Crowds usher '97 to the exit Celebrations: Thousands attend parties in Annapolis and Baltimore to welcome 1998 amid music, dancing and lights.

January 01, 1998|By Tom Pelton and Dennis O'Brien | Tom Pelton and Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Baltimoreans and Annapolitans greeted 1998 by flocking last night to alcohol-free celebrations that featured live music, dancers and yachts decked with strings of lights.

At Baltimore's Inner Harbor, the crowd counted down the final 10 seconds of the old year, before a fireworks display lighted the night sky over a chilly Inner Harbor.

In Annapolis, more than 20,000 revelers were entertained by almost 400 performers in the capital's eighth annual First Night arts celebration.

The tuxedo-clad Yale University Glee Club sang choruses in Latin to an overflow crowd at St. Anne's Episcopal Church. Children had their faces painted with cartoons in the lobby of the post office. A Shakespearean theater company performed "As You Like It" at Banneker-Douglas Museum.

At 11: 30 p.m., a bagpipe ensemble in kilts led a parade down Main Street to the harbor for Annapolis' fireworks display welcoming the New Year.

The celebration included magicians and mimes, people dressed as enormous, colorful fish and the Three Musketeers pouring past storefronts. Yachts docked off Main Street were decked in colorful lights.

Everywhere there were signs that the gloom that had hung over the city since a fire destroyed two century-old buildings on Main Street last month had lifted.

"This is a great celebration of the spirit of Annapolis," said Elizabeth Welch, co-producer of First Night. "The city is so culturally rich, and nothing brings it alive more than the arts. I think this is a great celebration of the city's rejuvenation after the fire."

Kathy Mehl, a 38-year-old nurse from Davidsonville, and her husband, Mike, brought their children, Lauren, 9, and Stephanie, 7.

"This is the first time we've come down here, and we just love it because everyone's having a lot of fun," Kathy Mehl said.

Annapolis First Night was paid for through $14 buttons that allowed visitors to attend performances.

Brothers Michael Zavosky, 10, and Stephen Zavosky, 13, of Rockville were fooled by a mime in the window of the Annapolis Shirt Company store at 159 Main St., who was acting like a robot throwing confetti.

"It's definitely a robot," said Michael.

"No question, a robot," said Stephen.

Their brother, Andrew, 11, screamed at them, "No, it's not. It's a real person. Look, its eyes are blinking."

In Baltimore, about 3,500 people attended the alcohol-free celebration at the Baltimore Convention Center, said Tracy Baskerville, a spokeswoman for the city Office of Promotion.

It was the 13th year for the party, which is intended to bring families together for a night of food, games and music.

"The intent is to show that you don't need to have alcohol to have fun on New Year's," Baskerville said.

That was what attracted Bruno Commodari of Parkville and his wife, Helen, who is seven months' pregnant.

Commodari, who was decked out in a black plastic top hat with the words "Happy New Year" written around the brim, said that he traditionally spent New Year's Eve at home with relatives. But this year, everyone had other plans.

"This seemed like a good alternative," he said, as the couple's 3-year-old daughter, Maura, played on a bean-bag, designed to resemble a cow, in a play area set up for young children.

In the background, a magician performed magic tricks on a nearby stage and a man on stilts sauntered through the crowd, shaking hands with wide-eyed youngsters.

The event included a video arcade room, refreshment stands, hats, horns, balloons and music.

Visitors who paid the $10 admission ($7 for children age 12 and younger) rode an escalator to the third floor, where they encountered a strobe-lighted dance floor.

There couples, teen-agers and families danced to a disco beat that pulsated throughout many of the Convention Center hallways.

Down one hall, activities included a video arcade, a stage with live acts and rooms that featured musical acts, including country line dancing, jazz and karaoke.

In the karaoke room, Scott Anderson and Karen Hanks sang an enthusiastic if slightly off-key version of "You're the One That I Want," a song from the hit musical "Grease."

"We did the same song together last year," Hanks said. "I think we're going to make a yearly thing out of it."

The Convention Center party went from 8: 30 p.m. to 11: 30 p.m., when the crowd filtered over to the Inner Harbor, where a band called the Reagan Years entertained before the fireworks.

Pub Date: 1/01/98

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