- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 30, 2001

There will be dancing and singing, comedy and magic. There will not be champagne.
First Night celebrations alcohol-free New Year's Eve programs that focus on arts and entertainment in a number of locations within walking distance of one another are a chance to ring in 2002 family style. With events planned in Annapolis, Alexandria and Leesburg, there will be no shortage of Washington-area places to party.
"I think First Night is just what the community needs to restore our sense of community spirit," says Elizabeth Merkin, program manager of First Night Annapolis. "It will be a coming together of a diverse group of people who know how to unite."
First Night celebrations began a quarter-century ago in Boston, when a party was put together to focus on the arts, not on alcohol. The movement has gained momentum, with 185 celebrations planned nationwide this year, says Zeren Earls, president of First Night International.
Community spirit is at the heart of all First Night celebrations, Ms. Earls says. With the this fall's tragic events, communities from coast to coast could use a good dose of optimism, she says.
"People have suffered personal loss and job loss," she says. "It is important for communities to be celebrating the hope of the future."
The atmosphere at First Nights around the country should remain a safe one, Ms. Earls says. The events are not held in stadium-sized facilities, but are in small venues all within walking distance.
In Annapolis, where organizers are hoping 15,000 will attend some of the 200 performances, patrons can start the evening by attending First Act activities from 3 to 6 p.m. These are geared toward families with small children and will feature magicians, puppet shows, singers and face painting. Other highlights of the Annapolis event include:
Rock, a cappella, classical, Caribbean and blues musical performances at a variety of venues from City Dock to the intimate surroundings of the Great Hall at St. John's College.
The chance for families to share their hopes for 2002 and beyond at the Resolutions Flag Project. Flags will be available at City Dock and the Anne Arundel County Circuit Courthouse and later will be strung up in various sites around downtown Annapolis. Patrons can write their wishes and prayers on the flags. The flags are based on the ancient practice of Tibetan prayer flags, which are said to carry healing prayers on the winds across the land, Ms. Merkin says.
A teen gathering, Rock at the Rec, will feature high school bands, henna tattoos, a karaoke club and a coffeehouse where teens can celebrate safely without mom and dad.
Theater performances, including the Comedy Sportz Troupe, the Kahurangi Maori Dance Theater of New Zealand and the Shenandoah Shakespeare Express.
The midnight crab countdown, where the region's ties to the Chesapeake Bay will be honored by dropping an illuminated crab into a steaming pot. The evening will end with a laser light show at the waterfront.
In Alexandria, the First Night celebration returns after a one-year absence.
Highlights of the program include soprano Laura Mann, three-time Scottish fiddle champion Bonnie Rideout, blues singer Janine Wilson and singer Dulcie Taylor. There also will be Latin salsa bands, country music, Irish dancers, and face painting and storytelling for children.
Alexandria's First Night culminates with a fireworks display at the George Washington Masonic Memorial.
Leesburg's First Night event will take place in 22 locations and will feature 100 performances. The night begins with a parade at 5 p.m. The entertainment, including puppet shows, jazz and folk music, and storytelling, begins at 6 p.m. At midnight, there will be a grand illumination at the courthouse.

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