Arts & Culture Blog
A Selective Look Back at Last Year's First Night Monterey Celebration.
December 29, 2012
It began with the cacophony of the Shinsho Mugan Daiko taiko drummers, spread out on Pacific Street in front of Colton Hall, pounding out a primal sort-of overture that echoed blocks away and lured people in like some call to prayer.
It ended with dancing to one of John "Broadway" Tucker's passionate blues set, backed by the muscle of Bay Area musicians, at the Monterey Conference Center.
In between it was a stacked sandwich of the creative sights and sounds and happenings that make First Night Monterey the biggest, burliest and maybe most fascinating New Year's Eve party in the county. (And a sprinkling of rain in the evening only seemed to add a refreshing urgency to the hubbub.) Here is a lowdown on a few highlights from one reporter and his family's journey through that faithful night nearly a year ago.
We caught the tail end of the Bubble Wrap Stomp, an inspired kid activity that none too few adults got in on. It seemed to remind us of the simplicity that can engage kids as they play with the gift boxes and bubble wrap and forego the fancy trappings of a mock tablet for kids, or an artificial intelligence robot dog or a Spider-Man dune buggy with a mounted cannon (Spider-Man doesn't need dune buggy, he spiderwebs all over the place, and who would have a dune buggy in New York anyway?)
The simplicity and creativity stretched on to the face-painting and hat-making stations. Another savvy move on FNM's part, endorsed by the masses of kids who lined up for both. Get in early on these.
The events stacked up one on top of the other very quickly, though for long stretches or multiple occurrences, so there was a lot of walking and wandering. Last year the Museum of Monterey hosted a CSUMB film series, which offered an out-of-the-way oasis from the teeming activity outside. It's not happening this year, which is a shame, because seemingly every other type of locally produced artform is represented. But there are places to escape the maddening crowds and regroup. Try the Steinbeck Forum hall in the Monterey Conference Center between music sets. Lots of comfortable seats, lots of quiet.
Abdoulaye Diallo was a big hit on Alvarado Street. He and his bandmates raised a beautiful ruckus of traditional African drumming and music and singing. Some kids, inspired by the participatory nature of the day, tried to join them and beat on drums, even as they were played, and his band did not trip.
Up the street from Diallo, MC Lars rocked the mic to represent his special brand of family-friendly and nerd-centric hip-hop that was true to the spirit of hip-hop and to The Force. And his DJ and drummer were on point, too.
The Chinese Lion Dancers drew one of the biggest crowds on a performance-packed Alvarado Street to their lively crashes of cymbals and drums and the expressive movements of their lion and dragon dancers. It felt like San Francisco's Chinatown supplanted in downtown Monterey.
Birdman set up shop under the well-lit marquee of the Golden State Theatre (which, last year, was MIA from the First Night revelries but is back this year with the Black Irish Band and Red Beans and Rice who do one of two grand finales) and he and his flock of docile exotic birds are like a Pied Piper for kids. He's also got this gruff manner, like a man whose nerves are frayed but forges on. Watch him. He's a master at the photo-op for kids, but his stage direction is single-minded and funny.
Last year's presentation of Rock Star video games by Best Buy did not rock. There was just too much real-world stuff going on, it seemed, for the virtual one to lure the little ones (or the big ones). This year, Best Buy is bringing Just Dance, which sounds more in line with the movement that First Night inspires.
Junkman's set-up was brutally simple. He affixed found objects like hubcaps and 5-gallon water containers to a medley of drum kit stand and tables, and invited everyone to take up drumsticks and beat the crap out of the assemblage. It was rousing at first, then riotous, then wracking. Do this on in small doses unless you want to ring in the new year with a headache.
There was art everywhere. A lot of it the kind of crafty and colorful lot that's fun to look at but doesn't require much contemplation. But at the top of the escalator to the third floor of the Monterey Conference Room, there is a surprising appearance of an iconic painting by David Ligare that, barring the momentum of all the activity going on on the third floor, could cause a bottleneck at the top of the escalator. Check it out.
I Cantori did a solemn and pretty set of songs at the intriguingly named Monterey Center for Spiritual Living. And they had maybe the tastiest (and cheapest) baked treats of the night.
It rained a bit, but nothing that dampened the spirit on the streets, and besides, most events were indoors. This Mondays' First Night is promised clouds but no rain, fun but no booze, and a fulfilling way to spend the last day and night of the year with friends, family and community. That's a prediction that has precedent.