No ‘First Night Harrisonburg’ 2011

Brent Finnegan -- December 28th, 2010

For the first time in 18 years, there will be no First Night celebration in downtown Harrisonburg on New Year’s Eve.

A forsaken New Year tiara from last year's First Night. Photo by Randy Lowery.

A forsaken New Year tiara from the 2010 First Night celebration. Photo by Randy Lowery.

TV3 and the Daily News-Record reported in November that plans for First Night had been dropped by organizers, who cited “a lack of volunteers and financial support” for the event.

Doug Manners reported on November 20 that organizers couldn’t even find enough volunteers to serve on the board.

Attendance had steadily declined for the past five years, [Karris Atkins, executive director of First Night Harrisonburg] said.

First Night’s future is unsettled. Atkins said she hopes a group of motivated people will band together over the next year to ensure that the celebration around Court Square returns to ring in 2012.

The Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance site has a list of individual New Year’s Eve events.

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32 Responses to “No ‘First Night Harrisonburg’ 2011”

  1. Emmy says:

    It seems like it’s almost going on without the formal designation of First Night. I’ve heard a lot of people express the same sentiment that I did which was, I’m sorry it isn’t happening, but I never went. I’m sure it’s hard to find people to volunteer because most people already have plans that night. I don’t drink, and I always have my kids on New Year’s Eve, but this just never appealed to me because it is always so cold and I like to be home where if the kids want to go to sleep they can. I was honestly shocked to learn it’s been going on for as long as it has.

  2. Holly says:

    For the uneducated, can someone explain what First Night was and what the benefit was?

    It looks like there’s plenty to do in the ‘Burg for New Year’s Eve!

    Not to mention the Generations Crossing 5K on Dec. 31.

    • It was a “family friendly” community event on Court Square, not unlike the July 4 celebration. I’ve only been once that I can remember.

      We’ve mentioned it on hburgnews in years past, but never in much detail. Here’s their website, which doesn’t appear to have been updated since 2007.

      It’s been low on money and volunteer interest for years. In 2007, the committee was thinking about not doing it at all.

      • Holly says:

        Why in the world would anyone want to tote their children to Court Square in the freezing cold is beyond me. Indoor events however, make more sense! With the new Children’s Museum, this shouldn’t be hard, right?

        • Holly says:

          And apparently my grammar is going downhill.

        • Brooke says:

          I have to agree, Holly. I wouldn’t be likely to take my kids to stay out in the freezing cold till midnight. LOL

          • Emmy says:

            I have to believe that’s why it isn’t working. Either you plan something with your children that involves them being able to be warm and go to sleep, or you plan something that involves a sitter. I guess a fair number of families went, but it just seems like an odd thing to try to make happen.

        • Ross says:

          Seriously, New Years Eve is mostly an adult affair. It shouldn’t be geared towards family. Cut all the exterior acts and just do a bar/restaurant pass thing. You can figure it out from here.

  3. Tina says:

    [I am no longer involved, but coordinated the entertainment for First Night for two years.]

    First Night started in 1976 in Boston (the second oldest city hosting the celebrations is Charlottesville).

    First Night tries to provide a community event to ring in the new year, with family-friendly entertainment. Typically in Harrisonburg, there are activities happening throughout downtown – the Children’s Museum is usually open, and churches and other indoor venues offer music, dance, improv, etc. There are also outdoor activities, weather permitting. And of course, fireworks at Midnight!

    FYI: the current First Night website is

  4. Jim Purcell says:

    First Night began in Boston in 1976 as a way to bring neighboring communities together in celebration, while providing an alternative way of ushering in the New Year.
    Charlottesville, Va was the 2nd city to follow and they have been doing it since 1983. I have been to the one in Cville and it is very well done and has lots to do and lots of “warm” places to drop into out of the cold.
    The thing that really jumped out at me when it was announced that the Hburg affair was being canceled was the lack of volunteers. It reminded me of the old saying…….’when all is said and done, there will be more said than done.’

  5. blondiesez says:

    I went to FN activities in Roanoke, NJ, and H’burg — as an adult. I always enjoyed them because it WAS non-alcoholic: ie., the chance you’d be surrounded by drunken idiots much reduced. (And I’m a girl who likes her bourbon!)

    I was sad to see it go, but as I’m one of the many who is finding themselves with more to do than hours to do it in, I’m not surprised they struggled with volunteer support.

  6. I am someone who has attended all of these events since they started, although it is easy for me to do so as I live in easy walking distance in Old Town. However, to those wondering about why anyone would take their kids to such an event, there was always lots of families with lots of kids attending, and further in the past there were various rides for the kids, and many of the indoor activities were oriented to the kids. Most of the action was earlier in the evening, although there was always a countdown on the Square at midnight, followed by some fireworks (are those cancelled too?).

    I am sorry that we do not have volunteers (I am sorry that I have not stepped forward), but had heard that crucial people had resigned from the board a few years ago and that it had been struggling since, barely happening last year in a scaled-down version. I think it is a good thing and hope that it can be gotten going again.

  7. Drew Richard says:

    On a semi-related note, does anyone know if there will be free cab rides in Harrisonburg this year? I thought I remembered one of the law firms doing that here in the past, so it’s surprising with more adult themed events downtown that they wouldn’t have organized something like that.

  8. Gene says:

    I drove 60 miles last night to find First Night Harrisonburg was cancelled. I have attended for the past five years to see some very fine preformances including Mike Seeger, Nothing Fancy and the Improv group, plus other fine preformances that I would not otherwise have been exposed to.

    The community is much the less for not recognizing the talent available in the area or appreciating the efforts of the volunteers that brought all the talent together on one special night.

    I do not understand the criticism coming from people who could not even be bothered to attend.

    Even though I am an hour away and not truly a member of the Harrisonburg Community, I will contribute to bringing back Harrisonburg First Night if I can. Unlike Charlottesville’s First Night, you could actually get in to see the performances.

    To those who were too lazy to try to attend, you have no right to comment.


    • Emmy says:

      It has nothing to do with being too lazy to attend. I have no desire to take my children out in the freezing cold on a night where the roads are not the safest.

    • Brooke says:

      Ditto Emmy.

      Gene, I understand your disappointment, but simply categorizing anyone who chooses not to attend as “lazy” is more than a bit unfair, and it’s just not true. Is there a way to make your point without resorting to that?

    • blondiesez says:

      Gene . . . . if you were so invested in being part of it, I don’t understand why you didn’t do a cursory check of performance schedules and the like. I’ve known that FN wasn’t going to take place for at least a month now (reported in the DNR on Nov 20).

      • bazrik says:

        I still find it odd that the news came out about this en force only about a month or so ago. If FN was in such a dire position, why did we not hear about it 3-4 months ago when we could have done something about it? It was even stated in the press release that a “scaled back” celebration was considered, but basically scrapped. Maybe if the word had been spread a little more aggressively, we would have supported this as a community?

        Believe me, I know that it’s hard to sustain a volunteer organization – and I’m sure those involved would insist that they tried to get the word out a while ago. But the plain truth is – if this crisis had been well publicized, it wouldn’t have taken so many people by surprise. It’s hard to sustain a volunteer organization, but you have to let people know when you’re in trouble.

        Here’s hoping we see a FN next year, cheers.

  9. Stuart says:

    It is unfortunate that you wasted you time coming to h-burg, but truth be told, hburg is often a waste of time for most normal people. Don’t lament the fact that you are not a part of the hburg community, be proud of it. Most importantly remeber this, the cultured people go to Charlottesville!

    • Emmy says:

      Oh I love it when people come on here and talk about how people should be proud they aren’t from Harrisonburg or don’t live here. It really lends credibility to everything you say.

    • blondiesez says:

      And the really snooty ones bypass C’ville for Richmond or DC. . . .

      Stuart, what a ridiculous comment. We can only hope you were kidding.

    • seth says:

      while the comment is rude, i think there’s some truth in what stuart says. if charlottesville is able to get so many people out that it’s difficult to get in to see performances, and we can’t even get the event organized, then i think it’s hard to deny that their community values cultural events like this more than ours does (that being said, i love this place and believe that we can and should put c’ville to shame in the arena of cultural/creative output).

      to those who say they don’t want to bring kids out in the dark and cold, i have to wonder if you attend the christmas parade each year (sorry guys, i don’t mean to be smart, only to point out that there are many more opportunities to take refuge from the cold on first night and absolutely no vehicles in the streets).

      to those suggesting the focus should be on adults, i’d like to point out that there have always been plenty of performances which would appeal to a wide range of folks and that no one is prohibited from having their ‘adult new year’s eve’ in conjunction w/ the 1st night event.

      getting back to stuart’s comment, the cancellation of 1st night makes me concerned about the future of all of the cutural events that have become staples in our town (international festival, macrock, and hopefully the new super8 film festival). vibrant scenes have died in this place before and while many seem content to blame it on the valley mall or whatever other vector that’s supposed to have killed participation, i really believe that apathy has been a big part of our problem.

      • Emmy says:

        I don’t think it means we don’t value cultural events or that this means the beginning of the end to all of them. There are plenty of other events that are not in any danger of disappearing and new ones popping up all the time. I think the reason that this one doesn’t work is because of what it is.

        Yes, I take my children to the Christmas parade. It is cold, but it starts at 7:00 and lasts about one hour. There are also a lot fewer drunk people on the road that night since the Harrisonburg Christmas parade really isn’t a cause for boozing it up.

        I honestly think First Night would do a whole lot better if it took the focus off of families and just got the collective businesses to work specials out like they do for Taste of Downtown and add some special entertainment. That’s sort of what they did this year anyway and then you really don’t need a lot of volunteers. You could still do fireworks or something to ring in the new year.

  10. Ross says:

    I have to agree with Bazrik. You don’t wait until the last minute (a month’s notice) to inform the community that it’s NOT happening this year. Who was in charge of this and when do they start planning for such a big event?There is no way this should have happened. I’m sure if it was known that they were low on volunteers, the general public of Harrisonburg and Rockingham Co. would have rose to the occasion.
    Since they may be re-thinking FN, I would suggest they gear it towards adults and not family.

    • First Night says:

      Ross and Bazrik,
      To answer a few of your questions:
      The first announcement of First Night Harrisonburg needing volunteers was actually published in May or June of 2010 in the Daily News Record. The final announcement of the cancellation was in November which we hoped would give community members enough time to make alternate arrangements. The planning of First Night begins in Early March and continues throughout the year. Our bi-laws for our non-profit organization require no fewer than 10 but no more than 20 members to serve on the planning board at all times. This year’s board was down to three. Attendance over the past 8 years has been in a drastic decline and in 2007, was almost canceled. It is very unfortunate that we have had to cancel the event. It was a VERY tough decision for the remaining board members who have served the First Night for a number of years. Since the announcement of it’s cancellation, we have not received any interest in volunteering for the Board or in continuing First Night in the future.
      First Night is required to be an alcohol free event. It is an independent non-profit organization designed to “reveal and celebrate diversity through the First Night celebration and the First Night Neighborhood Network, using art as a catalyst to unify the community through creativity, imagination and participation.” Because of it’s alcohol free policy, unfortunately, the restaurants in Downtown Harrisonburg can not be utilized except for “Grab and go” menus. We sincerely hope that you had a wonderful new year despite the cancellation of this wonderful event. Should you want to volunteer your time to becoming a board member, we encourage you to contact us at
      Thank you and Happy 2011!

      • bazrik says:

        Hi there,

        I totally get you, and thanks for the response. To be clear, I just want you to know that I, in no way, doubt that it’s difficult to run a volunteer org. like this, and you have many challenges. I know because I’ve served on a number of volunteer boards, committees, and also leadership. My hat’s off to you for your efforts!!

        My point is only this: you said that “the first announcement of First Night Harrisonburg needing volunteers was actually published in May or June of 2010 in the Daily News Record”. That’s an announcement of a “need for volunteers”, not an effort declaring “the possible cancellation of First Night!” or a “crisis with FN”, or a plea to “Keep FN Alive!”, etc. etc.

        I’m simply saying that the perspectives here are different – FN volunteers lived with this every day, so they knew full well the severity of the situation. But for those of us outside, all we see is maybe an article in the Summer about needing volunteers, and the next thing we know, it’s cancelled. To you, it’s “we’ve been saying this for months”. To us, it’s “sorry, the message wasn’t loud enough, we didn’t catch it”.

        I know it’s tough, and getting people to care about something as much as you sometimes requires sending out an urgent – maybe even alarming – message.

        Again, thanks for the response, and I really hope this pulls together for 2011/2012.

      • Ross says:

        How much money do you think area businesses lost as a result of the cancellation?

        If this night has been a success in past years for downtown restaurants and businesses, then by all means start an adult celebration with specials throughout downtown.

        • Emmy says:

          That might be hard to guess based on the general economic woes of the country and the trend to spend less…but I bet they didn’t notice. There are also more downtown businesses this year (I think, my years run together) so as a whole they may have done better.

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