January 3, 2010 - First
Night Austin and New Year’s Eve Downtown
What a difference 30 degrees
and about $125,000 can make. I'm sure it was the sudden cold
front on New Year's Eve that kept the First Night Austin crowd
to a minimum, but they unfortunately didn't miss much.
The annual free downtown
celebration of the arts had a rocky year, suffering from
much-publicized conflicts within their board and management. Not
only did the organization's high profile executive director, Dave
Sullivan, jump ship after only a few months, First Night founder Anne
Elizabeth Wynn put a halt to fundraising efforts using her name -
since she was dismissed from the board in 2006.
The economic downturn did not help matters either, as long-time
sponsors cut back drastically or did not participate at all.
This year's First Night plans
started with a budget of $350,000 - on par with last year - but pared
back plans to fit the $225,000 they actually raised. The obvious
difference - aside from the lack of people - was the absence of visual
arts installations, the hallmark of previous First Night celebrations
(and no, an over-sized Hibatchi with a butane flame is not "visual
We caught some of the
family-oriented festivities during the day around Auditorium Shores,
and a fair number of folks made their way downtown prior to the
late-afternoon cold snap. We regrouped, bundled up, and braved
the cold with a couple of thousand other folks to catch the Grand
Procession, which launched at 6 p.m. from Congress and 5th Street.
But by 6:30 p.m., the whole parade had completed the route - a
far cry from last year's procession, which
lasted two hours and featured hundreds of
performers and colorful, people-powered floats.
We popped into the Long
Center's celebration, the Long First
Night, which sported a more ample crowd. We sampled the exquisite
buffet by Sterling Affairs, the in-house caterer for the Long Center headed
by Austin food icon Larry Kille. The crab cakes were divine, and
the short rib was some of the most flavorful and fork-tender beef that
I've enjoyed in months.
After an hour of mingling and snacking,
we ventured back out across Congress Avenue. It was about 8 p.m.,
and Cesar Chavez - the heart of First Night - was deserted, except for
a conclave of APD bike patrol officers and two EMS technicians on
4-wheelers. Even the
vendors were throwing in the towel and packing
We regrouped again, and dropped by Parkside's big New Year's
party on Sixth Street. The popular downtown restaurant was
hopping with the pretty people, all noshing on chef Shawn Cirkiel's
culinary creations. We're suckers for Parkside's seafood, so we
happily sampled the hors d'oeurves while grooving to popular DJs
Mahealani and Grey (not sure which DJ was which - my bad).
Perched on the railing of the outdoor patio, we had a commanding
view of the throngs assembling along Sixth Street - a giddy horde
fueled by alcohol and enthusiasm.
For the witching hour, we had been
invited to Oilcan Harry's by owner Larry Davis. So we rang in 2010 with a big
group of friends and a wonderful bottle of champagne, courtesy of the
club. As the First Night fireworks filled the sky, we
resolved that 2010 would be a better year.