First Night Debuts To Delighted Audience Of 7,000

January 02, 1991|By Michael R. Driscoll | Michael R. Driscoll,Staff writer

Overall, the effort was none too shabby for a show that took a year to plan and closed on its opening night.

In fact, the debut of First Night Annapolis, a safe, family-oriented New Year's Eve celebration of culture and the lively arts, was a lot of fun. It was a very nice evening, spent with thousands of friends and neighbors who just wanted to have a good time.

Everyone and everything seemed to cooperate to make the evening work. The night was brisk and clear, and people who missed one event just shrugged and went off to find another.

There wasn't even much of a traffic jam or litter problem at the end. And about a half hour into 1991, the streets were virtually empty.

It bore no resemblance to the Times Square New Year's Eve "riot," but, as volunteer Joanie Zimmerman said, "It wasn't meant to be. What you're seeing here is a tradition being born."

The audience -- which attracted people from as far away as New Jersey and included a couple of connoisseurs of Boston First Night, which sparked the whole movement -- was clearly eager for a return engagement.

Among the night's top attractions was the Baltimore-based ice-dancing troupe, the Next Ice Age, which featured an enchanting solo by Amy McPartland of Annapolis. The group played to a packed house at Dahlgren Auditorium on the campus of the Naval Academy.

McPartland performed "Simple Gifts," a three-minute excerpt from Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring," with a precision and delicate power that only the best dancers of any style can execute.

Born in Buffalo, N.Y., but an Annapolitan since the age of 12, McPartland said that she has been skating for as long as she can remember.

"I really like skating to American composers, and ever since I've been (performing) I've always wanted to skate to that music," she said. "Since this was going to be in my hometown I thought I might ask if I could skate to it. It's one of the most beautiful pieces of music I've ever heard."

At the other end of the entertainment spectrum was Laurel-based street performer Jim Franke, also known as "Nymblewyke."

Usually seen juggling, walking on stilts and eating fireat the Maryland Renaissance Festival, Franke worked the city streets New Year's Eve. Later on, he helped close out 1990 perched on stilts down at the City Dock as he passed out kazoos to passers-by.

Franke praised the organizers of First Night. "I'm hoping it builds as it does in Boston, because it could open Annapolis up to other street performers and street performing styles," he said. "It could be that you can perform in the streets and all around the city, and nothing bad happens, because there are some beautiful areas to work down here, like at City Dock."

Gloria Campbell, manager of the Nature Co. store on Main Street, was the host of a storefront face-painting party with artist Katherine Holzer. She said the family-oriented atmosphere and emphasis on volunteers was in keeping with her store's philosophy.

"Community involvement is the definite thing," she said. "We're hoping that people will come out and see the face painter and glance around at the store. We're not necessarily hoping for big sales this evening. We're just here to assist people."

Mary Carter Smith of Baltimore, Maryland's official "griot," or African folklorist, performed during the children's portion of the evening.

She said her experience was wonderful and called her audiences empathetic and loving. "It was just a good, good evening," she said.

Randy Speck and Martha Nolan were among the seasoned "First Nighters" on the streets Monday night.

As they headed up Duke of Gloucester Street from City Hall to catch the gospel show at St. Anne's, they expressed their approval of the Annapolis event. "We went to First Night in Boston several years ago, and this is very similar in many respects," Speck said.

"In Boston, some of the events are very popular and there are long lines, but here we've had no difficulty getting into any of the events," he added.

Nolan said the Annapolis event was "more compact, so that the walking is not so bad. In Boston you have to cover the entire city, so that by the time you get to an event, you're so exhausted. But here, you have enough shows over and over again, so that you can get to see it the next time if you don't see it the first time."

At the risk of quibbling, there were really only three things wrong with the night.

First, even with 80 performances at 21 locations, there simply wasn't enough entertainment to go around. Some people couldn't get into City Hall to hear the British Isles folk group Whirligig, another top attraction, or to watch the children's show at the State House.

By about midway through the evening, lines at a number of events stretched around the block, with people waiting just for standing room in the back of the hall. Those folks spent part of the evening striking up impromptu friendships with perfect strangers or finding an alternate diversion at another site within walking distance.

Second, of the estimated 7,000 people roaming the Historic District, where most of the action took place, only about 6,998 really had any fun. A well-dressed couple engaged in a public dispute in front of two policemen as the crowds drifted home after the fireworks.

He took off, leaving the angry woman -- clad only in a black velvet dress -- stalking about State Circle in the cold. Eventually, she disappeared in the direction of the Maryland Inn.

Third, the Lionhart Pipe Band was swallowed up by the crowd and never made it to the City Dock to play the New Year in as the Shao Lin San Kung Fu School did its Dragon Dance. The band had to make do, serenading hundreds of delighted revelers at the foot of Main Street.

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