Burlington New Year's Eve Festival 'Highlight' Unveils Programming | Culture | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Burlington New Year's Eve Festival 'Highlight' Unveils Programming

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Anaïs Mitchell - COURTESY OF JAY SANSONE
  • Courtesy Of Jay Sansone
  • Anaïs Mitchell

New Year's Eve in the Queen City is alive and well. That was the message from Signal Kitchen cofounder Alex Lalli back in September when his Burlington-based creative agency and Burlington City Arts announced plans to team up on Highlight, a New Year's Eve celebration intended to replace the defunct First Night Burlington. At a press conference at the BCA Center last week, the two organizations unveiled more details about the citywide festival.

"It's magical and revealing itself everyday," said BCA executive director Doreen Kraft of the new fest. She added that Highlight is building on the legacy of the city's First Night, which is believed to have been the longest-running nonprofit New Year's Eve celebration in the country.

"Our mission was to honor First Night's 35 years, but to reimagine it," agreed Lalli.

Like First Night, Highlight will feature a wide array of music and arts events at locations around Burlington. Where the new festival diverges is that it takes advantage of venues all over the city, not just downtown. For instance, in the New North End, revelers can skate at Leddy Park's Gordon H. Paquette Ice Arena. Free shuttles will ferry attendees all over town, including to the South End Arts District, where grown-up carousers can get into the holiday spirit at the Creative Cocktail Project, a collaborative event at the Soda Plant hosted by Shacksbury, Brio Coffeeworks, Tomgirl Juice, and Alice & the Magician.

Between Burlington's north and south ends, Highlight sandwiches an ambitious slate of events. Musical headliners include folk songwriter Anaïs Mitchell at the First Unitarian Universalist Society and local Latin jazz master Ray Vega jamming with Burlington cumbia band Mal Maïz at the FlynnSpace. Local country crooner Brett Hughes curates a night of Green Mountain honky-tonk and bluegrass at the Soda Plant, featuring players from all over the state. Lalli also teased a big headlining announcement to come in early December.

While Lalli and BCA's event and production manager, Zach Williamson, curated much of the programming, Highlight draws heavy inspiration from community suggestions. Earlier this year, Highlight organizers put out a call to artists soliciting ideas for events. Among the accepted proposals is the Illuminated Waterfront at the ECHO Leahy Center for Lake Champlain. Conceived by Burlington's Illumination Collective, the immersive interactive display "dazzles the senses" by employing video projection mapping, ambient illumination and other lighting techniques. Another community-curated event is Hour 99 at City Hall Auditorium. That's an art gallery, fashion show and dance party hosted in tandem by local hip-hop arts collectives 99 Neighbors and Alibi Hour.

Like its predecessor, Highlight is designed to be family friendly. The festival includes daytime programming for all ages, including improv comedy, storytelling, music and a parade. Perhaps most notably, a fireworks display includes two performances by the local fire performance troupe Cirque de Fuego around a giant bonfire at Waterfront Park.

Highlight also aims to be affordable. Tickets are $5 for kids and $10 for adults — roughly the same price range as for First Night. One key ticketing difference: Glow-in-the-dark bracelets replace First Night's collectible buttons. m

About Last Night: St. Albans to Host Its First NYE Festival

Highlight isn't the only local New Year's Eve bash aiming to fill the void left by First Night Burlington. A group of businesses, community organizations and city departments have joined forces to present the cheekily titled Last Night St. Albans, that city's first NYE festival.

"We felt that since First Night was no longer, it was a good time to try something," said Lisamarie Charlesworth, the chamber manager of the Franklin County Regional Chamber of Commerce. She added that Andrea Gagner, Last Night event coordinator and CEO of 14th Star Brewing in St. Albans, has wanted to do a New Year's celebration for several years. "The timing just seemed fortuitous," said Charlesworth. "So here it is!"

Last Night's schedule is still being finalized. But the celebration will begin in the afternoon on December 31 with a variety of family-friendly events, including sledding, a snowman contest, a children's carnival, ice skating and a teen dance. An early fireworks display in Taylor Park will bring to a close the youth-oriented portion of the programming.

Evening activities will be geared toward adults. These include a paint-and-sip event at Twiggs American Gastropub, a beer-and-chocolate pairing at 14th Star, and a comedy showcase at Nelly's Irish Pub. The latter will feature New York City standup Mike Finoia, who recently recorded a comedy album at the Vermont Comedy Club in Burlington. The Last Night Gala will cap the celebration at St. Albans City Hall, with a dance and live music by Cozy O'Donnell. Midnight fireworks will ring in 2019.

"We feel like, locally, there is a good audience for this," said Charlesworth. She added that Last Night, while smaller in scope than Highlight, is just as affordable. Individual tickets are $5, and a family pass is $20. "I'm really glad that both events are on the same page with cost," she said, "because it means some compatibility — and maybe some people will try to do both."

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