Nineteen-year-old Rick Villareal could have spent New Year's Eve carousing with his friends. Instead, he celebrated with his mother and 15-year-old brother, Paul, watching figure skaters glide and whirl across an old-fashioned ice rink in Annapolis.
The family joined some12,000 others who thronged to Maryland's capital city for a festivalof street performances, dance and music, capped off by a burst of fireworks over the harbor. Crowds stood before storefront windows and jammed historic houses to see performances that ranged from folk dances to cabaret jazz to 17th-century court music.
"I think this is great because it lets families be together," said Jackie Bilobran, who took her husband and 5-year-old daughter, Emily, to see magician David Seebach's tricks. At least 400 parents and children crowded into an auditorium at St. Mary's Catholic Church for the afternoon performance, which kicked off eight hours of alcohol-free festivities. By midnight, most people expected to be stone sober.
"We usually either went to someone's house or went to a restaurantbefore," John Bilobran said. "This is nice because we can spend sometime together as a family first."
Billed as a family-oriented alternative to drunken revelry, First Night Annapolis was a rousing success for the second year in a row. College students, families and elderly couples came from as far away as Western Maryland, New Jersey andeven Boston to stroll the red-brick streets of Annapolis.
"This is unique for us," said Granville MacCullum, a retired Annapolitan whowas shivering in line waiting to hear a dramatic reading of Edgar Allan Poe stories at St. John's College. "Always before, we spent New Year's Eve with friends in a warm living room."
Last year's overflow crowds prompted the event organizers to nearly double the number ofperformances, from 83 to 150, all within easy walking distance in the city's historic district. Trolleys shuttled celebrants sporting thepink, black and white buttons with the First Night logo between the 31 different sites.
But the most popular events still were mobbed.Lines gathered an hour in advance for the Poe reading, performed by a Boston actor with an eerie resemblance to the macabre author; Seebach's magic; and the Paradise Club bluegrass band.
"I haven't seen anything," groused 18-year-old Brett Rogers, smoking a cigarette as he waited for the next Poe performance. "To me this is just a cold experience."
The festival was patterned after First Night Boston, introduced by a group of artists in 1976. More than 75 cities nationwidehave copied Boston's celebration, said Elizabeth Welch, who organized First Night Annapolis.
"It gives everybody another option of what to do," said Welch, who pointed out that alcohol-free parties are part of the family values of what she calls the "cocooning '90s."
New Year's Eve was crisp and clear, perfect for sipping hot cider while cheering the fireworks at midnight.
Alcohol was banned at all the First Night performances, but plenty of mulled cider, cappuccino and hot chocolate was available at restaurants and food courts across the city. Even without the pop of champagne corks, the celebration sizzled with loud laughter and applause.
Barbara Cooper and her two daughters walked out of their home on Fleet Street and found the downtown transformed. A clown on stilts waved at the crowds on Main Street; a mime entertained people from behind one store window; and ballet dancers performed the "Nutcracker" in another.
"This is fabulous!"Cooper said, watching a duo play traditional Irish songs on the harpin the window of Lipman's clothing store. She said she welcomed having families reveling on the streets instead of screaming drunks.
Hungarian folk dancers entertained a more sedate group, while Gospel singers rocked the staid St. Anne's Episcopal Church just before midnight.
The ice dancing drew the largest crowds. A group of friends cheered and shouted, "Way to go," as Amy McPartland, a 20-year-old Annapolis native, performed a waltz with the Baltimore-based Next Ice Age troupe. McPartland said she was excited to skate again at the NavalAcademy's Dahlgreen Auditorium, where she practiced figure-eights asa child.
"This is so much better than what I used to do on New Year's Eve," said McPartland, who was an understudy for Olympic gold-medalist Dorothy Hamill in "The Nutcracker on Ice." "I remember just sitting around and watching this ball dropping, and thinking, 'Is this it?' "