First Night: A labor of love for many

Special to the Gazette

The current Board of Directors of First Night faced some hard decisions recently.

An event of enormous proportions, hundreds of people are going to be affected by its conclusion.

Having served on that Board for many years, I can attest to the enthusiasm and dedication it took to produce this wonderful family friendly occasion in downtown Williamsburg for 24 years.

All the entertainment was paid, the venues insured. The College of William and Mary was always involved because the first First Night was championed by one of its own professors.

Donors sent checks because they believed in the event. The City of Williamsburg and York County assisted with grants. Colonial Williamsburg opened some venues for the event as good neighbors.

Local stores sold buttons — and at such a great price for the whole night of activities! The police departments sent personnel to watch over the event.

There was an alcohol- free policy for all the First Nights around the country.

Our streets were safe and people enjoyed walking around Jamestown Road and Richmond Road to and from the music.

When it snowed, volunteers shoveled.

Churches opened their doors and welcomed board meetings, entertainers and visitors alike. Matthew Whaley Elementary School hosted a children's program.

Williamsburg Regional Library Theater had regulars.

WMBG generously promoted it. The Virginia Gazette gave the event special space. There were beautiful community partnerships.

Signs were made, delivered, gathered up on Jan. 1. Signs were stored in a volunteer's garage.

Huge lights lit up sections of the campus, only for the one night. They were supervised, brought in and taken back, at a cost.

Food vendors signed on, braved the weather and offered a variety of food and drinks, giving up their own new year's celebrations.

Zable Stadium opened its doors to crowds and allowed live fireworks at midnight to the happy faces of all ages. Fireworks carry a hefty price tag, too.

How could this happen each and every year? Volunteers. A full year of planning. Great boards of directors.

On New Year's Eve, there were volunteers who stood in the cold, who listened to compliments and complaints, who opened doors, locked doors, picked up trash, counted money at midnight, who smiled all night, who got their feet wet, who cooked, who wiped up, who loved it.

The audiences came from near and far. Local Virginians and from states like across the region, even Canada. Truly thousands.

Our website tracked data, and Board members walked the event and talked to people at random. They said they loved it!

Oh, it wasn't perfect. There were occasional glitches. Cell phones lit up, volunteers raced to the rescue. Regular assessments were made in January.

But like every good thing, it has a life.

The main office in Boston closed its doors, Williamsburg tried to keep going. The concept waned.

More than 145 locations slowly started closing. It's hard to see something so loved take its last breath.

Thank you, First Night Williamsburg, for all the hours of simple pleasures. Thank you to the volunteers, the headliners, local authorities, the stores, the boards and the donors. What a proud collection of memories First Night leaves!

Peifer is a former board member for First Night Williamsburg.

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