’t drink and I love kids so this is a great way to spend the night.”

— Taryn Dameron

Family time to share

Drama, puppets, concerts and magic were all on display for children and families in Missouri United Methodist Church.

This year’s theme for children attending First Night was “Create and Celebrate,” and participants got into the spirit by making crowns, buttons, noisemakers and watching performances and fireworks.

Tim Langen and his three kids have lived in Columbia for six years and come out every year to join Columbians in downtown to revel and welcome in the new year.

His 8-year-old daughter would perform an Irish song later on in the evening.

Jung Sun Kim and her two daughters from Korea were attending the event for the first time.

“In Korea, people eat rice cake during the New Year’s Eve, which means we are one year older,” Kim said, “My daughters and I just had traditional Korean dinner and attend the American celebrations now.”

Volunteers focused their time and energy to make sure families had fun. They worked two-hour shifts as ushers, ambassadors and button sellers.

Laura Starjak, who moved to Columbia last week to live with her mother and sister, worked as a volunteer along with her sister.

“First Night is celebrated with friends,” Starjak said. “For me, it’s also a family activity,”

— Xiaoxian Ye

Free tickets requested

Jeff Stack, 48, has been attending First Night for six years. This year he brought along his daughter, Melissa, 8, for her second year. Stack and his daughter took advantage of the free bus service offered through Columbia Transit to stay warm while getting around downtown.

“This is a great time for kids with great activities,” Stack said. “There are also so many talented artists sharing their abilities with us.”

However, Stack said he would like to see one see one change in First Night.

“I just wish there were more free tickets for those who can’t afford to go so no one has to miss out,” Stack said. Tickets to the event for those 8 and over cost $8 in advance and $10 at the door.

Melissa said her favorite part of First Night was the crafts at the Missouri United Methodist Church.

— Taryn Dameron

A fashionable review

It was fun just to stand on the corner at Broadway and Tenth Street to people watch.

Fashion tips: What do you wear with a floor-length blue taffeta ball gown at First Night Columbia? How about earmuffs and tennis shoes?

And for the gentleman, a puffy orange ski jacket looked great with a plastic top hat and shiny black dress shoes.

Watch out for the occasional crust of snow clinging to the curb.

— Molly Frankel

Standing room only

Spare Parts Art Gallery on Ninth Street was the only free indoor venue, with three sets of acoustic music. A warm place to listen to music, all it needed was hot apple cider and more seats to be a perfect New Year’s Eve interlude. Singer-songwriter-guitar-player Noah Earle was the only one sitting during the first set. Doug Freeman, one of the gallery’s four owners, said, “We want to support the arts in Columbia any way we can.”

— Molly Frankel

A message through music

Nick Rodriguez saw the Teen Venue at First Night as an opportunity to express his ideas of diversity, peace and acceptance.

Rodriguez and his band, Disrupted Perceptionz, rocked the Armory Sports Center as the opening act on New Year’s Eve.

“We are trying to bring all these different people together,” said Rodriguez, who hopes to inspire “a new outlook on life for people” with music.

Spanish native Atlante Guajardo, 17, is the second singer of Disrupted Perceptionz.

Guajardo moved back to the U.S. after living in Spain, his father’s native land, for 13 years. He said he was considered a foreigner in both countries.

“When I was in Spain, I was American, and here I’m Spanish,” Guajardo said.

Through his music, Guajardo tries to express himself and establish his identity.

“I like to give a message to people about the world,” said Guajardo, who likes to incorporate both English and Spanish to his lyrics, blending the languages and the cultures. “I’m trying to be who I want to be.”

— Chiara Della Cava

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