By Denise Richardson
The Daily Star
---- — Flame-throwers, music-makers, dancers and fireworks were among highlights in Oneonta First Night’s party to ring in the New Year.
Classical, folk, Irish, Broadway and jazz were among musical genres presented by local and out-of-town performers. A display of raptors, activities for children and performances by dancers and puppets were part of Monday night’s program.
For the first time, the Catskill Symphony Orchestra performed, and its concert of seasonal and lighter fare was in the historic Oneonta Theatre on Chestnut Street. About 600 listeners attended, officials said.
Judi LeBaron of Sidney said she and her husband, Jim, hadn’t been to First Night Oneonta before.
“We came because of this orchestra — I’m in awe,” she said. Their concert itinerary also included a concert by the Catskill Valley Wind Ensemble.
First Night Oneonta was among like-events held in more than 200 cities worldwide, the organizers’ website said, and the festival is planned “to bring in the New Year in an uplifting, alcohol-free atmosphere.’’
Locally, the schedule offered revelers performances between 5 and 10 p.m. Monday. As a downtown thermometer reported the temperature at 37 degrees, a 4 p.m. parade kicked off First Night with larger-than-life-sized puppets, dancers, flame-throwers and dignitaries, and a fireworks display closed the event, with the organizational bookends each lasting about 20 minutes.
David Hayes, chairman of the First Night Oneonta Board of Directors, estimated attendance at between 2,000 and 3,000 people based on button sales. Fundraising efforts and sales of admission buttons, costing $10 or $15, made the $45,000 budget, Hayes said, and he credited the ``fantastic’’ success of the event to work by the volunteer board.
More than 35 presenting groups offered programs at about 20 venues, and Main Street was closed to vehicular traffic during First Night activities. Hayes said not many people milled about on the street but the venues were ``packed.’’
“I heard universally positive comments,’’ Hayes said.
Oneonta police Sgt. Ralph Pajerski said the parade and other activities were well-attended, and no problems were reported. People seemed to be “having a great time,’’ he said, and “the fireworks were spectacular.’’
“It’s a beautiful night in downtown Oneonta,’’ master of ceremonies Chuck D’Imperio called out as the parade units passed the reviewing stand.
Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, past Oneonta mayors David Brenner, Kim Muller and John Nader headed up the procession along with current Mayor Dick Miller.
“Happy New Year!’’ Miller said to the elbow-to-elbow crowd along Main Street. “Happy New Year!”
D’Imperio, radio host and Daily Star columnist, introduced parade participants, including a Five Star Subaru unit with banners to recognize Newtown, Conn., and the victims of a shooting there last month. The parade paused for a moment of silence in respect for the Newtown community.
Mini-performances included an act by Zeb the Clown, who making a successful, real-life wedding proposal, Hayes said. Performers from the Elite Dance Academy and Tinny Wilkens Indonesian troupes showed differences in culture with dance steps. Marchers accompanying a truck from the Delaware County Fair tossed Frisbees into the crowd.
Later, about 45 listeners, plus others wandering in and out of Community Bank, listened to riffs on trumpet, bass, electronic keyboard presented by players in the Chris Wolf-Gould Jazz ensemble. An assembly room at the First Presbyterian Church was packed with music enthusiasts for sets by Walt Michael & Co. and the Dady Brothers.
The brotherly ensemble, which has appeared previously in Oneonta, applied its talents using a guitar, banjo, violin and harmonica, and the group invited the audience to sing along and welcomed clapping. The ensemble received applause in addition to toe-tapping during energetic tunes.
“We really love coming to play here in Oneonta,’’ John Dady said.
Margaret and Larry Miller of Oneonta took their grandsons, Colby Miller, 10 and his brother, Cody Wormuth, 7, out for dinner and to see some of the Main Street performers, including Cosmic Karma Fire, a troupe that entertains with flames.
“They put fire into their mouths,’’ Cody said.
“We liked them,’’ his brother said.
The boys, who live in Whitney Point, said they were eager to see the fireworks display, and Larry Miller re-parked his car on top of the parking garage so that the family could watch from a heated vehicle.
Meanwhile, a group of sky gazers gathered on the back deck of the Autumn Café on Main Street to see the 10:15 p.m. show.
Rat-a-tat sounds in the darkness turned into light bursts of red, yellow, green, white and blue fireworks, which prompted pleasant exclamations.
“Very cool,’’ said one voice in the crowd.
“Oh, that was nice,’’ said another. “I like that.’’