Vineyard Haven has led the Island into the new year for nine years running, but next week's celebration figures to be the loudest ever. Organizers of Last Night, First Day 2003 have planned a more sensational fireworks show as part of the three-day family festival spanning New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.

"The fireworks will be between two and three times bigger than last year," said Jeff Pratt, coordinator for the celebration. "The $10,000 cost of the fireworks is double what was spent last year."

The show, which kicks off at 9 p.m. on Dec. 31, will be familiar to many. It's orchestrated by the same company that successfully runs Oak Bluffs' fireworks each August.

Stepping up the fireworks has caused some fiscal belt-tightening for organizers of this year's event - a cut of 20 to 30 per cent, according to Mr. Pratt. But the spirit of the celebration remains fully intact.

"We have a fabulous lineup of talent," he said.

WIMP - the Wintertide Improvisational comedy group - is among the several leading Island performers who will take to Tisbury stages to ring in the new year; they'll perform at the Katharine Cornell Theatre.

The E&E Delicatessen at Five Corners will feature Island folk musicians including Flying Elbows, Tristan Israel and Dave Corcoran and Corinne DeLangevant with Bruce MacNelly.

Maynard Silva, an Oak Bluffs blues musician, will perform at the Hebrew Center, where there will be warm food and drink.

There are plenty of talented Island musicians, storytellers, karaoke artists and clowns, and one magician - the Great Benafuchi. Events will also be held at the Fourway Inn, Unitarian Universalist Society, Sodapops and Vineyard Assembly of God.

Last Night, First Day was once the province of the Martha's Vineyard Chamber of Commerce and Tisbury Business Association. But while each remains a key contributor and supporter, they sought a nonprofit organization to take over primary responsibility for organizing the event.

As a result, this year's celebration is now a fundraiser for the Tisbury Ambulance Association.

Mr. Pratt, the group's ambulance coordinator for Vineyard Haven, said he was approached by TBA president Jeff Kristal and chamber director Valerie Richards in October: "[They] were discussing with me whether there was an organization on the Island that could use this as a fundraiser. They were running low on volunteers and staff to get things done."

The event, Mr. Pratt said, is "not a money maker. Whatever is earned [is] put towards the next year's expenses."

But while the nonprofit organization doesn't expect to make money this year, Mr. Pratt said its members have their eyes on the future.

In the meantime, the principles of the Last Night, First Day celebration remain the same: All events are alcohol-free, with most suitable for families with children.

The celebration is furthermore intended to be affordable. Admission buttons cost $12 - $5 for students - with children 10 and under admitted free when accompanied by a button holder. Buttons may be purchased at Alley's General Store, Bunch of Grapes bookstore, Crane Appliance Sound & Vision, E&E Deli, Edgartown Hardware, Island Entertainment, Jim's Island Market, Our Market and the Martha's Vineyard Chamber of Commerce.

Buttons admit participants to many events free or at a discount. Martha's Vineyard Arena, for example, is open for public skating from 3:30 to 6 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 30; admission for button holders is $2. Island Cove Mini Golf will be open New Year's Eve from 4 to 7 p.m. for those with a button.

There are discounts on food and other goods and services as well. Martha's Bike Rentals offers a 20 per cent off all bicycles sales, and Rick Convery Painting will offer 10 per cent off the labor rate for painting.

All told, more than 25 events are planned over three days, including a big display of trucks, fire trucks, police cars and other vehicles at the Steamship Authority parking lot on New Year's Day from 1:30 to 3 p.m.

The Park and Ride shuttle bus will operate in the downtown area.

The activities don't end until New Year's Day. There will be a Crazy Hat Parade with a significant adult prize of two nights at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel. That parade begins at 1 p.m.

The button itself depicts fireworks and an ambulance. Mr. Pratt said he hopes the ambulance association's involvement will draw more attention to the role of emergency medical technicians.

"We think that an alcohol-free New Year's event is a perfect pick for the ambulance association to raise money," he said.

Fundraising for fireworks is not unusual for public safety organizations on the Island. The Edgartown fire department raises funds for the Fourth of July fireworks, and the Oak Bluffs department for its August display.

Mr. Pratt said his own group's fundraising to date for the celebration has been very strong. "I know the majority of donors personally, and I genuinely thank them," he said.

For more information on events and times see the Gazette calendar, or visit the chamber web site at Updated information regarding the fireworks will be broadcast on WMVY radio (92.7 FM); the rain date is the evening of Jan. 1.