The Runaround

First things first: This is not the way Bill Michaels thought he'd be ringing in the new year.

Not that there's anything wrong with his fun run (and walk), the neatly titled Y2K-5K. But after importing one of the country's best celebrations -- First Night -- to Colorado, and then hosting the biggest New Year's Eve party in the state for a dozen years, it's a real let-down to be so let down by Coloradans.

Over the past eleven months, sponsors simply haven't stepped up to the plate. And filling that collection plate was critical this year, since costs for 1999's proposed First Night festivities had just about tripled. The event's always been ambitious -- a community-based festival with artistic performances ranging from multicultural to swing at a variety of downtown venues -- and plans looked even more daunting this year, since First Night would be competing for service providers already charging outrageous prices for the most overhyped night of the century. But then corporate sponsorships began to lag behind even previous years' levels -- family-oriented, alcohol-free fare is never an easy corporate sell (and it certainly doesn't bring in big dollars on its own). When the city showed no signs of boosting its support -- in fact, its noticeable lack of enthusiasm was "a slap in the face to me and a lot of very dedicated people," Michaels says -- the First Night board warned that the event was in dire danger of cancellation. The Rocky Mountain News even ran an editorial asking for potential supporters to step forward -- and "I never got a single call, not one," Michaels says. "I'm wondering myself why the silence. The city's been supportive in the past."

He has some possible answers: City officials were worrying about potential Y2K problems, of course, and even if the technological transition into 2000 goes smoothly, Denver could be facing an overflow of drunken revelers in LoDo, who'll be partying like it's the 1999 Super Bowl all over again. Corporations were reluctant to sign on amidst all the uncertainty over Y2K. And even longtime fans of First Night were reconsidering their options. "While many thousands of people have enjoyed First Night Colorado each year, almost everyone I talk to is either doing something very big and expensive or, more likely, planning quiet celebrations this year with family members and close friends," says Michaels.

Still, the First Night show will be going on in cities across the country, including Boston, whose bash helped inspire the Colorado incarnation. And Michaels isn't giving up entirely this year. In fact, he and his First Night crew are providing good reason to run around on December 31. The Y2K-5K, a variation on just one of the events that usually comprise a First Night celebration, promises to get your blood pumping and your heart beating and still have you back home long before midnight -- with a commemorative "Last Race of the 1900s" long-sleeved T-shirt. The run begins in the southeast end of Washington Park, near South Franklin Street and Mississippi Avenue, at 6:30 p.m.; entry is $25 for everyone on event day at South High School (although you can still register through 6 p.m. December 30 online at for $22 adult, $15 youth).

With any luck, Michaels promises, a full First Night Colorado will be back in all its glory next year.

If, of course, there is a next year.

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun

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