First Night Morris County keeps its WOW factor for the 26th year

December 31, 2017 marked the 26th year of New Jersey’s biggest and brightest First Night, a New Year’s Eve family-friendly, alcohol-free celebration of the arts – with nearly 200 artists, 85 events in 24 venues – representing dance, theatre, music, world cultures, visual arts and children’s events.  For all 26 years, Morris Arts has been First Night Morris’ artistic programmer, securing topflight talents who attract thousands from throughout the state and beyond.  More than half of the program featured new artists (or artists returning after several years), many of whom have performed at top venues (the White House, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Metropolitan Opera, etc.), won international recognition, performed on national radio/TV, in major films and/or collaborated with superstars of performing arts. On that night, one can experience everything from a Metropolitan Opera soprano to inflatable dinosaurs!

Check out post-event coverage on national networks:

CBS news 

NBC news

and on our own hyperlocal media,  – which has provided broadbased coverage by editor Kevin Coughlin and outstanding photographer, Jeff Sovelove, both  before and during First Night itself,  HERE
as well as – provided VIDEOS  of performances by:
1. Metropolitan Opera soprano Jennifer Check (with pianist Andrew Rosenblum), Harmonium Choral Society and Marimba master Greg Giannascoli (with pianist Ron StabinskyHERE and another set of videos of Jennifer Check/Andrew Rosenblum and Greg Giannascoli HERE 

2. The John Ginty Band (in a Tom Petty tribute)  HERE

3. Folk singer Christine De Leon, Music of the Middle East/Dinkjian-Morrison Duo, The New Jersey Festival Orchestra, A Night of Broadway Stars and Korean Traditional Dance of Choomnoori HERE 

MORE VIDEOS  – taken by Morris Arts
1. Hear champion Irish Fiddler, Brian Conway with John Walsh on guitar  playing Spike Island Lassies ,Irish jigs, reels  HERE and a sampler of some Scottish style fiddle tunes HERE

2. Hear Marimba Master Greg Giannascoli performing “Maria”  HERE  and “I want to Live in America” from Bernstein’s West Side Story HERE.

3. See the flashing feet of NJ Tap Ensemble soloists Maurice Chestnut and Jeffry Foote HERE

4. Thrill to the exquisite voice of Metropolitan Opera Soprano Jennifer Check with pianist Andrew Rosenblum as they perform
Bernstein’s Build My House
Puccini’s O Mio Bambino Caro
Gershwin’s Someone to Watch Over Me 
Dvorak’s Song to the Moon and
Puccini’s Vissi d’arte (from Tosca)

And here are PHOTOS taken at First Night Morris County on Dec. 31, 2017:

  1. From Steve Hockstein of the Jersey Tribune (NJ Advance Media)

2. From Morris Arts:

3. From Korean Traditional Dance of Choomnoori


4. And, from Jeff Sovelove of


Here are photos of the many performers whose talents lit up the night:


 On the Rock/Bluegrass/Blues front, The John Ginty Band rocked the house, showcasing Ginty (on Hammond B-3 organ), who toured/performed with the Dixie Chicks, Jewel, Santana and received two Grammy nominations as a founding member of Robert Randolph & the Family Band. Silk City brought its unique blend of bluegrass, roots and honky-tonk music and featured artists who’ve performed with Hot Tuna, at Carnegie Hall, and with artists like Vassar Clements and David Bromberg. And, for gutsy, full-throated blues with a touch of funk, R&B, country and jazz mixed in, we hope you caught the Cobra Brothers who have performed at The Stone Pony and The Bitter End.
Hankering for Jazz  and Swing? First Night would not be complete without our own sizzling jazz pianist, Rio Clemente (the “Bishop of Jazz”) whose inventive and sparkling improvisations astonished and inspired all. With performances at The Blue Note, NJPAC, international jazz festivals and The Whitney Museum, Mauricio de Souza’s band, Bossa Brasil®, added his special brand of smooth, Brazilian-tinted jazz  while James Langton took it Nice & Easy, Swingin’ the Great American Songbook, recalling the glamour and the timeless standards of the era.

And how could anyone have resisted hearing the soaring, heart-stopping songs of Broadway? A Night of Broadway Stars transported the Great White Way to First Night, featuring actual Broadway stars singing their unforgettable songs from Broadway productions such as Phantom, Wicked, Aladdin, and Beauty and the Beast.  

If Folk Music is your bag, be sure you caught the crystalline voice of award winning singer/songwriter Christine DeLeon. If you preferred  musical satire, “the Jon Stewart of Music,” John Forster, a four-time Grammy nominee packed the house. His works were recorded by Judy Collins, Roseanne Cash, heard on NPR and admired by the great musical satirist, Tom Lehrer, himself.

Classical Music was in full flower with the superb artistry and rare musical magic of Metropolitan Opera Soprano, Jennifer Check, whom the NY Times called “a rare talent that can send chills down a listener’s spine.” She has sung under the world’s top conductors (Levine, Maazel, Ozawa), in top venues (the Met, Covent Garden, Tanglewood, Spoleto Salzburg, etc.) and was joined by award-winning pianist, Andrew Rosenblum who has performed internationally, as well as at the Kennedy Center and Alice Tully Hall. On the Juilliard faculty, Grammy-nominated mallet master Greg Giannascoli performed at Carnegie Hall, on NPR, PBS and has been called “astonishing…in artistry and virtuosity.” First Night also offered the artistry of the New Jersey Festival Orchestra, the piano virtuosity of Laryssa Krupa (with her trio), the grand brass of Solid Brass Lite and the polish and inventive programming of the award winning Harmonium Choral Society.  “Beethoven” himself  was in the house as Dennis Kobray’s Meet the Musicians shared the life and works by the great composer.

First Night’s generous sampling of World Cultures included the Korean Traditional Dance of Choomnoori whose elegant costumes and distinctive movements showcased the rich traditional dances of Korea. The intricate and exotic Music of the Middle East spotlighted one of  the world’s best oud players,  Armenian oud master Ara Dinkjian who performed with world music keyboardist  Adam Morrison.  Melanie Mitrano performed the haunting songs of both Portuguese Fado and Brazilian song traditions while Irish (and other) eyes were smiling at the music of champion Irish Fiddler, Brian Conway (with guitarist John Walsh) who has performed and recorded to international acclaim. Audiences grooved on those good vibrations from The Didge Project which blended the sounds of the Australian aboriginal didgeridoo with world rhythms and tribal beats.  Lovers of  Latin Dancing  joined in the salsa, merengue and tango with Daniel Herrera’s DREAMS dancers or moved to the joyful, infectious rhythms of Folk Music of Colombia with Viva Vallenato’s cumbia and vallenato.

 Lovers of   Theater/Comedy laughed their way into the New Year with the wit and warm humor  of Comedian Moody McCarthy, featured on late night shows with David Letterman (twice), Jimmy Kimmel, Conan O’Brien, Last Comic Standing, Star Search, America’s Got Talent and Gotham Comedy Live. More laughs were available with HypnoMarc’s Comedy Hypnotism and with award-winning Master Magician and Illusionist Great Scott!, who, with his feathered partner Thurston (a blue/gold macaw), spellbound audiences on Conan O’Brien and David Letterman. Beethoven was not the only historic “giant” appearing at First Night: Robert Costello became Abraham Lincoln, sharing his folksy stories, sorrows, and triumphs as the 16th President. Lou Del Bianco told the story of his grandfather, the Master Carver of Mt. Rushmore while the theater-trained verbal virtuosi known as The  Mayhem Poets blended poetry, hip hop, improv, stand-up comedy and theatre to tell gut-wrenching truths about life. For children of all ages, Kit’s Interactive Theater drafted the audience directly into the performance of Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother and Storyteller Extraordinaire, Julie Pasqual, brpught her uniquely playful, physical theater skills into play, sharing stories from around the world.

 When it comes to Dance, First Nighters savored the fancy footwork and dazzling routines of New Jersey Tap Ensemble soloists Maurice Chestnut (who danced with Savion Glover) and Morristown’s own Jeffry Foote or delighted in the elegant beauty of Korean Traditional Dance of Choomnoori. Latin Dance was alive and well with Daniel Herrera’s D.R.E.A.M.S. dancers and no partner or experience was necessary to try Square Dancing with Caller, Mary Moody.

Children’s/ Family Programs: Who could resist Dinoman Dinosaurs! with Bob Lisaius’ life size, inflatable dinosaurs? And Rizzo’s Reptile Discovery shared live reptiles (and other animals) – under the watchful eye of a seasoned animal handler. Clowns, face painting, balloons, and juggling amused those at The Children’s Fun Festival while, at Transformations Facepainting, each face became a living work of art.  Perennial favorite and skilled circus performer, Mr. Fish was  back to amaze audiences with Phenomenal Physics, sharing tricks that actually have scientific explanations.

The early session for younger children (4:45-6:45pm) included hula hooping with Whirled Revolution, art making  activities with artist Samantha (“Sam”) Matthews’ Art 4 Kids and the always popular Fun with LEGOs®. New to this year’s early session was the acclaimed Korean Traditional Dance of Choomnoori, with their dazzling costumes and choreography, and Square Dancing with Caller, Mary Moody, with fun for the whole family.  

Three visual arts exhibits (displaying over 300 artworks) and two sets of fireworks topped off that magical evening known as First Night® Morris County. To check out the full lineup of artists, visit:

One inexpensive admission (before 12/21: $20/ticket; $17.50 for 4 or more; prices go up 12/22-12/31/16) covers all events at First Night®. Every venue is indoors and a free shuttle will take you to nearly all locations. For more information, the latest program updates, to volunteer or to purchase tickets, please visit the First Night® Morris County website at or call (973) 455-0708.