CHATHAM – The idea to hold a New Year’s Eve First Night event in Chatham began where many great ideas have begun: over drinks at the Chatham Squire.
Twenty-four years ago, Letti Sullivan was sitting in the Squire with three friends, and, she recalled, “one gal said, ‘What do you think of having a first night in Chatham.’”
“I didn’t know what a first night was,” Sullivan said.
But she soon found out.
“And thus it began in 1991 and it’s gone every year for 23 years,” Sullivan said during an interview just before 6 p.m. December 31, 2013 at First Night headquarters on Main Street in Chatham.
You couldn’t miss Sullivan. She was wearing a jacket festooned with First Night buttons, one from every year of the event.
Letti and her husband Richard moved from Long Island to Chatham 43 years ago when Richard got a job as dean of students at Cape Cod Community College.
They never looked back.
As for First Night Chatham, Letti, who recently turned 80 years old, was for many years in charge of booking all the entertainment. In recent years, she said, she has been more in the background.
“We’re hoping to get some younger people involved,” she said.
The event almost always sells out of admission buttons and this year was no exception.
Sullivan said that because of the small size of many of the venues, they limit button sales to 6,000 adults and 1,200 children, for a total of 7,200 buttons.
Of course, there are a number of events that do not require a button, including the fireworks.
“You can go to the fireworks without a button but you can’t open your eyes,” Sullivan quipped.
Over the years, there have been few disappointments, like the time the fireworks were cancelled because of fog. There was another year, a volunteer recalled, when the fireworks had to be set off an hour early because of the weather.
But First Night Chatham has stayed pretty much the same over the years, Sullivan said, other than the addition of the Orpheum Theater as a new venue this year. The Orpheum, a major source of pride in town, is the newly renovated movie theater on Main Street.
Performers entertained on the stage at the theater all day, beginning at 2 p.m. and ending at midnight.
In addition to the Orpheum, there were 16 venues this year, and despite temperatures hovering around 25 degrees for most of the day, plenty of people were strolling up and down Main Street to check out the more than 60 entertainers and activities.
Other First Night Chatham committee members agreed with Sullivan that this was a big year for the event.
Victoria Chane, who organizes the face-painting for First Night, said there were 26 painters this year—“all volunteers, even the professional face-painters”—and more than 350 faces were painted, about 50 more than last year.
For the Cirque Du Jour, a special circus that took place at the high school, there were 700 people waiting to get in before the event began, said Barbara Hogan of the First Night Chatham committee.
Victoria’s husband, Warren Chane, who is also on the committee, said it had been a long day for the volunteers. But he proclaimed the event this year, “very festive.”
“It really has been smooth,” Hogan said.
He also noted there seemed to be “fewer calamities; everyone’s in a good mood.”
“Calamities” from year’s past included the time a family arrived at the First Night headquarters to say they had driven all the way up from North Carolina to the event and didn’t know they needed a button.
Then there was last year’s early fireworks where the snow on the ground made it hard to get the fireworks started. But those are minor glitches.
Pat Army of South Dennis and Ann Diggs of Harwich, who were First Night Chatham volunteers working the door at the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House, said they enjoyed the chance to hear the All Worn Out Jug Band that was playing at the venue. One of the band members happens to be the pastor of the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House, which they both attend.
Army said there are about 200 volunteers who work the event and she enjoys the “spirit” of the night.
Back at the First Night headquarters, Sullivan ended the interview abruptly, having to run out to get into the lead car for the Noise Parade, a rollicking community march up Main Street to Veteran’s Field for the early fireworks. (First Night Chatham has a 6:30 p.m. fireworks for children and others who like to go to bed early, as well as midnight fireworks.)
And standing among the thousands of revelers in the frigid weather watching the fireworks at Veteran’s Field, with the blowing of horns, the laughter, the families and teenagers, with the oohing and ahhing over the flashes of colorful light above, with all the funny hats and glowing 2014 eyeglasses, with the community gathered under the stars, despite the cold, or maybe because of it, it was surprisingly warm.
– Laura M. Reckford