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Learning on the fly ...

With little experience, First Night Saranac Lake organizers have turned an idea into a New Year’s Eve mainstay

December 13, 2008
By ANDY BATES, Enterprise Features Editor

SARANAC LAKE - It's not uncommon to hear someone from the Tri-Lakes area returning from a trip or event outside the region say, "Wouldn't it be great if we could have something like that here?" But more often than not, things rarely get past that idea stage, or they take years to really get off the ground and establish themselves.

But to hear First Night Saranac Lake organizers Connie Landon and Sue Patterson tell it, in a matter of months, that "Wouldn't it be great..." turned from an idea into a full-fledged community-wide event that, in the two years since it's inception, has all the makings of a New Year's Eve mainstay.

The two had thought about starting a First Night as they were returning from vacation in 2006. When they made it back to Saranac Lake, they started dropping hints to friends that it was something they were considering getting off the ground.

Article Photos

Fireworks at First Night
(Enterprise file photo — Lou Reuter)

"A lot of people we talked to had been to a First Night in Burlington, Vt. or Saratoga and thought it was a great idea," Landon said. "So we started talking more about it, and decided to apply to become a registered First Night event."

"I think that initial support and the enthusiasm was what really kept us going that first year, because neither of us really have any background in planning something like this, and there was a lot of learning on the fly," Patterson added.

But learn on the fly they did. That first year, after working with Pendragon Theatre, which was able to add First Night Saranac Lake under its non-profit umbrella, they started lining up venues around Saranac Lake and contacting potential performers.

Fact Box

A look some of the performers


As was the case during First Night Saranac Lake's inaugural year when organizers landed the Gibson Brothers as a headlining act, this year, the Harrietstown Town Hall will host Beatle Magic as First Night's headliners.

This is a return trip to the area for the band, having played the town hall a few years ago.

Like most Beatles tribute bands, Beatle Magic seeks to recreate the experience of one of the world's most popular bands, and they hit every period of the Fab Four's musical evolution - from the Ed Sullivan Show years to St. Pepper's to Abbey Road.

Bash the Trash is another new performer this year, and they come just in time for the green movement since they build their own instruments out of garbage.

Eddy and Kim Lawrence, who performed at Bluseed Studios last winter, will be making their first First Night appearance this year. Coming off the release of their acoustic CD "My Second Wife's First Album," Eddy and Kim combine some savvy guitar and upright bass play with some old-fashioned North Country Storytelling.

Locally, Inisheer, the George Bailey Trio, Russ Bailey and Crow Party, Fran Yardley, Roy Hurd, the Dust Bunnies and host of other performers from the area are set to take the various First Night Saranac Lake stages.


For complete artist profiles, as well as a map of all the venues, be sure to pick up a copy of the Weekender on Dec. 26.

"We had a good idea of what the event should look like," Patterson said. "We just begged everybody to give us things cheap or for free. By the day before Christmas, we'd sold about 200 of the 1,500 buttons we had made and things weren't looking great, but by New Year's Eve, we'd run out of buttons. I guess people really don't start thinking about New Year's until after Christmas."

Now, the group is part of First Night International, which oversees and provides fundraising and organizational tips to more than 130 events held in cities throughout the U.S., Canada, Great Britain and New Zealand. Nevertheless, Saranac Lake's event is unique.

"Most of the First Night events are a lot bigger, so we're pretty different from a fundraising and organizational standpoint," Landon said.

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But Patterson added that the size is part of the appeal, especially since at larger events there are longer wait periods, and it's hard to see a lot of the events.

"A lot of people say things like, 'God, Burlington's has gotten so big,'" Patterson said. "I think what we have to offer is more of a locally oriented, homegrown kind of experience."

Indeed, a lot of First Night's performers are from the immediate area, as well as the broader North Country area, Vermont and upstate New York, and that focus on the talent of the area has helped generate a dedicated group of more than 100 area volunteers and eight First Night Saranac Lake board members.

Patterson and Landon said it's hard to foresee the event getting much bigger than it will be this year (they've added another venue, bringing the total to 10, up from eight its first year), but that doesn't mean it has to get stale either.

"We try to mix and match the types of performances and keep things fresh," Landon said. "We also know we've only just scratched the surface of the talent pool around here."

New wrinkles this year

Throughout last week and in the coming weeks leading up to New Year's Eve, local volunteers and organizations have been hard at work creating and unveiling First Night Saranac Lake banners, bringing recognition to the event and celebrating the new year. With donated materials from area businesses, five seven-foot banners will be displayed throughout the coming weeks, and two 15-foot banners will be unfurled from the Harrietstown Town Hall the night of the event.

Patterson and Landon said the banner project is something they hope to continue, and since this year's bannesr won't have dates on them, they can continue to use them for upcoming events.

In an attempt to cut down on driving and ease parking problems at various venues, also new this year is a shuttle service being operated in conjunction with the Franklin County Office of the Aging. Rides will depart from the Sears parking lot and head toward Pendragon and Bluseed Studios, which are the two furthest venues. The shuttles will be operating throughout the evening and will only cost $1.

Also, from noon to 3 p.m. Dec. 31, there will be a snowperson building contest in Riverside Park (snowfall permitting) and a mask making workshop at Petrova Elementary School immediately following the 5:15 p.m. parade, which runs from the Hotel Saranac to Riverside Park, and opening ceremonies.



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