City Hall steps up to make sure that the First Night torch remains ablaze

Midnight fireworks over Boston Harbor.Midnight fireworks over Boston Harbor.

“Pass that torch,” “fan those flames,” “keep the home fires burning.” Burnish any shiny idiom you want to describe veteran Dot performers who are proving themselves guiding lights as they help transition Boston First Night festivities from the aegis of a private organization to that of the City of Boston.

Outgoing Mayor Menino plans to leave office in blaze of artistic glory. His Office of Arts, Tourism and Special Events along with presenting sponsor the Highland Street Foundation took over the sprawling event when the former First Night foundation sputtered out this spring, but the event’s reincarnation blends the best of old and new.

Button prices have been slashed, and all the iconic free events are better than ever. While many first-time features will make the arts festival more inclusive than ever, several Dorchester stalwarts are continuing their crowd-pleasing ways to help with continuity.

This coming Wednesday , Dec. 31, First Night, Boston, America’s oldest and most-often-copied New Year’s Eve cultural celebration, fills the hours between 10 a.m. and midnight with art, music, dance, fireworks and ice sculptures (including “Peaceable Kingdom” and “Boston Athletic Association”). FIGMENT Boston creates free, volunteer-driven participatory art events on the Common, some involving lights and fire.

Parents are relieved that the Family Festival will once again turn the Hynes Convention Center (HCC) into a three-floor playhouse where their noisy progeny can run amok. An exciting new addition to the Family Festival is First Light, three rooms full of interactive sound and light reactive art exhibits.

This year the Bank of America-sponsored Grand Procession, which leaves from the HCC at 5:30p.m. for the Common, continues the “light motif” with the theme “Rise and Shine.” Four contingents will variously represent the light of the sun, light of the moon, lights of the city and light of the imagination.

At 7 p.m. and again at midnight fireworks will erupt over the city. All evening long Zebbler Studios will project laser animations and videos on the face of the Public Library including a 10-minute count-down to the stroke of twelve.

Brightening eardrums if not eyes, Melville Park’s Heinrich Christensen will be giving a 9 pm recital on the C. B. Fisk organ at King’s Chapel, where he is music director. For his fifteenth First Night, the Nixon Street resident will repeat the program that was so popular last year, “From King David dancing all over the Bible to Scott Joplin’s ‘Wall Street Rag,’ my program will celebrate raucous dancing through the ages.”

Later from 9:30 to 11 p.m. in the HCC Auditorium, Walter Sickert, winner of the Boston Phoenix Reader’s Poll – Best Artist 2011 and 2012, and founder/impresario of the Ashmont Hill-based SteamCRUNK band, Walter Sickert & the ARmy of BRoken TOys, will once more host an evening of “Time Traveling wonderment.”

Speaking of which, Dot dance troupes will be back again energizing crowds. A. Major Dance Company, based in Dorchester Center, will offer lyrical jazz, hip hop and African dance demos in 3 and 5 pm shows at the HCC Hall C.

Nationally known performers (many with local roots) will join Bostonians in ringing in 2014, including Patti Smith and Her Band, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Anaïs Mitchell, Dean Wareham, Gentlemen Hall, Dan Zanes and Elizabeth Mitchell, and Sierra Hull.

Last year First Night admission buttons were $18, this year’s they’re only $10 (kids under four get in free), available at participating CVS’s. An updated schedule can be found at

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