Thursday, December 28, 2006


(News-Herald, December 28)First Night celebrations have sprung up around the country like ticks on a lazy hog.
It’s a great idea. Sure, Christmas carries emotional weight, the performance anxiety of producing a warm fuzzy family day. But at least on Christmas you’re staging an emotional high point with family that you’ve known your entire life.
New Years is supposed to be National Date Night, but if you don’t have a honey to hang the huge happy hat of romance on, then you’re expected to come up with a handy stranger with whom to make celebratory magic.
And if you’re actually married, New Years is a stumper. If you have small children, you could have them celebrate in the Kids Time Zone, where New Years comes at about 10, followed by bed time and the hope of a little grown-up New Years Whoopee.
So First Night is a grand step forward because it transforms the holiday into a celebration of something other than tragic drunken coupling. It’s no wonder that First Night has swept the country as a family-friendly evening of merriment.
For us, the best of the First Nights is Oil City’s because it is here in Venangoland.
Oil City’s First Night looks pretty good this year. You can get a gander by looking at their website; the address is complicated, but if you google “Oil City First Night” (or click on this link)it pops right up. It has most of the info you need (plus, mysteriously, a link to a website about mesothelioma).
The lineup of entertainment this year looks outstanding. A portion of the line-up is devoted to acts of regional or national repute.
Cahal Dunne has become a regular favorite in Venangoland, and he puts on an outstanding show. If you haven’t seen him, you’ve heard about him, and now you get another chance to catch him in beautiful musical action.
Stevens and McLain are an international duo. McLain has over forty years of musical experience in bringing traditional bluegrass from Kentucky to the world; his partner is an award-wining Canadian harmonica whiz.
Tanglewood is a quintet that—well, they look like a heavy metal band that’s trying to sneak into a Renaissance Faire. Their website describes their music as “Intelligent, well-written folk-influenced songs played with hell-bent, rampaging abandon.” They look like a heck of a lot of fun. I listened to some bits of their stuff; they remind me of the Weavers with less High Seriousness or how the Limelighters might have sounded after tall the squares went home and they could take off their skinny ties and unwind. Fabulous harmonies.
Guy Davis is a New York blues player. He’s appeared on both Conan O’Brien and Prairie Home Companion, and his recent cd release was picked as one of the best of the year by NPR. He also writes short stories and writes and acts in theater pieces (I’m guessing that’s because his parents are Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis). He’s just coming off touring in the Netherlands, and he’s already booked through mid-May. And he’s going to spend New Years Eve in Oil City.
In addition to all of the high-powered imported talent, there’s a good supply of local folks. There will be weird science at the museum. Community Playhouse will be presenting two sessions at Christ Episcopal Church, and there’s enough talent within that group alone to handle the whole city for the whole evening.
Andy Mitchell will be at Calvary Methodist; Andy has more music in his little finger than most folks have in their whole bodies. I’ve known Andy since we both had hair, and I don’t think there’s much in the way of playing or singing that he can’t do.
So to serve up all this plus a few other mysterious offerings (Frisbee Dogs—trained animal act or punk rock group?) for a total cost of ten bucks is beyond a bargain. You’d pay ten bucks to see just one of these performers in concert. To offer them all for one price, on a night when folks are just dying for a way to stay busy, is a public service. And on top of all that, two rounds of Cartwright fireworks.
Only one complaint—Oil City organizers routinely assume that everyone understands OC geography, and throw around “North Side” and “South Side” and the names of various churches as if we all have an OC map in our heads. Add in the mysteries of one-way streets and hidden parking lots, and making the trip can be intimidating for the non-OC native. There will be shuttle buses, but when it’s time to put up next year’s website, let’s have a map.

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