RALEIGH — A host of artists has been hard at work in recent weeks preparing for First Night, downtown Raleighs annual New Years Eve celebration that has turned into the citys biggest outdoor winter event.
The sprawling, massive festival is anchored on Fayetteville Street and in City Plaza, but there are an array of venues scattered throughout downtown, particularly at area churches where festival-goers can enjoy music from all over the world.
This years First Night has an international theme and we are trying to bring in international acts to show how New Years Eve is celebrated around the world, said First Night organizer Terri Dollar.
Among the featured international artists is Fran Smith, a singer-songwriter from Raleighs sister city, Kingston Upon Hull in the United Kingdom. She will be performing at the First Presbyterian Church on Salisbury Street.
Then theres Ten Strings and a Goat, a folk music trio that hails from Canada. The teens have made an impact on the folk scene in Americas northern neighbor. They were nominated this year for two folk music awards.
First Night will also feature several jazz venues with James Hill, a ukelele player from Nova Scotia, headlining.
James Hill is considered one of the best ukelele players in the world, Dollar said. Here in the United States kids are taught to play the recorder. Well in Canada they are taught to play the ukelele. So you have thousands of kids learning to play the ukelele there. James Hill teaches in the school system there when hes not touring the world.
The First Night tradition of the annual acorn drop will continue this year with the icon dropping first at 7 p.m. for the benefit of children who wont be out there at midnight. Then the metal nut will be hoisted up and dropped again at midnight in City Plaza to the joyous accompaniment of Big Sams Funky Nation, a New Orleans band.
New Orleans is such a melting pot of different cultures, Dollar said. Sam really engages the audience. Hes a wild man up there. It will be such a fun and party atmosphere. It might be thirty degrees outside but its going to feel like summer in New Orleans.
The First Night marquee also promises Celtic music and a confluence of Hindu and bluegrass music called Hindugrass.
Memorial Auditorium also will be called into service for the first time this year. Thats where juggler and comedian Mark Nizer will perform.
Hes won all kinds of awards, Dollar said. To say hes just a juggler just doesnt do him justice. He does a trick with toilet paper at the end thats just spectacular.
Final preparations, including those from local performers and artists, got underway in earnest Saturday.
In the afternoon, Donovan Zimmerman, co-founder of the Paperhand Puppet Intervention in Saxapahaw, was at Adam Peeles Studio just outside of downtown, putting the finishing touches on a carboard Earth Hut.
Zimmerman, with the help of about a dozen seventh- and eighth-graders, painted layers of brown, beige, tan and burnt orange tones on recycled cardboard and then emblazoned the earthy backdrop with an array of animals and vegetation.
The kid-friendly structure will stand about 12 feet high and measure about 15 feet in diameter. Thats enough room for youngsters to scoot in and out.
Basically, its something to celebrate the Earth by getting into it, Zimmerman said. A way to celebrate the flora and fauna of the planet.
Paperhand Puppet Intervention is no Johnny-come-lately. For several years, the company has led First Nights People Procession. Past processions have included the giant puppet Rhea, who Zimmerman said represents the land of North Carolina.
It takes 50 people to carry her, he said. Her head represents the mountains. Her body represents the flora and fauna and her tail is the ocean.
Along with folks carrying giant puppets, there will be strollers, bikers and wagons participating, Dollar said.
Elsewhere Saturday, a couple of other local artisans, Jenny Marsh and James Peery of Marsh Metalworks in Durham, were putting the last coats of paint on the Resolution Globe, a round metal ball 12 feet in diameter that represents the planet. The spinning ball, with the worlds land and water masses all aglow, will sit in front of the old courthouse on Fayetteville Street.
The Resolution Globe was a prominent feature at earlier First Night events but fell out of favor about seven years ago. Marsh and Peery pulled the thing out of a Raleigh warehouse about two weeks ago and have been busy making it ready for the New Years Eve party.
The globe has eight sections that are affixed together with nuts and bolts. When the couple pulled it out of the warehouse it wasnt a pretty sight.
It was so warped, by like a foot and a half, said Marsh, who is doing the welding work on the globe.
It was dirty, rusted, green, warped, bent and broke with chipped paint, said Peery, who has repainted the globe. Whoever painted it before didnt prime it.
But thanks to Marsh and Peery, the Resolution Globe is all pretty again and will be even more impressive when its lit up Tuesday night with halogen lights. Festival-goers will have the chance to write their resolutions on green or blue ribbon and tie them to the globe.
By the end of the night it looks like a full Earth, Marsh said.
Other local performers include perennial favorites the African American Dance Ensemble featuring Chuck Davis and the Transactors Improv Company.
There are enough free events that First Night visitors dont have to pay a dime to enjoy the fun. But a $10 button covers dozens of performances as well as the annual acorn drop for the by-all-means-bring-the-kids, alcohol-free extravaganza.
Last years celebration topped 100,000 attendees for the first time in the history of the 23-year-old event. Barring bad weather, this years attendance should reach that mark again.
We still need volunteers too! Dollar said.