It’s back. First Night, the arts-and-community-based, alcohol-free New Year’s Eve festival, returns to downtown Tacoma on Saturday night. And this year, it comes with a rooster squawk. From giant puppets to a car horn symphony, along with outdoor spectacle, indoor music, fire and ice, food trucks and a circus, the festival celebrates the coming Lunar Year of the Rooster.
The “night” part of First Night always begins with the “World’s Shortest Parade,” and this year the block-long march from the Broadway Garages to the Pantages Theater will be led by a rooster. As always, a giant illuminated puppet by Seattle artist Annett Mateo will headline the parade, followed by the animal puppets from previous years (monkey, goat, horse, snake, dragon and rabbit).
“Each year I try to push the boundaries of what I’ve done before,” Mateo says.
This year, Mateo’s experimenting with fabrics to cover the plastic cane “bones” of her 11-foot-high rooster. Worn over the carrier’s head on a backpack frame, the white textured fabric lets in a little light for visibility, and will be illuminated red for the rooster’s comb, wattle and tail feathers.
While First Night co-director Martha Enson, of Vashon-based EnJoy Productions, is busy organizing two bands, a drill team, acrobats and a horse-and-lariat stuntperson for the parade, it’s mostly Tacoma folks who make the event so random and fun for watchers. Roller derby dames, unicyclists, homemade LED chariots, skateboarders, fire jugglers and stilt-walkers have all been a part of past parades, and this year it is open to anyone who wants to join in. Large floats can take up street parking from 3 p.m. on, and individuals must line up on Broadway between Seventh and Ninth streets by 5:30 p.m. The parade starts at 6 p.m.
Musical chairs, car horns
Since it’s the Year of the Rooster, First Night is taking the opportunity to be raucous. The big outdoor spectacle that anchors the evening in the intersection of South 9th Street and Broadway will be filled, at 9 p.m., with a Car Horn Symphony. Vintage cars, the 30-piece Filthy FemCorps brass band and anybody else who wants to play will join in on a piece composed and directed by Kevin Joyce (the other half of EnJoy Productions), who’ll wear a conductor’s tailcoat.
“It’s so fun because a symphony is a very formal thing, then you add in car horns and take it outside,” says Enson, who did the Car Horn Symphony with Joyce years ago at a Vashon festival.
If you want to play, you have to bring a homemade instrument (although if you show up with a tuba you won’t be turned away, Enson says.) It will help if you come along to one of the rehearsals at 5 p.m. Friday (Dec. 30) and 3 p.m. Saturday in the Theater on the Square park. (Those who do get a free First Night admission button.)
There will be section leaders. We’ll be handing out kazoos. And at some point the symphony will morph into a popular tune that we hope everyone will join in with.
Martha Enson, First Night organizer
“People will learn a score like an orchestra,” says Enson. “There will be section leaders. We’ll be handing out kazoos. And at some point the symphony will morph into a popular tune that we hope everyone will join in with.”
According to Enson, that song might or might not have something to do with a chicken.
The other join-in spectacle of the night is the annual attempt to set a Guinness World Record — this year, for the number of people playing musical chairs. (Previous attempts have included number of people clopping coconut shells, brides blowing bubbles and participants in a bunny-hop.)
Participants must sign a waiver and get a ticket by the main stage after the parade (first 200 people only). At 8 p.m., chairs will be set up in Theater on the Square Park and, to the strains of the Filthy FemCorps, the game will begin.
“The winner will get a prize, but we don’t know what it is yet,” Enson said.
Circus and more circus
Circus-lovers rejoice. This year’s First Night has an indoor and outdoor circus, including performers from an event that until now has been invitation-only. The Night Circus, begun a few years ago by the Tacoma Lovers group as a fundraiser for their trip to the Burning Man festival, has morphed into something even more elaborate than a Microsoft party, according to Angela Jossy via Facebook. Now the Night Circus folks will descend on the parking lot across Broadway from Theater on the Square, clad in black, white and red and bringing aerialists, jugglers, fire dancers and more. It will be from 7 p.m.-midnight.
Meanwhile, inside the Rialto Theater, Seattle’s School of Acrobatics and New Circus Arts returns with contortionists, aerialists, clowns and masse juggling acts, followed by Minion Theater and cabaret. Get there early for a seat. The school performance is at 7 p.m., with the Minion show at 8:45 p.m.
Other visual spectacles include the Cartoonists’ League of Absurd Washingtonians artists live at Brooks Dental, Makah basket weaver Melissa Peterson-Renault at LeRoy Jewelers, the annual Ice Walk along Broadway and more.
Filthy FemCorps, Seattle Rock Orchestra, Edna Vasquez
From brass, rock and Latin-American, this First Night has something musical for everyone. Among the performers:
▪ The Filthy FemCorps is a 30-piece all-female Seattle brass band celebrating its first birthday. With appearances at Honk! Fest West and the Fremont Solstice Parade, the band is becoming the darling of the activism scene, playing songs by women like Taylor Swift and Demi Lovato as well as New Orleans jazz. One of only a few all-women marching bands in the country, the FemCorps is “a hot bag full of fierce women who aren’t afraid to be weird, genuine, raw, sweaty, confident, honest, loving and real,” according to its website. They’ll be playing in the parade, the outdoor spectacles and a collaboration on Beyoncé’s “Freedom” with the Seattle Rock Orchestra.
▪ Other main stage outdoor bands include Orkestar Zirkonium (6:30 p.m.), Hannah Racecar (7:30 p.m.), Sotaria (8:30 p.m.), Erica Walker (9:30 p.m.) Jacob Miller and the Bridge City Crooners (10:30 p.m.) and final midnight countdown (from 11:30 p.m.)
▪ Seattle Rock Orchestra, fresh from Davie Bowie tributes in Tacoma and elsewhere, will be back on the Pantages stage to play its eclectic mix of rock and classical instruments. 10:15 p.m.
▪ Other Pantages acts include Baby Gramps (6:45 p.m.), Rabbit Wilde (7:45 p.m.) and Sisters (8:45 p.m.)
▪ Edna Vasquez, a Portland-based Mexican-American singer-songwriter, brings her lithe voice and original compositions that seamlessly merge folk, pop, rock, jazz and mariachi to the Pythian Temple. 9:30 p.m.
▪ Other Pythian acts include Phinisey (7:30 p.m.), Forest Beutel (8:30 p.m.) and Uncle Bonsai (9:30 p.m.)
▪ Tacoma’s School of the Arts students get a showcase all to themselves in the lower Pythian/Tacoma Youth Theatre space. (6:45 p.m.). Metro Parks students offer a dance and music showcase in Theater on the Square and Studio 2, while anyone can show their stuff at the open mic at Tully’s.
When: 6 p.m.- midnight Saturday.
Where: Downtown Tacoma theater district (Broadway from South Seventh-11th streets).
Buttons: $10 advance online; $14 on Saturday; from Columbia Bank branches or downtown businesses.
And also: Buttons give free admission to Tacoma Art Museum and Children’s Museum (10 a.m.-5 p.m.), the Museum of Glass (noon-5 p.m.) and free skate rental at Polar Plaza, 1700 Pacific Ave.
Getting there: The Tacoma Dome station is open for parking, with light rail running through 1 a.m.
Information: Full schedule at firstnighttacoma.org.