This New Year's Eve, many Islanders brought in 2001 without champagne toasts and elegant balls. Instead, they celebrated with ghost tours, sea chanteys and contra dancing as part of Martha's Vineyard First Night.
This year's event featured more than 40 activities spread across Vineyard Haven beginning at 1 p.m. on Dec. 31 and lasting until midnight. A $10 button provided admission to the events, and participants enjoyed everything from karaoke to the Island band Mercy Beat to frame making at the Vineyard Clay House.
Although the day came with some glitches - attendance was down and the fireworks went off behind schedule - participants were left smiling. "Basically, I was immensely pleased with the event. Everybody who was there had a wonderful time," said Liz Villard, the program's coordinator.
And there was something for everyone: Kids conducted electric trains at Fourway, while adults listened to performers like Helen Stratford and danced to Maynard Silva's blues at midnight.
While the final tallies have not yet been calculated, Ms. Villard estimated that as many as 1,000 button holders attended this year's events, as compared to 1,500 last year. While the lower number may be in part due to less hype in general for the year 2001 than 2000, the weekend's stormy weather did not help matters.
"We did not get mainland visitors. My gut reaction is that people who had intended to come down Friday and spend New Year's weekend on the Vineyard didn't," Ms. Villard said.
Martha Walsh, the executive director of the chamber, agreed. "Certainly the boats being canceled late Saturday afternoon into Sunday morning affected our button sales," she said.
The cold also delayed the fireworks display, which began an hour and a half after its scheduled time. The chain of events that resulted in the late start began early in the morning, when the boat scheduled to deliver the fireworks was postponed by high winds. Then, cold weather delayed the barge's departure for the show.
While many people gave up waiting long before the fireworks went off after 9 p.m., "for those of us who stayed, they were great fireworks," Ms. Villard said.
Despite this setback, First Night button holders enjoyed a wide range of activities at the Vineyard Haven venues throughout the day. At Grace Church, children watched a puppet show that told of an Indian boy's climb to sky country, while at the Katharine Cornell Theatre, the Down Island Dragons group performed tales about the beast whose name they share.
Like these, many of the day's events were geared toward children. "There are so many children's activities. It's a great thing to do for New Year's Eve," said Kathy Harris, whose three-year-old daughter, Nina, wore a bright jester hat for the crazy hat parade.
Children also enjoyed performances by Marcus the Magician, who made scarves and cubes disappear, stuck pins through balloons and ended his act by pulling a rabbit out of his hat.
He also relied upon plenty of audience assistance, although sometimes Marcus's helpers were more surprised than magical. Eight-year-old Sarah Johnson of West Tisbury climbed to the stage to help him change a jug of water to milk, but instead Marcus inverted the container on her head - without making her wet. "He was really silly," Sarah said as she waited to depart for the crazy hat parade.
This early evening march down Main street drew close to 100 adults and children wearing creative headgear. Their hats ranged from a top hat decorated with Dalmatian spots and crowned with a stuffed dog, to straw hats decked in pipe cleaners and streamers. Many of the children had made their hats earlier in craft workshops offered at the Thrift Shop and St. Augustine's.
All the events were held at locations around Vineyard Haven, most within walking distance of each other. Each site was sponsored by an Island business; beyond button sales, First Night is funded by donations. A $10 button provided entrance to the day's events; participants could attend as many as they wished.
Despite the $8,000 in donations collected from businesses, organizers noted that this year's event will break-even only with the help of profits left over from First Night 2000.
This leaves them with little extra padding for future years. "We had hoped to make enough this year to at least break-even and go into the next three or four First Nights with a bit of a war chest," Ms. Villard said.
Although First Night has already been scaled down to accommodate a shrinking budget, the event remains expensive due to fireworks and performer costs.
Most of these performers were Island favorites like Mike Haydn and the lineup at the Unitarian-Universalist Society, which included Mark Lovewell, Jemima James, Kevin Keady and the Joyful Noise Youth Choir. Island music was also featured later in the day at the Rising Tide Coffeehouse, where Justen Ahren, Max Cohen, Corinne de Langavant and Niki Patton performed.
It was a celebration with a decidedly multicultural flavor. Throughout the afternoon, the Hebrew Center offered its main room for a dance floor, hosting Middle Eastern, Salsa and African dance demonstrations.
The international influence continued into the early evening when the Island's sword team and mummers' troupe treated their audience to a collection of English songs and dances. The troupe's program included a traditional clog dance, a theatrical performance of Saint George and the Dragon and a dance that honored the hunt that they performed with antlers in hand.
With this year's event over, next year is already on the planners' minds. But since next New Year's Eve falls during the week, planners aren't expecting attracting crowds to get any easier.
Weekday First Nights will continue for quite some time. "We are heading into at least three or four days during the week, and that's a real tough one," Ms. Walsh said.
But whatever 2001 brings for First Night, for those who participated on Sunday, the celebration was a memorable way to kick off this year. "I have heard nothing but good things from the people who went," Ms. Villard said.