Fireworks--and old fashions--ring in the New Year

January 01, 1991|By Peter Jensenand Lynda Robinson

Fireworks burst over the Inner Harbor at midnight last night as Baltimore welcomed 1991 in the traditional way, but Annapolis discovered a different way of ringing in the new year: an eight-hour celebration with apple cider replacing alcohol and performing arts instead of drunken revelry.

Four-year-old Brittany Jordan celebrated New Year's Eve in the state capital with her 1-year-old sister, Michelle, listening to the story of John Henry, the steel-drivin' man.

Her parents, Alfred and Alison Jordan, declined a black-tie evening in Washington to spend at least part of the night with their kids and John Henry, but they didn't seem to mind. It was the first time the family had found a way to welcome in the new

year together.

"It reminded us of going to Williamsburg [in Virginia] around this time of year," Mrs. Jordan said. "Our orientation is different now that we have a family, and this seemed a nice idea."

On a night with a reputation for debauchery and excess, New Year's Eve earned a G-rating in Annapolis last night.

The city's First Night Annapolis celebration, the first of its kind in Maryland, was patterned after a 15-year-old tradition in Boston. At least 55 other communities nationwide have successfully copied First Night Boston, according to Elizabeth Welch of Annapolis.

Elsewhere in the state, people greeted 1991 in bars and restaurants, in bowling alleys and churches, and in the homes of friends and relatives.

Thousands gathered in Baltimore for a midnight laser show and fireworks at the Inner Harbor -- the culmination of an alcohol-free party at the Convention Center.

Just before midnight, hundreds of revelers streamed out of the center and area bars and restaurants. Vendors hawked party hats, noisemakers and other New Year's Eve paraphernalia on almost every street corner.

Robin Rippy, 5, of Annapolis, blew a long green horn as she rode on her father's shoulders.

"She's very excited," said her mother, Penny Rippy. "We come up every year."

Standing between the pavilions at Harborplace, a group of 30 partygoers from York, Pa., braved the chill to watch their first fireworks at the Inner Harbor. Many of those who showed up for the fireworks were less adventurous -- with a temperature of 27 at showtime, the pavilions were packed with people who preferred an inside view of the spectacular display.

At the State House Rotunda in Annapolis, a storyteller, a mime and a magician performed for a packed audience of children and adults looking for an alternative to champagne and noise. The overflow crowd of 300 at that particular event forced State House security guards to bar visitors at the door.

"I've never liked New Year's much -- it's for drinking," said Melissa McNitt, an Annapolitan who watched First Night performances with her 2-year-old son, Evan, and husband, Jim. "It's nice to have an alternative."

Mrs. Welch and Lana Nelson, First Night's executive directors, said they started organizing the event almost a year ago. Special event planners by trade, the duo signed up a host of sponsors -- ranging from the Governor's Commission on Alcohol and Drugs to First National Bank of Maryland -- to help finance the venture, and organized an army of at least 150 volunteers to staff it.

"The thing has just caught fire," said Mrs. Welch, who expected between 7,000 to 10,000 people to pay the $8 admission fee by evening's end. "We have the perfect setting in Annapolis, and this city has always been predisposed to the arts."

The 24 acts ranged from the conventional -- folk singers, solo and group, were well-represented -- to the unique: The state's official African folklorist spun tales, and a Cajun music band hauled out the fiddle, squeeze box and rub-board.

Spread throughout the city's historic district, an area of perhaps a dozen blocks, revelers could ride the free trolley or simply walk to any of 80 performances. They gained admittance by flashing a button with the pink, white and black First Night logo.

The scattered venues of performances, including several Colonial-era homes and government buildings, proved to be half the fun. Where else can you hear a guitarist croon, "Roll on you muddy old Tennessee River" before a Circuit Court judge's bench or watch a one-man band play the bones in Maryland National Bank's lobby?

"This is kind of a new experience," said Bob Devlin, who performed on a stage yards away from the teller cages. "I was kind of hoping they'd put me in the vault."

Couples in tuxedos and formal attire mixed easily with those in flannel shirts and duck shoes. Almost every performance site was packed despite the cold weather, and people had to be turned away from many of the performances.

"It's a neat experience to go hopping from one place to the next, knowing you're safe and can go out and see the town," said Janis Zachman of Annapolis, escorting her 3-year-old son, Nicholas.

Alcohol was banned from all events, but "First Bite" stands hawked cookies and hot chocolate and cappuccino to help ward off the cold. In a demonstration of considerable merchandising confidence for a first-time event, they also sold First Night sweat shirts and First Night T-shirts.

"New Year's is getting away from being a drunken brawl," said Al Boswell of Annapolis, a First Night volunteer.

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