Arts & Culture

First Night fun in Raleigh and other New Year’s Eve celebrations

Raleigh First Night parents and their kids celebrate the children’s early countdown to New Year's on Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh in 2014. The acorn drops and the fireworks go off at 7 p.m. for the kids and then again at midnight for the adults.
Raleigh First Night parents and their kids celebrate the children’s early countdown to New Year's on Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh in 2014. The acorn drops and the fireworks go off at 7 p.m. for the kids and then again at midnight for the adults.

In Raleigh

Fitting Raleigh’s increasing profile in the festival scene – these days it boasts Hopscotch, IBMA’s World of Bluegrass, SPARKcon, Artsplosure and numerous other arts and culture fests – First Night also morphs and grows year to year. Sure, it’s ostensibly about the Acorn Drop, our local answer to Times Square’s Ball Drop, but the annual New Year’s celebration also offers a smorgasbord of music, comedy, rides and just plain high jinks.

The short and dirty breakdown is that the Acorn Drops and the fireworks go off at 7 p.m. for the kids and then again at midnight for the ex-kids. Here’s more.

Kids, comedy and Andy: The children’s celebration lasts from 2 to 6 p.m. in Bicentennial Plaza, in the North Carolina Museum of History and Museum of Natural Sciences. If you like comedy, improv groups Comedy Worx (7:30, 8:45, 10:15 p.m.; Highway Building auditorium), Happy Accidents (3 p.m.; Museum of Natural Sciences first floor lobby) and Transactors (7:30, 9, 10:30 p.m.; Fletcher Theatre at Duke Energy Center) perform as well. Beyond that, there’s an Andy Griffith movie marathon at the Museum of Natural Sciences’ auditorium, with two films starring one of North Carolina’s favorite sons playing 5:30-10 p.m.

Music: Musical highlights include driven indie-rockers See Gulls and David Bowie-style pop balladeer T0W3RS (8 and 9:30 p.m., respectively in the Vintage Church sanctuary), while the First Baptist Church on Salisbury Street features four hours of Bebop, The Blues & All That Jazz, culminating in a jazz jam session for those who bring their own instruments (7-11 p.m.). New ensemble Flor y Canto (7:30-10 p.m. at Visual Art Exchange) celebrates Mexican folk music and dance, particularly traditional Guerrero music, while singers from the North Carolina Opera perform at Edenton Street United Methodist Church (8, 10 p.m.).

Get hitched (sorta), play golf, ride rides: A non-legally binding pop-up wedding chapel (seriously) is set up in the PNC Plaza lobby (again, we’re absolutely serious) between 7:30 and 10 p.m., while interactive art installation-meets-mini golf course Art Putt is open 2 to 9 p.m. at Historic City Market’s Market Hall. And on Fayetteville Street, look for twister ride The Sizzler and the Fantastical First Night Ferris Wheel, which will both be in operation between 2 and 11 p.m.

Visit for a full schedule and details on the many worthy performances and installations we weren’t able to fit in here.

In Chapel Hill

In Chapel Hill there are the requisite champagne toasts and New Year’s dinners, sure, but the most distinctive offering is Morehead Planetarium’s Night Lights, a family-oriented celebration running from 3-6 p.m. and culminating with a countdown under the planetarium dome. Tickets are $5. Info at

Adults looking for something memorably different (and unpredictable) could check out DSI Comedy Theater’s Best Countdown Ever, an improv-driven party and midnight countdown (9:30 p.m.; $20 in advance or $25 day of; for ages 21 and up). DSI also has a family countdown at 6:30 p.m. ($10) and a 2016 “pregame” at 8 p.m. for those with existing midnight plans ($15). More at

In Durham

In Durham, it’s all about the dance party – at least, that is, if you don’t have high-dollar restaurant reservations for the evening.

The Pinhook’s 21-and-up Cheap Date queer dance party promises to be both affordable and open-minded (10 p.m., $8,, while Art of Cool x A.C.T.’s “Timeless” party features DJ Spinna, Phonte and Joshua Gunn at the Durham Armory. This one is close to selling out (9 p.m., $40-70,

Finally, Motorco’s MOTOROBOTO Time Machine is a party predicated on the idea that its participants were born in the wrong era (9 p.m., $15-$18; Happy 1976, everyone.

First Night details

Hours: Several events will get underway at 2 p.m. The Children’s Celebration is from 2 to 6 p.m. at Bicentennial Plaza and inside the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences and the North Carolina Museum of History. The People’s Procession, which travels down Salisbury Street, begins at 6 p.m. Things wrap up after the midnight fireworks.

Fireworks: For those who can’t stay awake until midnight, an early countdown and fireworks will begin at 7 p.m. at the main stage in City Plaza, 400 Fayetteville St. More fireworks and the acorn drop will be at midnight in City Plaza.

Tickets: An all-day pass for $10 gives you access to every performance venue and activity. Passes are available at Harris Teeter and CVS Pharmacy stores. On the day of the event, tickets are $14 for adults and $11 for children ages 6 to 12.

Performers: Look for cloggers, a piano player, a Johnny Cash tribute band and much more.

Food: Plenty of vendors will sell food and beverages in Bicentennial Plaza and along Fayetteville Street. Downtown restaurants will also be open.

Alcohol: First Night Raleigh is alcohol-free. Open containers are not allowed on the streets or in any venues.

Parking: City-owned parking decks and lots throughout downtown will be open all day and night for $5. State government visitor lots are available at an hourly rate during the day, and other state-owned lots are available for free parking at 6 p.m.

Bus info: For the second year, GoRaleigh buses will operate a park-and-ride system into downtown. Visitors can park and catch a bus at the lot at Oval Drive and Initiative Way on the N.C. State University Centennial Campus or at the Wake County Government Office Park at 4011 Carya Drive. The buses will run every 30 minutes or less.

The downtown drop-off and pickup site is at the corner of Morgan and Wilmington streets.

Once downtown, visitors can also take the R-Line, a free circulator bus service that runs about every 15 minutes.

A cab home: Taxi cabs will line up from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. in two locations: the east side of Salisbury Street from Morgan to Cabarrus streets and the west side of Wilmington Street from Morgan to Davie streets.

More at

From staff reports

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