Ringing in the new year right
North Country New Year to bring NYE celebration back to Saranac Lake
SARANAC LAKE — Saranac Lake will be full of dancing on New Year’s Eve again this year with the inaugural North Country New Year, a spiritual successor to the First Night events that filled the village with music and family fun from 2007 to 2020.
Buttons for admission to all venues on Dec. 31 are on sale now at each of the 11 venues and online at tinyurl.com/2rh885kb. Buttons cost $20 for adults and $15 for seniors. Children under 18 are free.
North Country New Year is not First Night. Organizer Peter Crowley is the only NCNY organizer from the First Night board, and he said he is excited to be part of a group keeping the townwide New Year’s Eve celebration tradition alive in Saranac Lake.
It will be similar to First Night, with bands playing around town, fireworks and a focus on family fun. But it will be different in some ways, too. Crowley said the new organizers agreed, this is a new event, so they gave it a new name and rebranded.
Having a townwide event to ring in the new year, especially a family-friendly one centered on music and community, is important to Crowley.
“It means a lot,” he said.
And he said he’s not the only one excited for the return of a NYE event. Crowley worked at the event’s booth at Sparkle Village last weekend.
“The biggest thing I heard over and over and over again was just ‘We’re so glad that you’re bringing this back,'” Crowley said.
Some were interested in specific events, but people were mostly just excited to have the event as a whole back, he said.
The story of New Year’s Eve in Saranac Lake is a story he’s told many times, but one he likes to tell. Crowley said when he moved to town in 1999, the changing of the year felt a bit hollow. There was nothing going on in town for him.
In the first year, he went to an event at a hotel in Lake Placid, but this was a paid event. The next year, he and his girlfriend, now wife, went to a bar with friends. There were only a handful of people out.
“They were just … at the bar,” Crowley said.
They played pool and the bartender led them in a countdown at midnight.
“That was it. And then everybody went right back to drinking,” Crowley said. “It was just depressing.”
Bars didn’t book bands. Restaurants would close as it was the slowest night of the year for them, according to Crowley.
After Sue Patterson and others brought First Night in the 2006-07 year, it was so well received that it transformed the night in Saranac Lake.
Though it was a purely volunteer run event, each year it got bigger, eventually spilling out into the whole community. Bars started booking music and restraunts stayed open.
It was a commercial event but also a community event. Crowley said it bridged several “gaps.” The age gap on NYE was eliminated as children, teens, adults and seniors all danced side-by-side. And it also bridged the regional gap as people come from all over to take part in the festivities.
This lasted for around a decade-and-a-half. But then, two years in a row, organizers planned First Night but the coronavirus pandemic shut them down.
The 2020 First Night was the last one held before the coronavirus pandemic cancelled the 2021 and 2022 events. Then, several board members began retiring, without enough new members joining to bring fresh blood to the board. First Night Board Chair Sue Patterson felt that in missing two years, the board lost its momentum and they couldn’t run such a large event with so few people.
“It’s only one night of the year but it took a fair bit of effort,” Crowley said.
Each year, Franklin County distributes a portion of the money it collects in occupancy taxes from hotels, motels, bed-and-breakfasts and short-term rentals to towns and villages in the area for use in tourism promotion. This year, Harrietstown split $50,000 with the village of Saranac Lake. Harrietstown Supervisor Jordanna Mallach said the town council agreed to use $15,000 of its portion of this money to put on First Night again.
Mallach said the town got occupancy tax money from hotel and short-term rental stays in Franklin County and had to decide what to spend it on. Initially, the town council planned to give it to First Night, but then they learned it wasn’t happening anymore. So they decided to bring it back. Mallach said she saw enthusiasm around the idea.
A new nonprofit organization was created through the Saranac Lake Rotary Foundation. First Night passed on the $22,000 it had in the bank left over from 2020 button sales, the last year the event was held and buttons were sold.
“What’s made it feasible is the fact that it’s been such a group effort,” Mallach said.
“What I love is that this wasn’t even sparked by the old group,” Crowley said.
He said representatives from several of Saranac Lake’s civic, business and governmental institutions are involved.
“It’s not the town that’s putting this on, or the chamber of commerce or ROOST. But it’s people who work for those things,” Crowley said.
He said the group is “still figuring it out” but there is an established model for them to work off of and he said the new group is full of “go-getters,” exactly the kind of people the First Night board had been looking for.
Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Rachel Karp said they are still seeking volunteers for the night. She said the event has 30 volunteers currently and she estimates they’ll need around 45. To sign up to volunteer go to tinyurl.com/yc6n9bck.
Karp said they’ll need volunteers to sell and check buttons at each of the 11 venues, greet people and count how many people come in, work the hot chocolate stations at Berkeley Green, be liaisons for performers to show them around, set up and tear down at each venue and assist with parking at Pendragon.
“We’re so excited that we’re back, but we need your help,” Mallach said.
Crowley said most of the performers this year are “First Night veterans.”
At the Harrietstown Town Hall, Alakazam will be doing dramatic circus stunts from 6 to 8 p.m. Then, the world rhythm and jazz band Heard will be performing until 10 p.m.
In the town hall lobby, there will be food vendors, face painting and photo booths.
The Plattsburgh State Gospel Choir will be singing at St. Bernard’s Church from 7 to 9 p.m.
Local musicians Dan Duggan, Peggy Lynn and Tyler Dezago will be playing folk and bluegrass at Will Rogers from 8 to 10 p.m.
The Completely Stranded improv comedy group will be bringing laughs from the Pendragon Theater stage from 6 to 8 p.m. followed by the witty standup comic Moody McCarthy until 10 p.m.
Jeff Boyer will be bringing “Bubble Trouble” to the Saranac Lake Free Library from 8 to 10 p.m., creating huge bubbles out of thin air.
Crowley said North Country New Year will bring more non-music events than First Night.
The night will start with free rides and the LoonWorks Clown Constabulary at the Adirondack Carousel from 5 to 8 p.m., and free skating at the Saranac Lake Civic Center from 5 to 7 p.m.
From 6 to 9 p.m. ADK ArtRise will be leading “make and take” art projects for all ages.
The Dance Sanctuary will be holding free salsa dance classes from 6 to 10 p.m.
There will be hot chocolate stations and fire dancers from the Smoke Show Fire Co. at Berkeley Green from 6 to 9 p.m., when the fire dancers will move to Riverside Park ahead of the fireworks.
The fireworks show timing has changed. They will fire fireworks off at 10 p.m. instead of midnight. Crowley said the goal of this change is to make things easier for families with young children.
After the fireworks, the Latin rock band Mal Maiz will kick off a free show at the Harrietstown Town Hall from 10:30 p.m. until midnight.
Crowley said North Country New Year is both the start of something new and a continuing of a tradition.
Mallach said she’s ordered 500 buttons, which she imagines should be enough, but could order more if they need to.