Firsting Out All Over

First Night Colorado's been all over the place since its inception in 1988--the event migrated from the then-quiet 16th Street Mall to the old Elitch Gardens to the Colorado Convention Center. Over the years, there have been walkabouts, fireworks finales and kaleidoscopic festivities crammed together under one roof, but a couple of things have always remained the same: There's no bubbly flowing, because the event is alcohol-free, and there's always a rich mix of entertainment for anyone and everyone.

As promoter Bill Michaels points out, many of the area's dance troupes, storytellers, folk musicians and the like don't tend to have gigs on New Year's Eve, a traditional night of grown-up debauchery--unless they work First Night. As a result, the available pool of talent is stunning. This year, a choice blend of those performers will be on hand for a scaled-down but downright neighborly event, taking place for the first time at the Colorado History Museum and three satellite venues dotting Civic Center. "We knew we couldn't be at the convention center again--it was just too cost-prohibitive," Michaels says. "Besides, the convention center didn't lend itself to a party atmosphere."

This year's version of First Night returns to the walkabout format, with buskers performing between venues to pull celebrants from place to place. "People are used to coming to Civic Center for a festival," Michaels says of the new locale. And there's no arguing the fact that walking from one warm building to another might impart a warm feeling not possible in the barnlike convention center.

First Night kicks off at the museum in a blaze of jingling bells and waving feathers: The Denver March Pow Wow Dancers--in full American Indian costume--will make a Grand Entry into the museum lobby from outside on the entrance plaza. The troupe's headdresses are so big a bar will have to be removed from the doorway to allow them access to the building, but it's all in the holiday spirit: "We'd lose the effect if we had to bring them in through the loading dock," says museum spokeswoman Peg Ekstrand.

Inside, there'll be ongoing dance performances, storytelling and a participatory theater piece, along with a children's art stop featuring Percussion Lady Helen Trencher and balloon artist Miss Abbie--a favorite, Michaels notes, with real kids and overgrown kids. "I've seen adults stand in line for her without kids," he says. From there, it's on to the marble-floored State Legislative Services Building (the original location of the Colorado History Museum) for flamenco music, folk dancing and a photo exhibit; the stately First Baptist Church sanctuary, where Swallow Hill Music Association musicians will perform; and the Scottish Rite Masonic Center, a surprising structure at 14th and Grant. "It's like entering Oz," Michaels says of the Masonic's echoing, domed sanctuary, the perfect setting for the pounding step-dancers from the Wick School of Irish Dance and other theatrical dance groups performing there. Dancing will also gravitate to a downstairs ballroom, where guests can swing dance to Jay Wieder's big band.

Will there be a big finale? Not really, Michaels says--there are no crowd convergences or fireworks planned. Instead, the usual hoots and hollers, New Year's kisses and "Auld Lang Syne" renditions will take place separately at each venue. But there's always next year. That's the big one.

--Froyd

First Night Colorado 1999: 6 p.m. to midnight December 31, Colorado History Museum, 1300 Broadway, and satellite venues, $8 in advance ($10 at the door), 303-478-1999, www.quickbyte.com/first-night-colorado.

 
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