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Evanston resurrects First Night festivities to ring in the new year

Dolly Varden features Matt Thobe (from left) Diane Christiansen Mark BalletSteve DawsMike Bradburn. | Phoby Sarah Gross

Dolly Varden features Matt Thobe (from left), Diane Christiansen, Mark Balletto, Steve Dawson and Mike Bradburn. | Photo by Sarah Gross

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First Night Evanston, 1 p.m. through midnight Dec. 31. $18 to Dec. 30; $20 on Dec. 31; $10 ages 9-17; ages 8 and under free, with adult paid admission. VIP guaranteed seating, $30. Visit

After an absence of six years, First Night Evanston returns to the North Shore for a very special New Year’s Eve celebration. It features an afternoon of activities for children and an evening of music, dance and poetry for the entire family.

The event, which first ran 1992-2006, is a festive end to Evanston’s 150th anniversary year.

“It seemed like a good fit to bring First Night back to complete the anniversary,” says Emily Guthrie, president of First Night Inc., who is spearheading the revival efforts.

Instead of being spread out around Evanston as it was in the past, the events are now all centered near Raymond Park close to downtown. “You can walk to each venue in just a few minutes,” Guthrie notes. “And one admission gets you into everything.”

Ice sculptures and food trucks will be scattered around the park, with children’s events (including Professor Marvel’s Amazing Flea Circus) during the afternoon at the Evanston Public Library and later in the day all-ages art workshops at the Best Western Hotel. Music and dance events in the evening are located in several churches (First Congregational, First Presbyterian, Immanuel Lutheran and Lake Street) and the Music Institute of Chicago.

Headliners include jazz harmonica and piano virtuoso Howard Levy and his band Acoustic Express, Americana band Dolly Varden, jazz guitarist Bobby Broom, folk legend Eddie Holstein, poetry slam guru Marc Smith, blues-classical expert Corky Siegel & Chamber Blues, chamber opera with Peter and Kathleen Van de Graaff, bluegrass outfit James King Band, French-African jazz master Yves Francois et Rocambu Jazz, children’s musician Joel Frankel and jazz pianist Joan Hickey.

“I thought it important that the return of First Night reflect the outsize national achievement of local artists and the discerning taste of the Evanston community,” says Stuart Rosenberg who booked the musical acts. “They know what’s good, and performers love a well-informed audience with good taste.”

Steve Dawson, a member of Dolly Varden, feels the event is “a nice alternative to the usual antics of New Year’s Eve,” adding that Dolly Varden hasn’t done a New Year’s gig in many, many years and this “seemed like a really nice way to celebrate the end of one year and the beginning of a new one in a venue that is geared toward listening and open to all ages.”

First Night, which is run by volunteers, offers options for the whole family says Guthrie: “We just want people to go home with a smile on their face. We want them talking about this all year long. We want to make this a yearly event.”

♦ First Night locations (all near downtown Evanston): First Presbyterian Church, 1427 Chicago; Immanuel Lutheran Church, 616 Lake; Best Western Hotel, 820 Davis; Lake Street Church, 607 Lake; Music Institute of Chicago, 1490 Chicago; First Congregational Church of Evanston, 1445 Hinman; Evanston Public Library, 1703 Orrington.

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