First Night brings fiery finish to 2014

The mercury said freezing, but Tacoma’s First Night celebration brought abundant heat and fire to downtown Tacoma’s Broadway Street on Wednesday night to welcome the new year.

From the flame-spewing stagecoach pulled by a team of carousel horses in the early evening’s “World’s Shortest Parade,” to the pyrotechnics that greeted the 2015 at midnight, First Night’s 23rd edition focused on flames.

Caldrons of fire lined the street. And fiery performances drew applause from the estimated 20,000 celebrants who witnessed those performances on the stages and the performance venues that bordered Broadway.

For many, First Night was an inspiring gathering of local artists and artisans to celebrate the best of the past year and to welcome even more good things in 2015.

It was Arielle Marler’s first First Night celebration. The 18-month-old and her parents visited the celebration early in the evening. The fiery displays amused and amazed her, said her mother, Katie.

Steph Farber, a downtown Tacoma jeweler and a longtime First Night board member, said the celebration was born out of the desire to allow residents to have a good time on New Years Eve without alcohol while exposing them to a broad spectrum of local performers.

“This is a safe and crazy place where people can uncork,” said Farber.

The celebration, supported by nearly a score of local business and government sponsors, utilizes both outdoor stages and the performance halls, the Pantages, the Rialto, the Pythian Temple, Theater on the Square, Studio 3, the Blue Couch Lounge and Sandford & Son, that line Broadway from South Eighth to South 11th streets. The outdoor performances are free. The indoor performances require the purchase of a First Night button for admission.

Over the more than two decades that Tacoma has celebrated First Night, said Patrice O’Neill, a First Night former director, the celebration has grown to focus on local performers.

In the early years, she said, some Seattle performers would make a quick appearance at the Tacoma performance and then pack up for Seattle to finish the night there. Now, many of the artists performing at First Night spend the whole evening in Tacoma enjoying the performances.

The celebration has stimulated the creative imagination of dozens of artists. Among them is Annett Mateo, the creator of the tall puppets that march in the First Night parade.

Mateo said she has learned to use a variety of materials from bamboo to foam and fabric to create the fanciful creatures.

Those creatures made an impression on the Weddle family, including their four children ranging from 2 to 11 years old. Jacek, 11, however, is difficult to awe.

Early on in Wednesday night’s celebration, he gave the festival only an average grade. “I’d say it’s about a C,” he said.