By Marion Filler and Kevin Coughlin
Okay, so it was a soggy night.
But the fireworks went off as planned, and umbrella-toting revelers were rewarded with some dazzling indoor performances as First Night Morris County 2019 rang in its 27th New Year in style.
“What bad weather?” said Steve Mills of Morristown, who savored the evening with girlfriend Jane Ballamy, visiting from England.
They have juggled professionally, and were so impressed by First Night’s jugglers that Mills was inspired to show off his skills—balancing an umbrella on his nose in the lobby of the Mayo Performing Arts Center.
The couple were having too much fun to fuss about raindrops.
“We’ve got umbrellas,” Ballamy noted after her beau’s impromptu performance. “We’re not going to dissolve.”
Attendance actually was up over last year’s bitterly cold First Night, said event Director Craig Schlosser, who, with help from numerous organizations, engineered two fireworks launches from Fort Nonsense despite a partial shutdown of the federal government.
Slideshow photos by Kevin Coughlin. Hover/ click on image for captions:
Huddling under an awning during a downpour on the Morristown Green, members of the Harmonium Choral Society sang Auld Lang Syne ahead of the 9:15 pm fireworks display.
“We have received enormous positive feedback, and our partners, sponsors, attendees and volunteers were fantastic,” Schlosser said.
Harmonium sings ‘Auld Lang Syne’ at First Night Morris 2019. Video by Jeff Sovelove for MorristownGreen.com:
Dr. Lynn Siebert, the Morris Arts dynamo who recruited First Night’s performers—all 100 of them—looked on the bright side of the forecast.
“I wish it weren’t raining. But at least it’s 40-something, and not 10-something degrees,” she said at the Morristown United Methodist Church, where a big crowd gave the jazzy Frank Vignola Trio a standing ovation.
Vignola’s career—and life—nearly were ended by an all-terrain vehicle crash in 2017. Painstakingly, he relearned to play guitar. At First Night, it sounded as though he had never missed a beat.
“He’s back, the same Frank,” said Siebert.
Jane Kurek of Provident Bank was part of Morris County’s first First Night, nearly three decades ago. On Monday she volunteered at the Masonic Lodge, where the “Gypsy neo-Balkan” trio Tavche Gravche played.
“We’ve done this in snow and rain. One year it was eight degrees… it’s easy to to do if you dress for it,” Kurek said of First Night.
Downstairs at the Masonic Lodge, the Estraykh family of Morristown took turns being transformed by makeup artist Christopher Agostino of Transformations. They weren’t worried about what havoc the precipitation might wreak on their facial artwork.
“This is our favorite part,” said Shelby Estraykh, who took her turn in Agostino’s chair after daughters Havera, 10, and Reva, 4, were transformed into magical characters. “We were here last year and had a blast.”
Every year, the Chirnomas clan of Morristown comes to see Mr. Fish and Solid Brass. This year, they also enjoyed juggler Dave Darwin, of America’s Got Talent fame.
“It’s our family tradition on New Year’s Eve,” Ellen Chirnomas said at the Mayo Performing Arts Center, where she and sons Noah, 14, and Jonah, 9, had just rocked to the sounds of the John Ginty Band.
They have been coming to First Night Morris for a decade, and they weren’t going to let a little (or a lot) of rain stop them.
“It’s a great family night out. We braved the elements, and it was worth it,” the mom said.
Shubanjali Indian Classical and Folk Dance, at First Night Morris 2019. Video by Jeff Sovelove for MorristownGreen.com:
Tim Cawley and Jack Dahler, both 13, were dazzled by Hammond organ wizard John Ginty, a Morristown High alum who has played with numerous top acts. The pals play piano, and they keenly observed the musicianship of Ginty and his group.
“Everybody in the entire band was insanely talented. It was amazing to watch how they all moved to the rhythm,” said Dahler.
It was the teens’ first visit to First Night Morris. “It was worth the time,” said Cawley.
“A lot of fun. Very entertaining,” added Dahler.
But if you only made it to one venue at First Night Morris County 2019, Morristown High School was the place to be.
With nonstop entertainment for young families – and the young at heart – it was ideal for keeping dry and enjoying an abundance of fun on a rainy evening.
Square dance caller Mary Moody of Branchburg had the longest presentation, which was among the best attended.
“I call three to four times a week, and give lessons twice a week,” Moody said. “There are about 20 clubs for square dancers in northern New Jersey.”
Sara and Michael Elfenbein of Morristown and daughter Kinzie, almost 3, waited on the sidelines for Kinzie to build up her courage to dance. Adam Mason, originally from Boston, and Michelle Behre from Hackettstown had no problem joining the line.
Square dancing at First Night Morris 2019. Video by Marion Filler for MorristownGreen.com:
“We were looking for something local so we wouldn’t have to go to New York,” said Mason.
Juggles & Glitter, professional clowns trained by the best in the business, entertained Tiffany and Preston from Morristown. It was hard to see who was having a better time — the clowns, the children, or their mother.
“This is our second time at First Night, we had so much fun last year, we came back,” the mom said.
Great music and tons of enthusiasm made for a terrific show by NJTAP2. The dancers, ages 12 to 17, displayed talent and poise as they introduced themselves to the audience and answered questions about tap dancing and the meaning of improvisation.
NJTAP2 at First Night Morris 2019. Video by Jeff Sovelove for MorristownGreen.com:
“Why is it so hard? Because you don’t know what you are doing!” was one candid reply. Another dancer chimed in: “We get too accustomed to being choreographed.”
Tap dancing’s not just fun, it’s good for you, added another dancer, describing the many health benefits of the activity. But when they started dancing– as am ensemble, with solos mixed in–it wasn’t merely exercise. It was pure joy all the way.
Another crowd-pleaser was Bob “Dinoman” Lisaius and his inflatable Dinoman Dinosaurs.
Lisaius lives in Vermont with his wife and three daughters, one of whom works in Bernie Sanders’ office.
The Dinoman show, produced by Lisaius and his wife, has traveled the country and garnered attention from the LA Times and the Wall Street Journal.
“I was hoping to take the it to Washington if Bernie won,” said Lisaius, a veteran of the last four First Nights in Morristown, and many more First Nights in Boston.
Watching him inflate his giant balloons – the forest and the T Rex which he stitched together himself–was a great prologue to his presentation.
Irish fiddler Brian Conway with John Walsh at First Night Morris 2019. Video by Jeff Sovelove for MorristownGreen.com:
Maestro Robert Butts leads the Baroque Orchestra of NJ at First Night Morris 2019. Video by Jeff Sovelove for MorristownGreen.com:
Hooping it up at First Night Morris 2019. Video by Marion Filler for MorristownGreen.com:
Glitter with Tiffany and Preston at First Night Morris 2019. Video by Marion Filler for MorristownGreen.com: