One Last Thing

Samba Légal plays the outdoor finale at First Night 2017, using Alvarado Street as their stage for high-energy rhythms.

This year’s theme for First Night Monterey is The Phases of the Moon, because, as First Night Executive Director Ellen Martin explains, “We start in the day and end up at night. We start in one year and end up in a new year. We’ve gone through a lot of phases.”

Otherwise it’s the same First Night you know and love. The biggest family-friendly, no-alcohol New Year’s Eve party – 20,000 revelers last year – spread out over indoor and outdoor downtown venues, packed with music acts, dance troupes, arts and crafts, wacky activities, merch kiosks, and food and drink vendors. A full schedule is in this issue of the Weekly and there’s even an app (First Night Monterey 2017) to orient you.

After five years of doing First Night Monterey with kids and extended family, here are five pointers on some of the more esoteric topics for newcomers (parents in particular) to more readily enjoy what Martin calls “an atmosphere electric with joy and hope” (which is not an exaggeration).

1. Crowns and celebration hats for everyone!

3:30-7:30pm crowns at Monterey Museum of Art (requires button); 3:30-5:30pm hats at Colton Lawn

In Judaism, a ram’s horn is blown to signal the start of the new year, called Rosh Hashanah. In Thailand, new year’s is celebrated with water being sprayed into crowds by a statue of Buddha. In the States, people count down the remaining seconds of the year, make noise and merriment, and attempt to sing “Auld Lang Syne.” Ceremony gives us common traditions as we move forward into an uncertain future. Those crazy First Night paper bag hats and crowns festooned with glued-on feathers, streamers, googly eyes, corks, construction paper and assorted what-nots is not just a fun diversion for kids. They signal the start of creativity, a journey, a specialness. They are literally objects of transformation. The fact that they look goofy is just a bonus.

2. Abandon all hope, ye who enter the facepainting line.

3:30-5:15pm Colton Lawn

I have a theory. When stuck in a repetitive or static situation (long lines, car rides) that will eventually lead to big rewards (rollercoaster, Santa Claus), the anticipation centers of a child’s mind begins to erase short term memory, starting from the time the boring period began. So a 40-minute wait is really like the same two minutes replayed 20 times. I call this the Facepainting Line Theory of Time. And if my calculations are correct, parents are screwed. Pull out your phone and check Facebook and work emails because you are staying put, captive to a sacred bond between your child and that guy or gal with the paintbrush, folding chairs and mirror.

3. JunkJam knows what kids like.

Next to the Big Sur Garden Stage on Alvarado Street

You know how some kids like to take mixing bowls, colanders and pots, and use wooden spoons to drum the heck out of them like they’re Neal Pert? Well Junkman took that concept and, like Spinal Tap, turned it up to 11. He turns an assemblage of hubcaps, trash cans, gongs, cymbals, fenceposts, buckets, coffee cans, oil drums and milk drums into big, sprawling percussion instrument contraptions. Then he arms kids with drumsticks so they can raise an unholy cacophony. Listen closely; you will hear distinct rhythms and dynamics emerge from the noise. It really is a jam. Of junk. Grown-ups, it’s not your chance to hijack the thing and work out the year’s built-up aggression.

4. Had enough?

First Night Monterey is nine hours of fun. Even ultra-marathoners would be forgiven if they had to take a break and collapse somewhere for a few. Where can a beleaguered family go to find a quiet place to recharge? Go to one of the indoor performance venues – Golden State Theatre, City Council Chambers, Masonic Lodge, Middlebury Institute of International Studies, Monterey Center for Spiritual Living – and stay put between acts while others dutifully get up and rejoin the fray outside.

Also: The lobbies of the Portola Hotel or Monterey Marriott contain lots of comfy, classy furniture. And downtown coffeeshops probably won’t mind you camping out with a hot drink (especially if you tip well).

5. New Year’s Eve photo card – the original selfie.

7-10pm at Monterey Hotel on Alvarado

First Night volunteers set up a photo backdrop, take pictures of families, friends and revelers, and print it out for you. Old fashioned, right? A printed-out photo is inconvenient, you have to carry it around, take care not to throw it out with napkins and snack wrappers in your pockets. The photo’s resolution isn’t great to begin with, then it gets crinkled and dog-eared throughout the night. It sits in a purse or backpack for weeks, forgotten, until one day you happen to find it, and there you all are: goofy paper bag hats perched on the head, bundled up against the cold, smiling like fools. Then you stick the photo on the refrigerator door with a magnet and it warms your heart enough to defrost the fridge.

Happy New Year.

FIRST NIGHT MONTEREY 3pm-midnight Saturday, Dec. 31, at various locations throughout downtown Monterey. Outdoor events are free; indoor events: $22-$24/adult button, $15-$18/youth button 6-15 years old; free/children 5 and under. 373-4778, www.FirstNightMonterey.org

Walter Ryce has been an arts writer, calendar editor, culture columnist, sometime photographer, and one-time web content coordinator for the Monterey County Weekly. He began working at the paper, which is based in his hometown of Seaside, in 2007.

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