It’s Bigger Than Broadway!
Don’t Ignore the Perimeter when you fill your First Night Dance Card
By Arthur Gonick
SARATOGA SPRINGS – On this postcard, frosty morning, I rise and acknowledge that life ultimately comes down to choices.
And so we begin by asking your indulgence as I cite Frost on this frosty morning:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
- Robert Frost, 1920
Now, before you call for the padded truck with the folks armed with straightjackets and butterfly nets on me, let me explain. What Robert Frost encountered – 97 years ago (!) – is the same phenomenon you are encountering as you contemplate the offerings facing you on Saturday night, New Year’s Eve, at the 20th iteration of First Night Saratoga (see www.saratoga-arts.org/firstnight), proudly presented by Saratoga Arts.
The fact is, choices must be made, and due to the richness and depth of First Night 2017’s offerings - compressed into a six-hour time frame, a modicum of planning is necessary to maximize your enjoyment. But the good news is that in Frost’s Two Roads, neither were foreboding. There was no ogre or trap door awaiting him on either. For him, there was no wrong choice.
With 19 sites and 31 stages of varying size, mirroring modern life’s complexity perhaps, the programmers and logistic experts at Saratoga Arts have offered you many ‘roads,’ as well as the means to travel them (via CDTA) successfully. But like Frost, the quality of the entertainment mix – arts in all its forms, orbiting around “A Night of Magic” - this year’s theme – all roads are positive, each with their own merits, each with their own flavor of magic.
In other words, you can’t go wrong.
So let me make the case, like Frost, for the roads perhaps less considered. So many of our city’s celebrations – Victorian Streetwalk and Hats Off, for instance, are what might be called “Broadway-centric,” and with good reason. It is the jewel, the retail spinal cord – indeed the neon lights shine brightest here. Of course, you could do First Night on Broadway and be dazzled!
But on this night, note well that you are unlikely to be hanging out on the corner of Broadway and Caroline much, unless hyperthermia is your thing. No, you will be inside, warm and cozy somewhere.
So let us explore an evening off-Broadway. A First Night where you don’t set one foot on our Main Street, is not only doable – it is highly desirable.
A person in a position to know: “If I had a family, the #1 place I would go is Lake Avenue School,” says First Night Technical Director Jayme Albin. “You can spend the whole evening there!”
Indeed the lineup in this one venue, with four stages, makes this a sure pick for wide-eyed kids, plus ooohing and aaahing noises from all ages. A family circus, two magic shows, live exotic bird exhibits, a mega-fun, local family music group (Seth and the Moody Melix), not to mention the ambassador from the Paleozoic Era – Dinoman (and his pet raccoon Reflex) add up to this being the Times Square of family fun for the kiddo in everyone.
I sat with Jayme and was impressed with his calm demeanor, less than 48 hours before launch. As the tech person for Hair of the Dog and Beatles tribute band Hey Jude for some time, he has had to work sound, lighting and logistics for a slew of venues far and wide – each with its own quirky characteristics and challenges. But this is a whole different ballgame.
“It starts with good planning, and excellent balanced programming by Alix,” Jayme said, referring to First Night Coordinator Alix Jones, whose office we had commandeered to chat, as she buzzed around, in and out with a controlled, somewhat magical frenzy herself. “In our artist application, we take note of who has sound, sometimes lighting equipment, that they can share throughout the evening, with artists that may not have suitable gear,” Jayme explained.
The rapid-fire rotation of First Night performances, with 15 minutes between acts, doesn’t come close to allowing time for changeover of sound systems. Each venue has it’s own puzzle to solve, and Alix does more than balance the entertainment so that you don’t have, say, four Irish bands in a row, but also balances things from a technical standpoint. In so doing, it says here, that she managed more than a bit of magic herself. She has elevated the quality of the artist offerings where it can be said, that in their 20th year – First Night is offering it’s highest quality lineup ever.
Like I said earlier, you can’t go wrong, as long as you go somewhere.
And to make sure you CAN go everywhere, there is the special CDTA shuttle – “Two actually,” Jayme points out, “each completes the 15 minute loop, but going in the opposite direction.” So, you can take any road you like, with confidence that you will arrive in time to receive a given venue’s unique brand of magic.
So, which road will I take on Saturday?
I will not presume to plan your evening, but I will advocate you spend half of it in one venue. You can choose either 6 to 9 p.m.; or 9 p.m. to midnight. That venue is St. Paul’s Church, also on Lake Avenue.
How’s this for a half-evening’s worth of entertainment?
- The areas leading practitioner of good-time oldies and surf music (Big Fez and the Surfmatics). This may explain why at the snow is melted around St. Paul’s…
- Easily, without question, the most qualified and credentialed sword-swallower (Dan Meyer) to ever set foot zip code 12866, and…
- The undisputed champion in the region, perhaps beyond, in the field of improv comedy (The Mop and Bucket Co.). Besides being incredibly creative and hilarious, they have a motto that any journalist would drool over: “We make stuff up.”
Well, I just made up half your dance card for Saturday night, leaving three hours for you to personalize your own magical evening.
I hope our paths cross on our journeys on Saturday night. If not, I will see you on the other side. Happy New Year!
Arthur always takes the road least traveled in search of a story you won’t read anywhere else.