December 31, 2018 marks the 27th year of New Jersey’s biggest and brightest First Night, a New Year’s Eve family-friendly, alcohol-free celebration of the arts – with more than 100 artists, 81 events in 23 venues – representing dance, theatre, music, world cultures, visual arts and children’s programs. For all 27 years, Morris Arts has been First Night Morris’ artistic programmer, securing topflight talents who attract thousands from throughout the state and beyond. More than half of the program features new artists (or artists returning after several years), many of whom have performed at world class venues, won international recognition, performed on national radio/TV, in major films and/or collaborated with superstars of performing arts. On that night, one can experience everything from a gypsy/neo-Balkan Trio, a Moldovan piano virtuoso, or a legendary hot jazz guitarist to a one-man sideshow, a champion Irish fiddler or a live reptile show.
On the Rock/Bluegrass/Blues/ Zydeco/Drum front, The John Ginty Band rocks the house, showcasing Ginty, who toured/performed with the Dixie Chicks, Jewel, Santana and received two Grammy nominations as a founding member of Robert Randolph & the Family Band. The Feinberg Brothers’ 5pc. band, profiled expansively in a recent Bluegrass Unlimited, embodies classical bluegrass with their tight, soulful harmonies and masterful, intricate instrumentals. For gutsy, full-throated blues, wailing harmonica riffs, and raw voiced vocals (with a touch of funk, R&B, country and jazz), catch the Cobra Brothers – heard at blues festivals, The Stone Pony and The Bitter End. Got rhythm? Connect with Dana McCurdy’s Community In Rhythm Drum Circle. Looking for flavors from New Orleans “Big Easy”? The Zydeco Revelators offer that sweet Cajun accordion, cool rubboard vest mixed with zydeco classics, rock and jam band in an irresistible “jambalaya” of sound.
Hankering for Jazz ? Miracles happen. After a near fatal accident, the legendary guitarist Frank Vignola is back and better than ever with his Hot Jazz Guitar Trio, with guitar partner, Vinny Raniolo, and “monster” bassist, Gary Mazzaroppi. One of the top five guitarists in the world according to the great Les Paul, Vignola has performed with Lionel Hampton, Ringo Starr, Wynton Marsalis and other superstars, bringing his astounding virtuosity, sly humor and incomparable musicianship back to our stage. First Night would not be complete without our own sizzling jazz pianist, Rio Clemente (the “Bishop of Jazz”) whose inventive and sparkling improvisations astonish and inspire all.
If Folk Music is your bag, be sure to catch the wit and wordplay of comedy folk singer, Carla Ulbrich, with her songs about wedgies, Waffle Houses, Klingons and how rich she would be if she had the copyright on the “F” word. Remembering Pete Seeger, Spook Handy “keeps the flame alive,” in his ongoing World Tour, sharing Seeger’s music and legacy in all 50 states, 10 Canadian provinces and 21 NJ counties. You’ll want to hear the Windborne Singers, a unique quartet of vocal chameleons who will captivate you with the purity of their voices, their close harmony singing and a fascinating repertoire spanning centuries / cultures.
First Night’s Classical offerings include the superb artistry of Moldovan piano virtuoso, Maria Sumareva, winner of international piano competitions who dazzles with a repertoire spanning the Baroque through contemporary. The Baroque Orchestra of New Jersey explores great orchestral works from the 17th through the 21st centuries while the Solid Brass Quartet’s grand and resonant brass features music from the Renaissance, Baroque and contemporary eras. Known for its inventive, international programming, Harmonium Choral Society will feature South and Central American Christmas music, spirituals, Yiddish and American works. And, for “something completely different,” check out the Electro/acoustic Oboe mastery of Matt Sullivan whose sonic explorations/improvisations produce sounds you’ve probably never heard from any double reed instrument.
First Night’s generous sampling of World Cultures includes the global fusion ensemble, Afrika meets India, blending the rich rhythmic and melodic traditions of India and Africa. Irish (and other) eyes will be smiling at the music of champion Irish Fiddler, Brian Conway while Tavche Gravche, a gypsy/neo-Balkan trio, offers a unique, fiery mix of Balkan/Eastern European and Mediterranean melodies while maintaining the explosive dance rhythms of Balkan music. Feeling mellow? Groove on the lilting, joyous music of Random Test Reggae playing Caribbean reggae, soca and calypso. Alborada Spanish Dance Theatre showcases Spanish flamenco traditions while Shubanjali’s dancers highlight Indian Classical/Folk Dance.
And, speaking of Dance, after sampling the power, passion, and castanets of the Alborada Spanish Dance Theatre and the stunning costumes and intricate gestures/footwork of Shubanjali’s Indian Classical/Folk Dance, First Night audiences can also enjoy the dynamic rhythms of NJTAP2, whose young artists showcase the great American art form of rhythm tap dancing. If you love line dancing, square dancing or are just curious, neither experience nor partner is needed to participate in Square Dancing with caller, Mary Moody – fun for all ages.
Looking for Theater/Comedy? Laugh your way into the New Year with the wit and wry humor of two comedy stars, Erin Jackson and Tom McTiernan. Erin’s megawatt smile and keen insights have made her a regular at NYC’s top comedy clubs, on numerous TV comedy shows and as a semifinalist with NBC’s Last Comic Standing. Tom is one of the East Coast’s best (and cleanest) comedians, featured at top clubs on both the East and West Coasts, on TV and opening for top acts in Atlantic City and Las Vegas. More laughs are in store with Mr. Hypno’s Comedy Hypnotism as hypnotized volunteers discover such hidden talents as ballet dancing or cow milking! Illusionist Benjamin Lipman’s Comedy Cascade combines circus arts, vaudeville and humor with juggling, mime and magic. Billing themselves as “Manhattan Transfer meets Second City,” The Loose Canons are master purveyors of musical parody. A semifinalist with America’s Got Talent, David Darwin, the one-man sideshow, astounds audiences with his contortions, sword swallowing, glass walking, magic, juggling, fire manipulations and comedy. And, if you love history, don’t miss Living Voices: Our Revolution, a profoundly moving account of the American Revolution, told from the perspective of an African-American soldier (portrayed by a professional actor) and enhanced by riveting documentary graphics.
Children’s/ Family Programs: Who could resist Dinoman Dinosaurs! with Bob Lisaius’ life size, inflatable dinosaurs? Rizzo’s Reptile Discovery shares live reptiles (and other animals) – under the watchful eye of a seasoned animal handler. Catch the clowns, face painting and glitter tattoos at The Children’s Fun Festival or visit Transformations Facepainting where each face becomes a living work of art. Perennial favorite and skilled circus performer, Mr. Fish explores The Mystery & History of Magic, making things float in the air, appear/disappear and replicating signature feats of legendary magicians. Another favorite, Storyteller Julie Pasqual, brings her uniquely playful, physical theater skills, sharing stories from around the world.
The early session for younger children (4:45-6:45pm) includes hula hooping with Whirled Revolution, art making activities with artist Samantha (“Sam”) Matthews’ Art 4 Kids and Fun with LEGOs®. New to this year’s early session is the NJTAP2, an ensemble of young tap dancers, sharing their skills in rhythm tap dancing as well as Square Dancing with Caller, Mary Moody, with fun for the whole family.
No experience is necessary to try Zentangle, a unique method of drawing using structured patterns, guided by art teacher Mimi Topping.
And, as in years past, three visual arts exhibits (displaying over 300 artworks) and two sets of fireworks top off that magical evening known as First Night® Morris County. To check out the full lineup of artists please click here.
One inexpensive admission (before 12/21: $20/ticket; $17.50 for 4 or more; prices go up 12/22-12/31/16) covers all events at First Night®. Every venue is indoors and a free shuttle will take you to nearly all locations. For more information, the latest program updates, to volunteer or to purchase tickets, please click here or call the First Night Morris Official Ticketing Partner, The Mayo Box Office at 973-539-8008.