ANNAPOLIS -- Thousands of people converged on Maryland's capital last night to ring in the New Year alcohol-free, but balmy temperatures made it seem as though they were welcoming spring instead.
Some holiday revelers left their winter ensembles at home and walked the crowded streets dressed in T-shirts and shorts. Ice cream seemed to be on everyone's menu.
"With the weather tonight, why would anyone want to stay
indoors?" asked Ellen Pritchard of Gambrills. "We've been up and down the streets and enjoying the sights."
More than 12,000 people came to the city's third annual First Night Annapolis celebration, slightly beating last year's count, organizers said.
"It couldn't be better," Elizabeth Welch, one of the organizers, said yesterday afternoon, when the temperature hit the upper 60s. "We have sunshine now and hopefully we will have starlight tonight."
The First Night concept started in Boston 16 years ago and is now a fixture in 90 cities across the country.
It is designed to give families safe entertainment while showcasing area talent and the performing arts.
Public buildings and stores opened their doors to revelers and performers of every kind in the six hours leading up to a fireworks display in the Annapolis Harbor, giving people who paid the admission fee of $10 plenty of entertainment.
There was face painting at The Nature Company, a blue-grass band in the Maryland National Bank and a Chinese opera in Courtroom 2, at the Circuit Court building on Church Circle.
Events also included a 15-minute rendition of "Hamlet" performed in the display window of the Gap clothing store, cartoons on a three-story screen on the side of the Marriott Hotel at City Dock and comic performers in the council chambers at Annapolis City Hall.
"It's a nice place to bring the kids and have a good time on New Year's Eve," said Mark Schlisse, who was studying the program of events while his three children ate ice cream in Greentree's Ice Cream Shop.
"There is a good wide variety of entertainment," the Columbia resident said. "We can do something as a family."
Kay Beach, of Alexandria, Va., passed up an invitation to a dinner party to bring her two granddaughters, Renne, 4, and Andrew, 1, to Annapolis.
"I decided this would be more interesting," she said.
Just about everyone said they came for family fun. Jim Lucas drove in from Dunkirk, and brought his 85-year-old mother-in-law.
"It feels like a safe place to be," he said. "It is good, clean entertainment."
Two of the more popular attractions featured Dick Morgan, a renowned jazz pianist, who performed at the historic King of France Tavern, located in the Maryland Inn, and Denny Dent, who, using two fistfuls of paint brushes, very rapidly paints portraits of music superstars. Mr. Dent calls his technique "Art Attack."
But just walking around could be interesting. Standing at the corner of Franklin and Main streets, as two fiddlers played for a gathering crowd, Phineas T. Blusterfluff made his rounds.
Dressed in a tuxedo and top hat, the plump "senator" with a curly mustache handed out fake $10,000 bills and asked for votes. "I represent quite a few people from the great state of confusion," he mused.
PD One person laughed. "Thank you," he said. "I worked on that joke
for seven hours. I knew somebody would get it."
The man in the suit was Gregory T. Garton, an actor from Washington who said he thought up the character several years ago with a friend "over several pitchers of martinis. I thought this kind of fit in with the ambience of the evening."
Just then, he grabbed a bystander by the arm and got her to dance on the street corner as the rest of the crowd applauded.
"I know you've got the music in you, ma'am. Just get out here and dance," Mr. Garton said to his dance partner.
Down at City Dock, people milled around, talked to boaters and studied their programs to see what event they should attend next.
"Everybody said this was fabulous," said Clare Rau, of Port St. Lucy Fla., who was visiting relatives in Upper Marlboro. "We are going to go home and tell everyone about it."