It is every organizer's hope that as an event recurs from year to year, it gets better and bigger. Last Monday and Tuesday, Vineyard Haven once again became a festive center for the arrival of a new year on-Island - and while Last Night, First Day activities may not have drawn quite as many people as past celebrations, sponsors believe the new program represented a change for the better.
"It was a success, it was fun and it was safe," said Jeff Kristal, president of the Tisbury Business Association. "There were no incidents. There were plenty of people. It was really nice."
The two-day festival featured events similar to those held last year on a single calendar date, under the name First Night. The name of the new festival is accurate, as events stretched from the afternoon of Dec. 31, 2001, well into Jan. 1, 2002.
Events began early Monday afternoon, with karaoke at Sodapops, which drew strollers from Main street up Beach Road. Jazz music in the Jirah Luce House became a focal point early in the evening, as visitors filled the place to capacity - first for the J.C. Jazz Trio, and later for Oak Bluffs blues musician Maynard Silva. Folk musician Justen Ahren performed at the Unitarian Church farther up Main street.
Mr. Kristal said he was most impressed by the interest in a place to sit, sip wine and listen to great music. "The restaurants in the neighborhood were packed; they reported having a phenomenal night," he said.
Barbara Dupree, a co-organizer of the event, said people appreciated the chance to see folk musicians like Kim Hilliard and Kevin Keady perform at the E&E Deli, which years ago was a home for the Wintertide Coffeehouse.
"It was a great bit of nostalgia," said Toby Wilson, interim executive director of the Martha's Vineyard Chamber of Commerce. "Wintertide was once one of the primary venues. It was great seeing performances in that space again."
Mr. Wilson had a personal reason to feel nostalgic. He is a member of WIMP - the eight-year-old Wintertide Improv Group - a tight comic troupe that used to perform in the same space.
More than 200 people were turned away from WIMP's performance at the Vineyard Playhouse. Keeping the humor tied closely to the present, the comedians performed a mock soap opera called Troubled Shores, a send-up of Vineyard life. The satire told the story of an imaginary island facing a distant city that wants to build a bridge and turn the community into a large golf course.
Kenny Lockwood, Nancy Jephcote and other musicians preceded WIMP at the Playhouse. All told, Last Night, First Day programs featured more than a dozen Island musicians who spanned a variety of styles from blues to contemporary folk and jazz.
The Monday celebration - Last Night - ended with a colorful 10-minute fireworks display at Eastville Beach, thanks to CR Pyro of Middleton, the same people who put on the annual Oak Bluffs fireworks display in August.
"I thought it was a beautiful show. It was a dark night with a full moon, a perfect New Year's Eve," said Mr. Kristal.
Unlike the display a year ago, the fireworks went off right on time. Last year's crowds had dwindled after the start of the show was delayed - ultimately for almost an hour and a half.
This year the blazing rockets went off without a hitch, on time and in full view of anyone along the Vineyard Haven waterfront, from East Chop to West Chop.
Mr. Kristal said the fireworks were launched from a beach on the Oak Bluffs side of the Lagoon Pond bridge. Firemen from Oak Bluffs and Tisbury participated in securing the area - a formula that may be used again, for it proved effective from the standpoint of economics and coordination.
Mr. Kristal said even before the show began that there was talk of increasing the $5,000 fireworks budget for next year. "By doubling the money, we get three times the show," he said.
The holiday celebration resumed the next morning, beginning with a 7 a.m. breakfast at E&E Deli. Programs started off slowly at 10 a.m. but picked up as sleepy-eyed parents were towed by youngsters to the children's events. By 11 a.m., there was a large crowd gathered in the Katharine Cornell Theatre for Marcus the Magician, of Marston Mills - a repeat performer who did two shows.
An afternoon highlight was at Boch Park, where Edgartown, Oak Bluffs and Tisbury firemen showed off fire engines in the Big Wheels Flashing Lights Display. The state police and sheriff's department displayed cars, too, and there was even a tourist bus and a garbage truck. Organizers said that even they were surprised by the number of youngsters interested in that exhibit.
Fred Fisher of Nip-N-Tuck Farm gave horse rides from 1 to 4 p.m. There was a crazy hat parade and awards were handed out.
Ms. Dupree said that the two-day event worked out really well. They sold over 500 admissions buttons - fewer than in past years, but significant enough to be worthwhile.
"We had lower numbers than previous years but donations to the event were up," she said.
The business community both on and off-Island was very generous. Local sponsors included Cronig's and Martha's Vineyard Hospital, and a number of local establishments donated food and space. Donations came from as far away as Stop & Shop and from Fresh Samantha Juices.
While not all the accounting is done, Ms. Dupree said, "We did better money-wise. We may have sold fewer buttons but we had lower expenses."
Yesterday, members of the Last Night, First Day organization held their first meeting to prepare for another year. Mr. Kristal said there are a lot of good ideas floating around to continue to fine-tune the event for another year.