New name, costumed revelers would give First Night a boostby Chuck Graham on Jan. 15, 2009, under Calendar Plus
Citizen Staff Writer
Stepping back for a minute to get a little perspective, the city’s New Year’s Eve experiment with First Night felt a lot like the early days of a now-treasured Old Pueblo tradition – Tucson Meet Yourself.
Back in 1974, the downtown celebration of all the ethnic groups who sank their roots into one of the New World’s oldest continuously inhabited places felt kind of weird. Strange customs, strange costumes and strange food booths were spread all over El Presidio Park. Some weren’t as strange as others, but where were the corn dogs and root beer floats?
Then there was the name – Tucson Meet Yourself. What kind of a name is that? It sounded suspiciously Zen Buddhist.
The meaning of First Night is pretty obscure, too. It doesn’t exactly shout “New Year’s Eve!” Chronologically speaking, shouldn’t it be called Last Night? As in . . . the last night of the year?
Granted, it would be awkward to keep asking, “Are you going to celebrate Last Night?”
Maybe a successful tradition just needs to have a funny name, so it sticks in the imagination.
It did take more than a little imagination to feel like all 4,000 of us were attending the same party on First Night. There would be a band playing funny songs here, a magician looking tricky over there. On another stage, some actors in black outfits would start jumping around and making faces. In between were lots of dark businesses shuttered for the holiday.
On the sidewalks, people were usually walking in small groups, most of them wearing casual street clothes. This was definitely one New Year’s Eve party without any displays of fine attire. Looking back, an important tip to keep in mind for celebrating First Night at the end of 2009 is to wear comfortable shoes.
Looking ahead, it would be fun if all the First Nighters started wearing wild and crazy costumes. People could dress up like their favorite movie stars, or superheroes, adding glamour and adventure to the evening. The more that festive outfits appeared on the scene, the more that party spirit would keep growing.
Another idea that sort of popped up would be to give every First Nighter an identifying blinking light or something. Those official First Night pins the city promoters passed out did look good, but Cox Communications trumped everybody by passing out blue flashing medallions.
You could see those little lights flashing from blocks away. Helping make downtown sparkle with those little illuminations created a bonding energy that made the night seem more special.
Of course, the ultimate reason for staging First Night is to seduce people into coming downtown. That reason was never mentioned when Tucson Meet Yourself started. Back in the 1970s, having an opportunity to enjoy a multicultural experience was the best reason to show up.
The brightest part of the first First Night is seeing the potential – not only as a way to introduce downtown to our mall-addicted suburbanites, but also to introduce the city’s myriad performing artists to new audiences.
There are many fine local musicians who don’t play in bars plus many actors, comedians, dancers, tap dancers and jugglers on unicycles worthy of wider appreciation. Actually, a number of the same performers doing ethnic specialities at Tucson Meet Yourself would fit right onto the various stages at First Night, both indoors and out.
But come to think of it, I didn’t see any mimes walking the streets on First Night. What if someone started holding a professional mimes’ convention in Tucson the last week of each December? What if all the mimes celebrated their art by taking to the downtown streets on New Year’s Eve?
What if . . .well, maybe that’s enough imagining for now.