SARANAC LAKE - Whether they came from half way across the world or just down the street, spectators had glowing reviews for Saranac Lake's seventh annual First Night New Year's Eve celebration Monday night.
"It's warm. It's small town. It's exactly what we're looking for," said Ellen Cerminara, who lives in Beijing, China, with her husband and was attending her first First Night Saranac Lake. The couple have a seasonal home on Kiwassa Lake. "We're here for the holidays. It's our first Christmas here in the U.S. in 10 years and we're having a great time."
Cerminara was sitting in the audience in the Harrietstown Town Hall with her sister-in-law Liz Cerminara and Liz's friend Sheryl Madden, both of Saranac Lake. The trio had just watched the Clem Hawkins Revival Band, a country-rock group from the Malone area, and planned to stay for the first set by Hair of the Dog, an Albany area Irish-folk-rock group.
Mike DeAngelis, left, and Rick Bedrosian of the Celtic folk/rock band Hair of the Dog perform Monday night in the Harrietstown Town Hall auditorium during First Night Saranac Lake.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
"I love it," Liz Cerminara said. "I like seeing all the people out and about. I get to see people I haven't seen in a long time and listen to some good music."
Hundreds of people fanned out across Saranac Lake from 6 p.m. to midnight to see 21 acts at 11 different venues, from church basements to art galleries to school auditoriums. In addition to musical performances from a wide range of genres - including rap, rock, folk, blues, country and jazz - First Night also featured a storyteller, a poet, a comedian and a kid's comedy and magic show.
Organizers estimate between 1,200 and 1,400 people bought $12 First Night buttons, roughly the same level of attendance as last year.
"I think we were about at our average," said First Night co-founder and board member Sue Patterson. "We don't ever seem to get any bigger, which is fine. We really can't get bigger. We always seem to be between 1,200 and 1,400 people."
Patterson spent much of the night at the town hall. She said there were good crowds for both the Clem Hawkins Band and Hair of the Dog, which organizers called their headliner. Hair of the Dog's 11 p.m. set was the most packed, with lots of people on the dance floor, Patterson said.
For the first time since its inception, First Night Saranac Lake featured performers that were all new to the family-oriented, alcohol-free event. Previous years featured a combination of new and repeat talent.
"I thought it went great," Patterson said. "It was fun to see all new bands. We seemed to get a lot of positive feedback from people that they liked what they heard. It's not something that we're going to do every year; believe me, it's much harder that way. But it just brings in some fresh faces, and next year we'll be able to mix it up even more.
"There were some really interesting local performers that we just hadn't had before: (Indie-rock band) Monsterbuck and (storyteller) Amber McKernan who lives in Rainbow Lake. Who knew? Crackin' Foxy (a Saranac Lake-based swing group) was great. We actually tried to get them for a couple years and it was cool to finally get them. We have so much talent in the area. It's really amazing."
First Night board member Holly Huber said many of the venues she visited were at capacity.
"The Saranac Lake High School (vocal) ensembles were wonderful," she said. "Of course, my daughter Ivy is one of them. I saw Sorcha & Jo (a blues, jazz and folk duo) at St. Luke's, and they were fantastic. The crowd was almost full for the second show and overflowing for the first set. I peaked in at (African drum and dance act) Soma Beats and the energy was just through the roof. It was jammed and there was a huge number of people up there dancing with them."
Huber also said she heard positive feedback about performances by the country-folk duet The Honey Dewdrops and Invasive Species, a progressive rock band made up of Saranac Lake High School students.
"I thought it was a great night," Huber said. "It's amazing we're able to bring so much talent in. I'm very pleased; very tired but very pleased. It was another great year."
At midnight, the annual snowflake drop took place in Riverside Park to welcome the new year. This year, Patterson said new blue-colored lights were installed on the snowflake, which was dropped from the top of the Saranac Lake Volunteer Fire Department's aerial platform truck. A barrage of fireworks over Lake Flower ended the festivities.
Monday night's weather didn't seem to have an impact on First Night. The evening began with relatively comfortable temperatures in the 30s. A combination of sleet and freezing rain hit the area about halfway through the night, coating spectators as they went from venue to venue and covering their cars in a layer of ice. As the temperature got colder, the precipitation changed to snow, although Patterson said the roads were clear by the time she went home early in the morning.
"I don't think the weather slowed anybody down," Huber said.
Overall, Patterson said the event went smoothly. She said she didn't hear any complaints.
"We did get some funny comments from people saying, 'Well, where's the ice castle?'" she said. "It's like, 'That's Winter Carnival! Not for another six weeks.' We did have a couple people who bought Winter Carnival buttons and swore they were the buttons for First Night. It was funny."
Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.