First Night North Goes Online Live
December 27, 2021
Since announcing the cancelation of in-person First Night North events in St. Johnsbury, Catamount Arts is scheduling a free, virtual First Night North celebration featuring over 30 family-friendly acts.
Typically, First Night North presents hundreds of performers in over 50 shows in a dozen in-person venues, but a conversation between Catamount Arts and local healthcare leaders led organizers to pull the plug on in-person gatherings this year. Citing concerns about the omicron variant, overburdened healthcare facilities, and community organizations (including St. Johnsbury schools and churches) that host First Night North events, Catamount Arts canceled First Night North’s in-person component for the second consecutive year.
However, dozens of acts have already agreed to perform live online in a virtual First Night North event Friday, and organizers are working to finalize and share the schedule of events. Marko the Magician, Vermont Stand-Up, Kingdom All Stars, Phoenix Bazaar, Tritium Well, Bob and Sarah Amos, and Valley Improv are among the many popular acts who will broadcast live performances online.
Going virtual allows the community to keep its eight-hour, family-friendly celebration of the New Year, Vermont’s longest continually running New Year’s Eve performing arts festival, but it also allows scheduled performers to keep the paid gigs they secured way back in the summer, when organizers hoped First Night North would return to a live in-person format. Last year, First Night North performances were pre-recorded and broadcast online and on Kingdom Access Television. This year, the performances will not be pre-recorded; they will stream live online.
The virtual First Night North event will be free to the public thanks to steadfast support from dozens of community sponsors including Northern Counties Health Care, Community National Bank, Classen’s Crane Service, Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital, Passumpsic Bank, St. Johnsbury Academy, Vermont State Employees Credit Union, Dufresne Group, Front Porch Forum, H2O Innovations, Puffer Broadcasting, Stonecrest Properties, Vermont Public Radio, Vermont Broadcast Associates, Weidmann, Wells River Chevrolet, and many more.
Light Remedy, a community lighting project presented by St. Johnsbury Chamber of Commerce, St. Johnsbury Community Hub, First Night North, and Catamount Arts, is still scheduled for display on New Year’s Eve.
The Catamount Arts All-Wheel for the Arts Jeep Raffle drawing is still scheduled for New Year’s Eve as well. The winning ticket will be drawn live online at 8pm. Raffle tickets are still available for purchase at the Catamount Arts box office, online at www.catamountarts.org, or by calling 802-748-2600.
Catamount Arts Puts Brakes on In-Person First Night North Event
December 23, 2021
Catamount Arts announced Thursday after a conversation with representatives from local healthcare organizations that First Night North will not proceed as planned. Executive Director Jody Fried spoke with officials from Northern Counties Health Care and Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital, and while hearts were heavy, the decision was unanimous and unambiguous. Live in-person performances of this scale are not safe at this time.
“The omicron variant is so contagious and is moving so quickly,” says Fried, “that we need to act with an abundance of caution. In the case of First Night, that means cancelling the in-person event and exploring a last-minute pivot to a virtual alternative. More on that soon.”
First Night North typically attracts thousands of revelers, which could pose a significant risk to the community. If proceeding with the in-person event proved to be a mistake, ramifications could be swift and widespread. First Night North takes place in a dozen host venues, including local schools, and the medical community is already under tremendous pressure. “There are far too many players involved,” Fried adds, “to take a risk this size. It would simply be irresponsible.”
Community partners, though equally broken-hearted, are in steadfast agreement.
“The health and safety of our community must be our top priority,” stated Michael Costa, CEO of Northern Counties Health Care. “We support Catamount Arts in cancelling this year’s First Night North, so everyone can enjoy celebrations like this for years to come. I applaud the team at Catamount Arts for making a courageous decision, despite the obvious disappointment. We encourage everyone to get vaccinated and to do what you can to stay safe this holiday season.”
“We’re grateful to the leadership at Catamount Arts for making this difficult decision to protect the community,” added St. Johnsbury Academy Headmaster Sharon Howell. “Given the timing of the rise in omicron cases in our area, and the popularity of the First Night North celebration, it is a responsible choice.”
“As hard as we know this was, the St. Johnsbury School stands firmly behind the leadership of Catamount Arts in their decision to cancel First Night North,” stated Jeremy Ross, Co-Principal at St. Johnsbury School. “We all need to continue to focus on keeping our community safe and believe that this decision will help keep our community healthy, our school open and our students in their classrooms.”
Shawn Tester, CEO of NVRH, added, “These are difficult decisions; I appreciate that the leadership of Catamount Arts has always taken a safety-first approach throughout the pandemic. I know the decision to cancel First Night North has not been taken lightly and given the rapidly growing threat of the omicron variant, we fully support it. Our local health system is already under tremendous strain and would hate to see such a special event be a factor in rising local cases.”
“It really takes a village to pull off this event,” Fried says. “We’re overwhelmed with gratitude for our sponsoring partners, the businesses, organizations, host venues, performers, volunteers, food vendors, everyone who helps us put this together year after year. But that’s the very community we endanger if we proceed as planned.”
The announcement is expected to generate a flurry of questions, and First Night North organizers and community partners are doing their best to provide answers as quickly as possible. Catamount Arts has earned statewide recognition for its pandemic safety protocols and adaptive programming since the start of COVID-19, and hopes to provide safe alternative New Year’s options.
Last year, First Night North was broadcast on cable access television thanks to a collaboration with Kingdom Access Television but that took considerable preparation and far more work than organizers can pull off in less than ten days’ time.
“We want our artists to have secure paying gigs, safe gigs,” Fried says, “and we want our community to have safe, family-friendly celebrations, celebrations we can all enjoy together. We absolutely cannot do that in person this year, but we’re brainstorming. Don’t give up on us yet.”
“At the end of the day, this remains a powerful, encouraging testament to our community,” Fried adds. “First Night is a collaboration among the creative sector, businesses, schools, town officials, healthcare organizations, first responders and hundreds of individuals who all work endlessly to celebrate this place we call home on New Year’s Eve. We’re all in this together.”
Community members can expect further updates, including what to do if you’ve already purchased a First Night North admission wristband, in the coming days. The All Wheel for the Arts Jeep Raffle drawing will still take place on December 31st as scheduled. The drawing will be held online rather than in person.
Use the links below to navigate the First Night site.