- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 18, 2003

BOSTON — You won’t find the best New Year’s Eve party in Boston in a trendy bar or swank hotel. You’ll find it everywhere around you, in the First Night arts festival, which draws a million visitors each year to the city’s streets, churches and public buildings.

This arts-adoring city invented the First Night New Year’s Eve festival 28 years ago, and the idea since has been emulated around the country. This year, there will be more than 100 local First Night celebrations in 29 states.

Nevertheless, Boston remains home to the biggest First Night. This year’s festival will feature 1,000 artists and 250 exhibitions in 40 locations, some indoors and some out, despite the usually frigid weather. Highlights include a parade and fireworks.

If you can’t find something you like here, you won’t find it anywhere.

There are musicians (classical, folk, bluegrass, gospel and rock). There are dancers (ballet, tango, Irish, Chinese and swing). There are storytellers and sculptors, puppets and painters, films and fish (at the New England Aquarium), not to mention choirs, cartoons and comics.

What you won’t find is boozy raucousness.

“It’s a family-friendly event,” says Joyce Linehan, a spokeswoman for the event. “The programming in the afternoon is specifically geared toward children. Toward nighttime, it’s more for the whole family.”

Some of the artists have been performing here every year since First Night Boston began in 1976, when it drew no more than 10,000 people.

“From the very first, this gathering, this parade, I’ve always felt this is the most wonderful thing, and every year it gets bigger and bigger,” says Brother Blue, a storyteller who has participated in every First Night Boston.

Events start early in the afternoon at locations around the city, though many of them are concentrated in and around the Hynes Convention Center. A $15 button gains admission to anything you want to see.

Seeing everything is impossible. Miss Linehan strongly recommends a visit to the Web site at www.firstnight.org, which contains an interactive planner organized by themes (classical music, for instance, or events appropriate for toddlers).

“If you don’t have a plan, you’ll probably get shut out of things,” she says. “Everything is first come, first served, so you should definitely have a backup plan.”

Miss Linehan also advises dressing so that you’ll be comfortable whether you are at an indoor concert, an outdoor parade or an ice-sculpting event. Use layers that can be added or removed easily.

Finally, try to use public transportation because parking is difficult and expensive and some streets will be closed. The subway system, run by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) and called the “T” by locals, is convenient and easy to use, with lines coded by color. The trains usually shut down around 12:45 a.m., but they will keep running until around 2 a.m. on New Year’s Eve.

“Things are generally contained in a pretty small geographic area,” Miss Linehan says. “You don’t have to travel very far. You certainly don’t have to walk if you don’t want to; it’s all very MBTA-accessible. It’s all very doable; just dress in layers.”

A full afternoon, night of fun

Boston’s First Night events begin at 1 p.m. New Year’s Eve at a variety of locations around the city, including the Hynes Convention Center, area churches, museums and other public buildings.

The event concludes with a fireworks display at midnight over Boston Harbor. The Grand Procession moves down Boylston Street beginning at 5:30 p.m.

A $15 button, available online at www.firstnight.org and from area retailers, provides admission to all events, but seating is first come, first served.

Some public parking is available in several garages, including the Prudential Center and Boston Common, but taking public transportation is highly recommended. The MBTA Green Line subway stops at Hynes Convention Center and Copley are most centrally located, but some events are not within walking distance and require Green Line trips to other stops, such as Coolidge Corner and Science Museum.

Most rides are $1.25, and a one-day pass allowing unlimited rides will cost $6, but all service is free on New Year’s Eve after 8 p.m. For more information, visit www.mbta.com or call 617/222-3200.

Hotels fill up quickly, but several offer special First Night packages. For information, contact the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau, 617/536-4100 or www.bostonusa.com.

Many programs are interpreted in sign language, and almost all sites are wheelchair-accessible. The exceptions are a small screening room at Coolidge Corner Theatre and the Boston Park Plaza Terrace Room.

Aschedule and planner is available for Boston events at www.firstnight.org or call 617/542-1399.

There are more than 100 First Night celebrations in 29 states around the country. For links to First Night information for other cities, visit www.firstnight.com/cities.php.

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