There are lots of good reasons for checking out First Night Monterey. But a lot of those reasons fall into two categories: First, the celebration offers a chance to see many local performers that you read about every week. On this one night of the year, you can preview a lot of local performers and decide if you want to see their full shows later in the year. The other big reason is that the event brings a variety of out-of-town performers to our streets as well as offering other local artists--whose work is often too eclectic or specialized to attract a mainstream audience--a chance to go public. And so that''s how we divided our "hot picks" for First Night.

In the "Eclectic or Out-of-Town" section, you''ll find groups that don''t perform around here regularly, while in the "Locals/Frequent" section you''ll find regular MoCo performers that you can preview tonight. We''ve also included a section for young party goers, so they won''t feel left out and separate categories for visual art and classical music.

Have fun! (And don''t forget the Coast Weekly-sponsored opening procession that begins around 5:15pm at Friendly Plaza, at the Corner of Pacific and Jefferson--it''s a colorful, vibrant way to get the evening started.)

Eclectic or Out-of-Town

Asylum Street Spankers Carleton Hall, Church of Religious Science, Franklin Street and Calle Principal, 9:45; 10:45. Hot acoustic music! This group might look like a bunch of hillbillies but they power out a wide array of bluegrass, swing and general weirdness.

Broadway Classics Ensemble Conference Center (Ferrante Room), #1 Portola Plaza, 9:15; 10:15. Vocal group led by Linda Purdy swings into 1999 with elegant vocal styling of boogie-woogie and sentimental favorites from WWII, accompanied by piano and bass. Purdy is a well-respected vocalist in local musical theater and classical community--great opportunity to catch a showcase.

Caliban Conference Center (Ferrante Room), #1 Portola Plaza, 6:45; 7:30; 8:15. Breakout duo (Leif Sorbye and Michael Mullen) from the Celtic rock band Tempest plays a more traditional, yet still energetic, blend of Celtic music.

Cats & Jammers State Theater, Alvarado Street, 9:00; 9:45; 10:30. Hot swing and superbly crafted vocal harmonies draw from 1930s jazz, blues, show tunes and Tin Pan Alley. Daring arrangements, amazing vocal feats and dead-on wit are combined with superb musicianship and eccentric period dress.

Garland Lee Thompson, Jr. Wharf Theater, Old Fisherman''s Wharf, 9:15; 10:30. Spoken word performance with music and theatre by a local resident who is a nationally known slam poet. His "Swingin'' from the Vine" was a highlight of First Night a year ago.

Horon Turkish Folk Ensemble YMCA, Camino El Estero and Webster Street, 9:30; 10:30. Turkish folk dance and music as costumed dancers jump and swirl to the compelling sounds of baglama and dumbek. Includes dance, folk music and line dancing involving the audience. International star Latif Bolat performs with the group.

Janet Butler JACL Hall, 424 Adams St., 9:15; 10:00; 10:45. This tap dance and vocal ensemble, led by Butler, presents "Viva Gershwin," a lively show set to the timeless music of George and Ira Gershwin. Should provide a great showcase for choreographer/dancer Butler--and, unfortunately, one of MoCo''s few dance concerts of 1998.

John Harris'' Last Days of Cannery Row State Parks Historic Theater, at Maritime Museum, Custom House Plaza, 9:30-11:30. Three-dimensional slides and motion pictures taken during the late ''60s. Harris, a former co-owner of the 812 Theater (on Cannery Row) and The Dream Theater, also has created a videotape version of this presentation.

Kekeli West African Drum and Dance Ensemble Monterey Sports Center, 301 E. Franklin St., 9:00; 9:45; 10:30. Drummers, singers and dancers of Ghana, Togo, Benin and Nigeria. First-time performers in the area. If you''re a percussion fanatic, or if you''re looking for a taste of African culture, here''s an opportunity that doesn''t come along very often.

Linda Yamane and Tim Thomas Maritime Museum, Custom House Plaza, 3:30; 6:30-10pm. Stories, songs and games of Ohlone culture brought to life within the Maritime Museum. A good opportunity to partake of this area''s native culture and to check out the museum''s new interactive exhibits.

Ric Masten Nomad Fine Rugs and Art, 486 Alvarado St., 6:30; 7:15; Church of Religious Science, 8:45. Longtime Big Sur performance poet and philosopher has delighted audiences around the nation with his wry humor and poignant understanding of the human heart. Second performance will be with novice poets from Genesis House. Masten doesn''t do that many local performances anymore, this is a good chance to catch one of our cultural treasures in the act.

Tocara Custom House Plaza, 9:30; 10:30. This pan-Latin ensemble generates high energy, immensely danceable rhythms and harmonies. They''ve set dance floors on fire throughout the county, but don''t perform around here as much as they once did.

Tom Ball & Kenny Sultan Bay Books Deck, Alvarado Street and Del Monte Boulevard, 3:00; 3:45; 4:30. Great acoustic bluesmen on guitar and harmonica help the party get started on the right foot. These guys have been performing together for a long time and their laid-back camaraderie while performing reflects both their musicianship and their friendship.

Locals/ Frequent Performers

Alisa Fineman w/Kimball Hurd Gilbert''s Banquet Hall, Fisherman''s Wharf, 9:15; 10:00; 10:45. A decade ago, Fineman was just emerging from the woods of Big Sur and testing her wings as a singer/songwriter. Now she has a national reputation (and awards) for her personal and personable songs and performances, and spends more time out of this area than she does in it. For his part, Kimball Hurd is respected performer on guitar, mandolin and more.

Amazon Mollies Casa Munras Hotel, Munras and Fremont streets, 7:00; 8:00. All-girl local rock band does a punk/folk blend of music they call Molly Rock. Here''s your chance to check ''em out with no cover charge or age restrictions.

Blue Nova Monterey County Bank Lot Tent, 9-11pm. One of the area''s up-and-coming teen bands has become a real presence on the Monterey blues scene.

Cachagua Playboys Custom House Plaza, 3:30; 4:30. Carmel Valley Cajun, zydeco, R&B music for general party mayhem and dance. There''s a real possibility, though, that you could wear out your dancing shoes too early--control yourself.

Dizzy Burnett Quartet San Carlos Parish Hall, 500 Church St., 6:30; 7:30. Long before the rest of the Central Coast knew about it, Dizzy Burnett has been on top of the swing revolution. She''s a regular at Blue Fin Billiards and Moe''s Alley. Here''s your chance to check her out for free; highly recommended for swing aficionadoes.

Eight Second Ride Monterey County Bank Lot Tent, 6:30-8:30. One of Monterey County''s few country (and a little rock) bands. Good energy, good music, but they rarely get to the Peninsula side of the county--and Peninsula audiences rarely make the grueling journey to Salinas.

Homefire Masonic Lodge, 525 Pacific St., 9:00; 9:45; 10:30. Indulge yourself in this sweet bluegrass blend of fiddle, banjo, mandolin and guitar. These Carmel Valley artists offer tight vocal harmonies and impeccable musicianship.

John "Broadway" Tucker Custom House Plaza, 7:00-7:45; 8:00-8:45 With the granddaddy of Monterey blues bands, John "Broadway" Tucker in the lead, this veteran rhythm and blues unit will present a Motown soul review.

Jonah & the Whalewatchers Colton Hall Lawn, Pacific St., 7:00; 8:00. You guys, our readers, have voted Jonah and crew as Best Band. Here''s your chance to party with ''em for New Year''s.

Mike Beck YMCA, Camino El Estero and Webster St., 6:45; 7:30; 8:15. Carmel Valley cowboy presents traditional and original music, centered on California Vaqueros. Beck usually offers a couple local shows each year; after sampling these short sets, you might want to check out a full concert.

Milton Fletcher, Jr. and Company Gilbert''s Banquet Hall, Old Fisherman''s Wharf, 6:45; 7:30; 8:15. Renowned teenage jazz artists led by virtuoso pianist Milton Fletcher Jr. This six-piece ensemble, all present and former Monterey High School students, has European touring experience. Discover for yourself why they''re so highly regarded.

Mockingbird/The Project Three Spirits Bus Stage, Bonifacio and Tyler streets, 7:00-9:00/9:30-11:00. Local rock ''n'' roll bands are heard frequently throughout the area.

Storm Warning Colton Lawn, Calle Principal, 9:15; 10:15. Led by teenage blues guitar sensation Storm Nilson, Storm Warning was voted "Best New Band of 1997" and got an encore performance at the Monterey Bay Blues Festival.

Tempest

Monterey Conference Center (Serra Ballroom), #1 Portola Plaza, 9:30; 10:30. Celtic rock band with a traditional heart but an almost-punk energy. They play a gig or two in MoCo every year; if you''ve been tempted to see ''em before, you''ll be convinced after tonight''s taste.

Trova Latina Cooper Molera Adobe, Polk Street at Alvarado. Polk Street at Alvarado. 9:30; 10:15; 11:00. Performing world music in the Nueva Cancion (New Song) tradition, Trova Latina''s tunes contain messages of social conscience, cultural celebration and passion. Another group that plays here on a fairly regular basis.

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Art & Exhibitions

Debra K. Davalos Custom House Plaza, 4:00-11:30. Take your dreams to the next step when you transform them into reality as part of this interactive sculpture. Your wishes and hopes for the future, set down on colored paper, will become part of a magical Phoenix bird.

Doors and Windows Portola Plaza, 6:30 to 11:30. Take a quick peek into the next millennium with this prelude to next year''s celebration. Lead artist Sue Ann Hillyer has been an assemblage artist for many years and was quick to heed the call to create something special for First Night.

Ed Leeper & John Random Portola Plaza, 3:00-11:00. "Recycled Bicycles" sculpture, shaped over the fountain in front of the Doubletree. Leeper''s focused his eccentric artistic efforts on creative uses of recycled materials--here''s a convenient chance to see the world through his eyes.

For the Young Crowd

Abracadabra Marionette Theater Wharf Theater, Old Fisherman''s Wharf, 3:30; 4:15; 5:00. Delightful characters created and developed by the Amazing Pete.

Marylee Sunseri State Parks Historic Theater, at the Maritime Museum, Custom House Plaza, 2:30; 3:15; 4:00. Local recording artist has been charming younger children and their parents here and around the country for years.

Nancy Raven Wells Fargo Bank, 339 Alvarado St., 6:30; 7:15; 8:30. Another local recording artist, Raven offers folk tunes and sing-alongs from around the world.

Nite Sprites Puppetry with Linda Evans Monterey Museum of Art, 559 Pacific St., 6:30 to 10:30. "Learn to make delightful ''nite sprite'' creatures with star feet, and pearlescent garland antenna. You''ll dust them with golden glitter for a bit of extra magic." Sounds fun to us.

World Facepainting Pacific Street, 5:00-11:00. Mayim Reissman and her associates, all professional artists, promise to "transform you with paint and glitter." Who wouldn''t like to be transformed on New Year''s Eve?

Classical Music

Ensemble Monterey Carleton Hall, Church of Religious Science, Franklin Street and Calle Principal. 6:30; 7:15; 8:00. This 12-piece string orchestra, sponsored by Monterey Peninsula College, performs Santa Cruz composer Lew Harrison''s "Seven Pastorales" and d''Indy''s "Dance Suite in the Antique Style."

I Cantori di Carmel San Carlos Cathedral, 500 Church St., 7:00; 7:45; 8:30. The Monterey Peninsula''s outstanding vocal group will perform a varied program of classical to contemporary works. A must-see for lovers of choral music.

Laurel Wind Quintet San Carlos Cathedral, 500 Church St., 9:30; 10:30. Some of the most beautiful and delightful sounds in music come from the instruments of this wonderful ensemble. The group explores the whimsical, the classical and the exciting throughout each riveting performance.

Monterey County Symphony Brass Quintet Monterey Museum of Art, 559 Pacific St., 9:15; 10:00; 10:45. Members of the Monterey County Symphony''s brass section present a mixture of classical and jazz favorites. They blend outstanding musicianship with humor and musical history to create a great concert for kids and adults.

Monterey Peninsula Choral Societ Conference Center (Colton Room), #1 Portola Plaza, 9:00; 9:45; 10:30. This community chorus, in its 36th year, performs popular favorites including Broadway show tunes new and old, as well as traditional folk songs.

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