Arts & Culture

First Night Raleigh rules New Year’s Eve, but there are other parties in town

The People’s Precession march though downtown Raleigh during First Night Raleigh.
The People’s Precession march though downtown Raleigh during First Night Raleigh. NEWS & OBSERVER FILE PHOTO

Anderson Cooper, the recurring host of CNN’s New Year’s Eve special, once wrote of the celebratory holiday: “Despite hundreds of years of pathetic parties and hellish hangovers, we continue to cling to the notion that it’s possible to have fun on that night. It’s not. There’s too much pressure, too many expectations, too few bathrooms.”

Cooper was being wry and a little cynical, but he has a point: It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the options and pressures surrounding New Year’s Eve.

Luckily, the Triangle features many fascinating, unusual, or simply creative celebrations – pathetic parties they are not!

First Night Raleigh

The annual downtown celebration features two countdowns to 2015: an early, kid-friendly one at 7 p.m., and then the big Acorn Drop proper at midnight. A wristband gets you into the dozens of First Night performances and events, which kick off at 2 p.m. The celebration offers something for everyone, with shows including everything from classical, gospel and rock music to comedy – there’s even a Ferris wheel.

Here are some First Night highlights:

• There’s a great lineup of musical performers this year as well. Just a few to check out: the African American Dance Ensemble; The Love Language; Barefoot Movement; Sidecar Social Club; Fortunate Ones; and Fooly Cooly.

• Paperhand Puppet Intervention parades its giant, fantastical creatures down Edenton Street at 3:30 and 6 p.m.,

•  “Displaced,” an interactive, multimedia sci-fi tale starts at the City of Raleigh Museum’s downstairs classroom at 5:00, 5:15, 5:30 and 5:45 p.m. and then again at 8:00, 8:15, 8:30, and 8:45 p.m.

• This year there’s even a pop-up wedding chapel from 8 to 10 p.m. (311 West Martin Street Gallery and Studios) – but don’t worry, it’s not legally binding!

• The larger-than-life interactive version of the 1960s illuminating toy LITE BRITE is sure to be mesmerizing. 6-11 p.m. in the 200 block of Fayetteville Street.

• For those who love to dance, there’s a chance for ballroom (7-11 p.m. in the Sir Walter ballroom) or belly dancing (8-10 p.m., First Baptist Church on Salisbury Street) lessons.

• And a chance to get up close with some real live creatures from the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences (with the kids in mind, animals are introduced at 2, 3, 4 and 5 p.m. at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, Third Floor “Windows on the World”).

• As for music, the options range from gospel music at First Baptist Church on Wilmington Street (7 and 8 p.m.) to the Triangle Youth Philharmonic at Christ Church (6:30 p.m.). Among the Main Stage highlights are Fooly Cooly, an electronica duo performing at 8 p.m. The North Carolina-based Love Language performs in the Contemporary Art Museum’s Main Hall (8 p.m.); the energetic Barefoot Movement plays on the Main Stage in City Plaza (6:15 p.m.) and in the sanctuary of the Good Shepherd Church at 9 p.m.; and the Augustines play the Main Stage at City Plaza at 10:30 p.m.

• Comedy options include improv by Comedy Worx at 7:30, 8:45, and 10:15 p.m. at the Highway Building auditorium, while three high school-age improv troupes appear at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences at 3, 4, and 5 p.m., respectively.

Wristbands for First Night are $10 ahead of time, or on the day of: $14 for adults and $11 for children 6-12. Maps, schedule, and full lineup are at

Other celebrations

Yet First Night isn’t the only option. Many restaurants and most bars and clubs have some kind of celebration, from the upscale to the casual. Beyond that, we’ve compiled an admittedly partial list of interesting choices. Consider it a starting point.

• It’s the second year of

Morehead Planetarium’s Night Lights

in Chapel Hill, a mid-afternoon, family-oriented New Year’s celebration. From 3-6 p.m. there will be star shows under the planetarium dome, science demos, refreshments, and a game that’s remarkably similar to cornhole in which participants toss planets into a black hole. Night Lights culminates in an early countdown to 2015 – and all before suppertime. Entry is $5 per person and registration is required.

• In Cary, start 2015 with a road race to benefit Miracle League of the Triangle, a nonprofit designed to help kids with special needs play baseball.

Run in the New Year

, as this YMCA of the Triangle-sponsored race is called, starts at midnight at the Cary Towne Center food court and wends around the immediate area, passing the baseball diamond where Miracle League plays. It’s $30 to register for the 5k or $15 for the 1.5 mile fun run, while participants with special needs run for free.


DSI Comedy Theater

remains one of the better New Year’s picks in Chapel Hill. With a family-oriented show at 6:30 p.m., an 18-and-up one at 8 p.m., and a raunchier, decidedly adult comedy countdown at 10 p.m., this reliably funny improv outfit successfully caters to a wide range of attendees. The first show is $10, the middle show is $15, and the 21-and-up final show of the evening is $20-$24.

• And of course, the bluegrass-descended band Avett Brothers, one of North Carolina’s most visible musical groups, are back in Raleigh to play PNC Arena. With seven albums under their belt and an abiding love for their home state, this 8:30 p.m. show promises to go well beyond midnight in ringing in 2015. Tickets run from $39.50 to $59.50.

There’s also nothing wrong with staying home.

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