SCRANTON — First Night Scranton 2016, a multi-venue, family-friendly and alcohol-free New Year’s Eve celebration will welcome the new year, which also happens to be the city’s sesquicentennial, or 150th anniversary, with a tri-tiered theme of “Past, Present, Future” and a positive outlook on all three.
“We want to celebrate what made Scranton wonderful in the past, what’s going on in the present and what the future is,” said Paige Balitski, project manager.
The event, featuring a wide range of entertainers and activities, is headquartered at The Mall at Steamtown, with a shuttle service running continuously between the mall and several downtown venues. Admission is $10, with a $5 discount for senior citizens and those with military ID. It will begin with bingo at 3 p.m. in the mall’s food court and end with midnight fireworks on Courthouse Square, with everything from live music to a trivia contest in between.
An outlet for peace, love
George Wesley, a Factoryville native and current Wilkes-Barre resident, will bring his music to the Leonard Theater stage for three half-hour performances at 7 p.m., 9 p.m. and 11 p.m.
The George Wesley Band blends rock ‘n roll and reggae with a Caribbean-style twist.
Describing the style, Wesley said, “We definitely use reggae as our vehicle of spreading the vibe and the message of peace and love, and we definitely rock it out— I’m a guitar player, so I’m guilty. But it’s all danceable and it’s all positive. That’s my role as a musician and as a human being, for the upliftment of my surroundings.”
And that positivity is something he believes people need, going into 2016.
“2015 has been quite interesting,” he said. “Of all the times in our life that I feel that positive vibes are needed, I think it’s more now than ever.”
As a band, he said the musicians use music as a platform to “pay respect to the creator of all things” and spread a message of “peace, and love and tolerance and understanding.” And First Night Scranton, which he described as “an awesome family-oriented event,” is a perfect venue in which to do so.
“It’s magical,” he said. “With fireworks at the end, I mean, come on. …And what’s nice about it, is it shows the diversity of the area. Really, there’s so many different kinds of music, and arts, and the people gather together — I think that’s very important, as a community. It’s a chance for people to actually just meet people on a common ground.”
He added he looks forward to sharing the Leonard Theater stage with Robbie Walsh and his friends from Crimson Tears, who will perform at 6 p.m., 8 p.m. and 10 p.m.
“I’ve got a feeling there’s going to be a super jam,” he said.
From the audience to the stage
James Barret, of Clarks Summit, remembers celebrating New Year’s Eve as a child watching the musicians perform at First Night Scranton.
“I used to love it,” he said. “I used to go all the time as a kid.”
This year, the singer, songwriter and guitarist will be back as a performer, to give three half-hour performances at 6:15 p.m., 8 p.m. and 9:45 p.m. at the firehouse.
Barret describes his music as “mainly acoustic” with a little “alternative” in the mix. He has played at many local and regional venues, such as Duffy’s Coffee House in Clarks Summit, the Sherman Theater in Stroudsburg, The Other Side in Wilkes Barre, Ale Mary’s and POSH in Scranton, and Legends in Dickson City.
As the young musician continues to gain popularity in the area, he finds many friends among his audiences, and enjoys connecting with those fans through the live performances.
“I feel like my friends and people who know me can connect to what I write, regardless of age and everything,” he said.
“We have everyone covered this year,” Balitski said. “We always had a difficult time covering the (teens and young adults), because they didn’t want to go to the little kid things and they didn’t want to go to the old fogey things. …So we thought what we would do is have some young acts that are already well-known to peers and other musicians and we’ll see how that goes. We’re trying very hard to serve that population.”
Event improves with city
Balitski said 2016 is “remarkably different” from the event’s inaugural year.
“The very first year, when we announced we were going to do First Night, people thought we had lost our minds, because, let’s face it, the downtown was a very different place. And the streets were dark — there were more empty storefronts than there were businesses. People thought, ‘This will never fly,’ and of course it did, and 16 years later, we’re having a hard time finding an empty storefront to put something in.”
“It’s the opposite, which is great,” added Doug Smith, event co-chair.
But as thrilled as he and the rest of the committee is about the city’s progress, Smith said it also makes it more difficult to recruit volunteers and corporate sponsors, as the metaphorical “pie” is cut into more and smaller “slices” every year.
“It’s never too late, if someone wants to volunteer, or help us financially,” he said. “We can always add logos on the website, even if they come in late.”
Those who would like more information regarding sponsorship and volunteer opportunities can reach the First Night Scranton Association at 570-499-6360. More information about the event can be obtained online at firstnightscranton.com.
First Night Scranton buttons, which provide admission to all First Night venues and activities, are available for purchase for $10 at Customer Service at The Mall at Steamtown, Boscov’s stores in Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, all Gerrity’s supermarkets, Hilton Scranton and Conference Center in Scranton, and the following libraries: Albright Memorial Library, Lackawanna County Children’s Library, Nancy K. Holmes Branch and Library Express in the Mall at Steamtown. Buttons for senior citizens and those with military ID are $5, available the day of the event only at the event headquarters on the first floor of The Mall at Steamtown. Children under age five gain free admission.
Food will also be available for purchase from a variety of vendors during the event.