Downtown cellphone tower, carousel added as First Night Raleigh celebration grows

ccampbell@newsobserver.comDecember 8, 2013 

FIRSTNIGHT02.123112.TI

The giant acorn will drop at midnight again this year.

TAKAAKI IWABU — 2012 STAFF FILE PHOTO Buy Photo

  • If you go

    First Night Raleigh festivities run from 2 p.m. to midnight Dec. 31 throughout downtown. Many of the activities require an admission button, which are $10 in advance. They’re sold at Harris Teeter, Rite Aid and other local shops as well as online at firstnightraleigh.com.

— Terri Dollar had a moment of panic last New Year’s Eve as midnight approached: Charged with signaling the start of the fireworks, she discovered her cellphone couldn’t make a call. She was able to send a volunteer to the launch site in time, but it was a close call.

Dollar, director of First Night Raleigh, had found the downside of the event’s popularity. With thousands of people on Fayetteville Street taking pictures and calling loved ones, cellphone networks get jammed.

“What you see when you’re looking out at that crowd is people holding up their cellphones,” Dollar said.

This year’s First Night will present some new, internationally themed attractions, capping off a year in which downtown Raleigh has seen signs of success such as the relocation of corporate headquarters, the emergence of a new transportation hub and a series of popular musical festivals and other city-sponsored events. Headaches – like the missing mobile signals last new Year’s Eve – have accompanied the downtown boom, but there’s an apparent solution to the cellular gridlock at least.

Verizon is working to set up a temporary cell tower near City Plaza to handle the extra calls ringing in the new year. The Raleigh City Council approved the plan last week as a part of wrapping up arrangements for this year’s celebration.

“These guys do this at football games – wherever there’s going to be a high concentration of people using cellphones,” Dollar said. “Eventually they’ll probably erect something more permanent.”

The improved cell service is among several additions for First Night 2014. Performances – at 30 venues throughout downtown – include Hindugrass (exactly what it sounds like), Moscow Nights and the Durham Ukulele Orchestra.

This year’s headlining act, which will play up to the midnight countdown in City Plaza, is Big Sam’s Funky Nation, a band from New Orleans led by a member of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.

Other highlights include:

Fayetteville Street carousel: First Night has featured a Ferris wheel in the center of Fayetteville Street, but it will be joined by another carnival staple this year.

3D juggling comedy: First Night has booked downtown’s largest venue, Memorial Auditorium, to accommodate crowds expected for juggler-comedian Mark Nizer’s 3-D shows. “This is a 3-D show where people wear glasses, with lots of lights and spectacular things,” Dollar said. “For us to add a venue that seats 2,300 people is a huge deal.”

Drums all day: The 100 block of Fayetteville features the “World of Rhythm,” a series of drumming performances ranging from steel drums to Japanese Taiko.

“If you can’t find anything that appeals to you, you must be dead,” Dollar said of the schedule.

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