On a Saturday night cold enough to wear stocking caps under a Happy New Year tiara, Raleigh whisked 2016 into memory with a downtown street fair that combined a Ferris wheel, swinging pirate ship and a sea of glowing light sabres.
Hundreds welcomed 2017 at First Night Raleigh, a celebration that brought a pop-up wedding chapel, miniature golf and a pair of fireworks shows as the city’s copper acorn dropped.
“I resolve to keep enjoying myself,” said Bob Wilusz, 75, playing an accordion on Fayetteville Street. “This is my little accordion. I’ve got five of them at home. I’m hoping I’ll survive the cold weather with the fingertips.”
Rickshaws lined the sidewalks, an aid to chilly legs. Crab cakes and fried Kool-Aid waited inside concession stands. Lines for the Ferris wheel stretched hundreds deep, but fair-goers waited for a chance to see Fayetteville Street from the heights. Down below, the street stood jammed with kids with hats pulled past their eyebrows, waving purple alien-shaped balloons.
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Near the Wells Fargo building, a “Resolution Tree” stood in the street, an artist’s creation. A sign nearby invited passers-by to hang a leaf inscribed with a resolution on one of the wire branches. But nearing sundown Saturday, no leaves were hanging. Leave self-improvement to January.
Farther down Fayetteville Street, an interactive Lite Brite board stood waiting for children to add colorful pegs. And the Southeast Raleigh Magnet High School’s robotics team, better known as Team 435 Robodogs, showed off machines that could toss Frisbees and Nerf basketballs along the sidewalk.
“We want people to be as aware of these amazing robots as they are of football or basketball games,” said Josh Van Hemert, a Southeast Raleigh senior.
As the bigger, amplified acts were setting up, Matios Kubbs pulled out his banjo and flipped open the case on the sidewalk, playing bluegrass tunes while the spectators passed.
“One of the things I like about busking,” said Kubbs, 30, “is I can play the same song five times in a row. I’m basically getting paid to practice.”
The year’s final hours passed as these unrelated people came together, a few portraits for the city’s 2016 scrapbook. As the scene unfolded, a man walked down Fayetteville Street carrying a sign that read, “The End is Near.”
At least as far as the calendar was concerned, he was right.