About Last Night
First Night Monterey was an all-inclusive closing party to 2010.
Saturday, January 1, 2011
Everyone was throwing or attending a New Year's Eve party to close out the first decade of the millenium. Locally, though, probably no one place could match the size, scope or the depth of creativity conjured by First Night Monterey.
Kira Corser, First Night's artistic director for three years now, was there from beginning to end.
“The opening ceremony's parade was fabulous,” she said on a gray New Year's Day. “[There were] taiko drummers, the Aztec dancers lead the way; they did a 'good weather' dance.”
Which, for the most part, worked. It rained briefly and harmlessly on the downtown Monterey party at 10:45pm. Nothing that could dampen the sustained excitement that was compounded by the plethora of ongoing and recurring performances and activities, made possible by a small, well-managed army of volunteers.
“About 165 people,” according to First Night executive director Ellen Martin, who, the day after was nursing a soar throat. “They work 3 ½ hours—a lot work more than that. We give them [an attendance] button, try to feed them really well. I think they do it for the joy of being at First Night.”
The ever-present volunteers kept the myriad activities and logistics in motion at Golden State Theatre, the Monterey Conference Center, and on Alvarado Street, the main vein for the celebrations. As soon as the opening ceremony at Colton Lawn wound down, with the parade leading attendees away to Alvarado, the volunteers began breaking down the kiosks. They were, in turn, fueled by food dished out at the Masonic Lodge building, which, inside, isn't as mysterious and imposing as its windowless facade when dozens of happy volunteers and performers are assembled for staggered cafeteria meals.
That staggered format was used to program the dozens of performers, though overlap was inevitable. At 7:15pm, for instance, Greek Village Dancers gave a workshop on the street, Chinese Lion Dancers tromped on Golden State Theatre's stage, Abdoulaye Diallo and friends drummed up a frenzy outside of Wells Fargo, and at the Conference Center, Heather Waters crooned in the Colton Room and the Black Irish Band stirred up a Celtic reverie for an impressive audience in the Steinbeck Forum—the lads actually played four sets throughout the night, injected with history and humor (before playing “Paddy Works on the Railroad,” which they called the “first railroad song,” they threatened to release an album with 21 versions of “Danny Boy.”)
At least the first sets by Waters, Grumbling Ginger and Singing Wood at the Conference Center were filled to standing room capacity. The street and outdoor stage performers drew crowds that encircled them from one sidewalk along Alvarado to the other. And the movement was constant, people taking in performances, then peeling off to see something else, only to be replaced by newcomers.
At no point was there not a line of kids and parents waiting for the facepainters on the second floor of the Conference Center. The interactive “Game of Life” on the third floor saw a lot of activity. Arts and crafts tables were colorfully messy. Maybe the iconic sight of the night were glowing blue toy swords that little boys and girls—two of them seemingly infants in strollers—could not resist brandishing. Sound-wise, percussion dominated and captivated, in the form of African, Japanese taiko, Egyptian, Latin and hip-hop music (that one from a live drummer who accompanied MC Lars and a hype man).
The night revealed a bounty of cool sights. At the top of Alvarado Street, near Monterey Galerie, a spindly, white dancing balloon man. At the cobblestone courtyard outside the Portola Hotel, a lone saxophone player commanding a large crowd. At the 300 block of Alvarado, food vendors fed the teeming masses. Under the marquis of the Golden State Theatre, a grizzled George the Birdman “hawked” photos of his parrots and cockatiels. Inside the theater, African singer Define danced in a striped zoot suit, looking like his bones were made of rubber.
At the end, when some families had retired for the night—by this time kids and mostly older folks could be seen sleeping wherever they had plopped down—and most performers had since packed up their guitars, amps, costumes, congas and xylophones, the two headliners closed out 2010 for audiences packed into the final venues: Iyeoka Okoawo at Golden State Theatre and Mambo Tropical and friends at the Conference Center's Sierra Ballroom.
“Iyeoka was fabulous,” Corser said. “[There were] so many people standing up and dancing. The building was shaking. I had to take video camera off the tripod. [Iyeoka] asked people to turn to the person next to them and shake hands and hug, which they did. She talked about the 365 days we have to make change, to change ourselves. She did. She used to be a pharmacist and she quit her job to be a poet and singer.”
The celebration, Corser said, spilled out onto the street, where drummers were still banging out a rhythmic racket.
“This is probably one of the best First Nights we've done,” she said.
Martin attended the other finale act.
“I think there was 1,000 people, just dancing, families and couples. Everybody had horn blowers. I was there at midnight.”
Though still fighting a persistant illness that's coarsened her voice, and absent attendance counts, Martin says, “I was really, really happy with how it turned out.”
She's probably not alone.