22nd First Night Morris County overflows with talent

December 31st marked the 22nd year for New Jersey’s biggest and brightest New Year’s Eve family-friendly, alcohol-free celebration of the arts – with over 200 artists, more than 80 events in 25 venues – representing dance, theatre, music, visual arts and children’s events.  For all 22 years, Morris Arts has served as First Night’s artistic programmer, securing topflight talents who attract thousands of people from throughout the state and beyond.  Once again, nearly 2/3 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, Madison Square Garden), won Grammy awards, MacArthur “genius” grants,  performed on TV, in major films and/or collaborated with superstars of performing arts. On that night, for a remarkably affordable price ($17.50-$25!), one could experience everything from Rock to Chinese shadow puppetry.

On  the jazz/rock front, capacity audiences grooved with rock star (and Grammy winner) John Ginty’s Band and packed the house for a star-studded jazz lineup including the four guitar legends (Bucky Pizzarelli, the fabulous Frank Vignola, Vinny Raniolo and Gene Bertoncini), not to mention gypsy jazz with “Boardwalk Empire clarinetist Dan Levinson and classic jazz with our own “Bishop of Jazz,” pianist Rio Clemente.

On the blues, bluegrass and blends front, the US State Department’s Musical Ambassadors, Matuto brought their unique bluegrass/Brazilian blend to the night and audiences were dancing in the aisles with R&B keyboardist (and Yankee Stadium organist) Ed Alstrom whose quartet featured the astonishing harmonica virtuoso Rob Paparozzi (of Blood Sweat & Tears, The Blues Brothers Band). The Cobra Brothers classic blues packed a crowd as did the blues kazoo “stylings” (and general “old time” fun) by the Philadelphia Jug Band.



L-R: Rocker John Ginty with his new CD, Bad News Travels;  Chinese Theatre Works’ Shadow Puppet Theatre’s Tiger Tales;  guitar legend Bucky Pizzarelli; Matuto (Blending Brazilian and bluegrass); Brittany Haas and Dan Trueman (combining Appalachian and Norwegian Hardanger fiddling).

Enthusiastic crowds savored  the outstanding classical music provided by such select ensembles as the Harmonium Choral Society (under the baton of Dr. Anne Matlack), the NJ Festival Orchestra (led by conductor Leon Hyman), the Nova Chamber Ensemble (with pianist Laryssa Krupa),  Solid Brass Lite, and organist Mark Hyzcko (playing  the 4,000 pipe Austin organ of Morristown’s Presbyterian Church).

L-R: Barynya’s French Can-Can dancers; Rochel Coleman as Nat Love (a.k.a. Deadwood Dick), 19th century black cowboy; Robert Costello as Abraham Lincoln; NJ Tap Ensemble virtuoso, Maurice Chestnut.

Those who love world cultures had a wealth of choices at First Night Morris.  Capacity crowds enjoyed Steven Kaplin’s remarkable narrative and voicing abilities as he portrayed dozens of different characters in the entrancing Chinese Theatre Works Shadow Puppet show, Tiger Tales.  Standing room only audiences watched BALAM’s performances of Balinese, Spanish and Baroque dancing.  And audiences savored Barynya’s French Can-Can and Roma Gypsy dancing, practiced their  conga lines with the Conroy Warren Trio’s Caribbean music, and invoked Mexico’s sunny warmth with Mariachi Citlalli. Back by popular demand, Colombia’s steamy Salsaoco dancers burned some floors at the High School and crowds savored the passion of klezmer and Eastern European fusion with David Glukh’s virtuosic International Ensemble. It was standing room only to hear the haunting strains of the Norwegian Hardanger fiddle intriguingly combined with the foot-stomping, down-home bluegrass fiddling with the Brittany Haas and Dan Trueman Band!

Capacity crowds gathered to meet “President Abraham Lincoln,” composer “Franz Schubert”  while “Nat Love,(a.k.a. Deadwood Dick),” kept audiences enthralled with tales of his life from slavery to becoming a 19th century black cowboy and rodeo star!  In Good Company, demonstrated and taught 18th century court dances (in full costume)…and gems of Renaissance music were performed on replica period instruments by the costumed Early Music Players of NJ.


L-R: Dinoman with lifesize T-Rex; Illusionist Benjamin Lipman; StoryFaces (facepainting/story telling); Theremin master, Kip Rosser; Nani Devi, BALAM’s Balinese dancer .

Kids delighted in Dinoman’s Dinosaurs (with multiple lifesize inflatable dinosaurs!), Rizzo’s live reptile show, the Gizmo Guys  fast-paced comedy juggling act, illusionist Benjamin Lipman’s comedy magic, and Mr. Fish’s superb circus skills in knifethrowing and bullwhips. This year’s new early session for younger children attracted hundreds of children with Christopher Agostino’s StoryFaces, where stories came to life through facepainting, Art 4 Kids with fine artist Christine Wagner and Imagination LEGO! (building with LEGOS). The Children’s Fun Festival offered  its lively mix of magic, juggling, costumed characters, mask making, balloon animals and facepainting.

The adventurous filled every seat and then some, exploring games of the mind with Mentalist Marshal Manlove and others packed the venue to hear the “alien” music of Kip Rosser on the theremin, the only instrument played without being touched!

Still others laughed their way into the New Year with Comedian Brad Trackman (who opened for Dana Carvey and Joan Rivers) and packed the seats for the Tom Lehrer-style musical satirist John Forster.  George Esparza – master of the flim flam street performance – entranced hardy souls with the antics of his daring “fleas” in his new winter Flea Circus.

Still more “tapped” their inner Terpsichore with NJ Tap Ensemble soloists, Maurice Chestnut and Jeffry Foote or got  into a Pete Seeger groove with Spook Handy’s Americana folk singing.

Two visual arts exhibits (displaying over 200 artworks) and two sets of fireworks topped off that magical evening known as First Night Morris County.


L-R: Paul Hausman’s photograph of the Chinese Theatre Work’s Shadow Puppet play, Tiger Tales; Karen Mancinelli’s photograph (for the Daily Record) of  BALAM’s Balinese Dancer; Kevin Coughlin’s photograph of painted faces of Mossino and Francesca Infante-Meehan.

L-R: Karen Mancinelli’s photographs (for the Daily Record) of Dennis Kobray as Schubert, the Harmonium Choral Society; Rochel Coleman as 19th century black cowboy Nat Love (a.k.a. Deadwood Dick); Jazz Guitar Legends Vinny Raniolo, Frank Vignola, Gene Bertoncini and Bucky Pizzarelli (seated).

To check out the full lineup of artists, click on First Night program for December 31, 2013.

To learn more about the event,  visit the First Night Morris County website at www.firstnightmorris.com or call (973) 455-0708.

Some short, live videos:

To glimpse a short video of Chinese Theatre Works’ live FIrst Night  performance of their Shadow Puppet Play, Tiger Tales, click HERE.

To see BALAM Dance Theatre’s live performance of Spanish Dance at First Night, click HERE.

To catch a little of Matuto’s live performance at First Night, click HERE.

To hear a little of the Brittany Haas and Dan Band’s live performance at First Night, click HERE.

For a little of the Cobra Brothers blues, click HERE.

Here are links to media coverage of the event, with special thanks to Kevin Coughlin, Editor, MorristownGreen.com.

MorristownGreen.com coverage:

Daily Record coverage

Ralph Bellandoni article, December 27, 2013 Daily Record’s TGIF section

Star-Ledger coverage


Recorder Papers/JerseyHills.com coverage

American Towns coverage

First Night website coverage

Patch coverage

News12 NJ coverage


Last year’s First Night (December 31, 2012)was full of special performances:
December 31, 2012 marked the 21st year for New Jersey’s biggest and brightest New Year’s Eve non-alcoholic celebration of the arts – with nearly 300 artists, 80 events in 24 venues – representing dance, drama, music, visual arts and children’s events. For all 21 years, Morris Arts has served as First Night’s artistic programmer, researching and securing topflight performers who routinely attract 5,000-10,000 people from throughout the state and beyond. Click First Night 2013 Program  for all the details.

Here are some of the artists who performed that night:


L-R: Songs of the Fall (Bluegrass and roots) with five-time Grammy nominee Cia Cherryholmes and Stetson Adkisson; Illusionist Anthony Salazar; Felicity Jones runs for queen of USA in Me Pluribus Unum; Guitar legend Bucky Pizzarelli; Marimba master Greg Giannascoli; Random Test Reggae;   Féraba West African drumming, dance and tap.

L-R: The Kolkata Duo (N. Indian tabla and sitar); Jazz guitar wizards, Vinny Raniolo and Frank Vignola;  Jazz trumpet legend, Warren Vaché; The David Glukh International Ensemble (Fusion and Klezmer); The Sweet Plantain Quartet (Classical,rap, Latin, blues and jazz); and WindSync.


L-R: Dom Rizzo with friend (Let’s get wild with Rizzo’s Reptiles); Master of Mime, Yass Hakoshima; the Salsaoco Dance Team; The British Invasion Tribute (classic 60s British & American rock ‘n roll); the renowned clarinettist, Dan Levinson ( of Boardwalk Empire and Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks); Travelling Literary Theatre presents “survivors and their storie”s from the Titanic; Barynya’s remarkable Russian dancers.

  • “…First Night has raised the entertainment bar very high. Consequently, it is a tough act to follow. Yet, that is exactly what it does every Dec. 31…I touted First Night to a doctor pal …Weeks later, he still is raving about one of his most enjoyable New Year’s Eves. In this era of abundant entertainment choices, that’s saying a lot.”   Kevin Coughlin, Editor, MorristownGreen.com
Some additional photos and videos from First Night December 31, 2012:
To see some of the performance by
Féraba (West African dancing, drumming and tap dancing), click here.
The David Glukh International Ensemble playing “Romania, Romania”, click here.
The Frank Vignola Duo with Bucky Pizzarelli – with Vignola performing “Stardust”, click here.
The Warren Vaché Trio, with some great jazz trumpet playing by Warren, click here.
Dan Levinson’s Swing Wing, swing jazz at its best, click here.
Songs of the Fall with Stetson and Cia Cherryholmes Adkisson singing “So good to have you back,” click here…. and here for Cia’s solo, “Weaver of Lies”
Piano 4 hands with Ana Gligvashvili and James Rosenblum playing Brahms Waltzes, op. 39, click here.
Click here to see videos and coverage by Kevin Coughlin and others  from www.MorristownGreen.com. (Other MorristownGreen videos and photos about First Night can be found here.
Additional photos by Warren Westura for the Daily Record can be found here.
Click on Channel 7 Eyewitness News IMG_1907 to see a short clip from Channel 7 (ABC) Eyewitness News coverage.
 L-R: All photos on this row by Warren Westura for the Daily Record: The Warren Vaché Trio; Random Test Reggae; Vinny Raniolo, Bucky Pizzarelli and Frank Vignola
Photos below, L-R (all  by Arts Council): The Morristown Green at midnight; facepainting at the Children’s Fun Festival; Frank Vignola, Lynn Siebert, Bucky Pizzarelli; Dan Levinson.
L-R: Morristown Green; Children’s Fun Festival; Frank Vignola, Lynn Siebert and Bucky Pizzarelli; Dan Levinson.