First Night Morris County


24 Years of top talents on New Year’s Eve


December 31, 2015 was an amazing night, marking the 24th year for New Jersey’s biggest and brightest New Year’s Eve family-friendly, alcohol-free celebration of the arts – with nearly 200 artists, over 85 events in 24+ venues – representing dance, theatre, music, world cultures, visual arts and children’s events.  For all 24 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.  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, Madison Square Garden), won international recognition, performed on national radio/TV, in major films and/or collaborated with superstars of performing arts. On that night, for a remarkably affordable price ($17.50-$25!), one can experience everything from classical chamber music to the Australian aboriginal didgeridoo!

There was a palpable energy in Morristown as sizeable and happy crowds filled the venues with enthusiastic audiences for all of the events that night.


HOT OFF THE PRESS: Photos and Videos from December 31, 2015’s First Night:

1. With thanks to the Daily Record’s photographer, Karen Mancinelli:

2. and, for a special treat, click HERE to see the wonderful videos and photos taken by’s editor, Kevin Coughlin and photographer Jeff Sovelove.

Photos by Kevin Coughlin

Photos by Jeff Sovelove:

3.  Some photos courtesy of the Recorder Newspapers

4. And here are some additional photos and videos from Morris Arts:


Click HERE to see people hula hooping with Whirled Revolution.

Click HERE to see/hear the Music of China Youth Orchestra under the baton of Wang Gouwei.

For a taste the jazz guitar wizardry of The Frank Vignola Trio (with Vinny Raniolo and Gary Mazzaroppi) playing Frank’s Gypsymania, click HERE.

Click HERE to see Galumpha dancers bring their muscles and merriment to bear.

Click HERE to hear the Australian didgeridoo played with the Didge Project ensemble.

Click HERE to hear the jazzy, pizzicato performance by the Sweet Plantain Quartet…or to HERE to listen to  the same quartet with first violinist Eddie Venegas playing trombone and HERE to see how they transform a lilting Swedish folk tune into a jazzy Latin piece!

Click HERE to hear Verdi’s duet toast to love from his beloved opera La Traviata, performed by the MidAtlantic Opera.

On his way to NYC’s fabled Rainbow Room, catch the urbane James Langton singing Cole Porter’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” in his Salute to Sinatra, click HERE.

And for your chance to hear the rare Norwegian Hardanger fiddle and its distinctive music played by Dr. Dan Trueman, click HERE.


On the jazz/rock front, audience favorite The British Invitation Tribute (which opened for Ringo Starr) performed note-perfect classic 60’s rock while the Zydeco Revelators shared the infectious Cajun rhythms from the Big Easy.The audiences were awestruck by the sheer virtuosity of jazz guitar masters, the fabulous Frank Vignola Trio with Vinny Raniolo, and our own sizzling jazz pianist, Rio Clemente (the “Bishop of Jazz”) and others or “cooked” with the 1920s-30s hot jazz of Dr. Dubious & the Agnostics.

Delaying his performance at NYC’s Rainbow Room that night, James Langton  shared his period-perfect Salute to Frank Sinatra with SRO (standing room only) First Night audiences while folk singer Spook Handy remembered folk singing legend Pete Seeger.  SRO crowds enjoyed the classic bluegrass, fiddlin’ and banjo pickin’ of the irresistible Feinberg Brothers,  savored Paul Butterfield-style blues with The Two Bobs Street Band or feel the beat with Carol Peña in theGefyra Participatory Drum Circle.

L-R by row: Jazz guitar masters of the Frank Vignola Trio (Vinny Raniolo and Frank Vignola); the  Zydeco Revelators; James Langton Salutes Frank Sinatra; Spook Handy remembers Pete Seeger; The Feinberg Brothers bluegrass band; Mid-Atlantic Opera; The Sweet Plantain Quartet; Organist Gordon Turk; and Electro-acoustic oboe master Matt Sullivan.

Great voices distinguished the Mid-Atlantic Opera Quartet’s program of Broadway and Opera favorites and, with their hallmark virtuosity, the award-winningSweet Plantain Quartet combined Latin, Hip Hop, Blues, Jazz and classical music in one amazing, genre-bending program. Electro-acoustic oboe master Matt Sullivan  astonished ears with tape loops and oboe as you’ve never heard it, while the costumed Early Music Players played music of the Early Americas on period instruments. Audiences met Chopin (Dennis Kobray) and heard his music expertly performed. Others savored the artistry of select classical ensembles and soloists such as Harmonium, The NJ Festival Orchestra, Solid Brass Lite, organist Gordon Turk, and piano virtuoso Laryssa Krupa (with her chamber ensemble).

First Night also offered cultural experiences from around the world such as Music from China’s Youth Orchestra (with traditional Chinese instruments), the haunting sounds of the Norwegian Hardanger Fiddle played by McCarthur “genius” Dr.Dan Trueman and the elemental, meditative drone of the Didge Project’s Australian aboriginal didgeridoo. Audiences sampled the compelling rhythms and high energy movement of Féraba’s West African Dance, Drumming and Tap, the infectious Latin salsa, merengue and tangos of Daniel Herrera’s DREAMS dancers and the beautiful costumes and elegant choreography of the Korean Traditional Dance of Choomnoori .  

L-R by row, top down: Dan Trueman plays Norwegian Hardanger Fiddle; Féraba’s West African Dance, Drumming and Tap;  A.J.Block of The Didge Project plays the didgeridoo; Korean Traditional Dance of Choomnoori  performing the Fan Dance; Slam in the Schools/The Mayhem Poets; Galumpha dancers defy gravity; Robert Costello as Abraham Lincoln; The Traveling Literary Theater’s Your Ghost Story and Comedian Jon Fisch.

Who knew cats could spout poetry? Audiences grooved on the poignant and hilarious poetry slamming by the mesmerizing Mayhem Poets or trembled with terror at Your Ghost Story performed by the actors of Traveling Literary Theatre.  Ever popular President Abraham Lincoln (Robert Costello) held forth on every aspect of his life and times while lines snaked out the door as people waited to laugh their way into the New Year with Comedian Jon Fisch (hand-picked to open for Jerry Seinfeld and featured on Late Night With David Letterman), with Tom Lehrer-like musical satirist John Forster or the parody ensemble, The Loose Canons.  And others stopped by to see street performer, George Esparza, whose flea circus/medicine show brings flim-flam to a new level.  Fans of Dance, humor and physics packed the Mayo Performing Arts Center to see the amazing Galumpha, whose human “architecture” formations defy gravity and mix muscle with merriment – engaging the audience with feats of strength and hilarity. And, was that a marble statue in the Hyatt? Wait, it moved!  Alissa Dirato, the Living Statue, was at First Night too.

Kids of all ages delighted in Benjamin Lipman’s Comedy Cascade which mixed illusions, magic and comedy.  Few (including Jon Stewart and Conan O’Brien!) could resist The Story Pirates’ irrepressible improvisations as they acted out hilarious and often improbable stories written by real kids.  Keith Leaf brought his amazing light-up juggling to a dark winter’s night while perennial favorites, Rizzo’s Reptile Discovery and Mr. Fish brightened the evening with live animals and amazing circus and magic stunts.

The early session for younger children (4:45-6:45pm) included hula hooping with Whirled Revolution, Art 4 Kids with artist Christine Wagner and Snapology (LEGO® fun)…all filled to capacity with happy families. The early session also included the elegant appearance and beautiful sounds of the Music From China Youth Orchestra (young people performing Chinese music on traditional instruments) while the extended Children’s Fun Festival offered a lively mix of magic, juggling, balloons, facepainting, kazoos and an organ grinder!

L-R, by row from top: Illusionist Benjamin Lipman; The Story Pirates; Rizzo’s Reptile Discovery; Keith Leaf, light up juggler; Janet Boltax’s portrait of Arno Roland at the Atrium Gallery; facepainting; Whirled Revolution hula hooping; Snapology (LEGO) fun; Music From China Youth Orchestra.

Three visual arts exhibits (displaying over 200 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:

Here is some additional information about some of the world class performers at First Night® Morris County:                      

 A hallmark of First Night Morris County and perhaps one of the core reasons for its longevity and appeal is the high quality of talent on the program.  This year’s roster is no exception, with outstanding performers representing multiple artistic genres. Since its inception 24 years ago, First Night Morris has partnered with Morris Arts, working first with Carolyn Ward and, for the last nine years, with Dr. Lynn Siebert, to program the artists for this unique event.

ROCK: In the world of classic rock, The British Invasion Tribute band opened for Ringo Starr and presents meticulous, note-perfect performances of music from The Beatles to The Beach Boys. Individually and collectively, band members have performed with Eric Clapton, Bon Jovi, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes – at the Stone Pony, on The Tonight Show and on Late Night with David Letterman.

JAZZ:  Embodying the best of jazz are jazz guitar wizards of the Frank Vignola Trio. Identified by Les Paul as one of the “Five most admired guitarists” in the world, Vignola has toured and recorded with Wynton Marsalis, Lionel Hampton, Queen Latifah, Ringo Starr, Madonna, Mark O’Connor, Bucky Pizzarelli and Les Paul, among others. Showcasing his “monster technique, extraordinary musical versatility, sly humor and astonishing musicianship, Vignola and his guitar colleague, Vinny Raniolo, masterfully navigate an impressive variety of styles, coupling technical wizardry with nuanced sensitivity…all with self-effacing, irresistible humor. Other jazz guitarists simply pale in comparison.

Another consummate jazz musician who has performed at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall and NJPAC, Rio Clemente, the “Bishop of Jazz,” holds his audiences spellbound with the sheer brilliance of his improvisations and his unique fusions of classical passagework and jazz. His Juilliard training blends magnificently with his inexhaustible improvisatory talents.

POP:    Bridging the worlds of jazz and pop, James Langton marks the centennial of “old blue eyes” with his Salute to Sinatra at this year’s First Night. Internationally renowned as a re-creator of big band swing, Langton led the storied Pasadena Roof Orchestra, and also leads his New York All-Star Big Band, which performs at such top venues as NY’s legendary Rainbow Room atop Rockefeller Center. At First Night, his witty and sophisticated style will swing new life into Sinatra’s standards – backed by his first rate jazz trio.

FOLK:  Or, if folk music is more your style, Spook Handy’s Remembering Pete Seeger is like a fine vintage wine. With over 50 performances alongside Pete Seeger, Spook learned Pete’s songs and stories firsthand and is now on a three-year Remembering Pete Seeger World Tour, sharing Pete’s musical legacy in all 50 US States, all 13 Canadian provinces and territories, all NJ counties as well as internationally. Spook was named “Best Folk Artist” by Upstage Magazine, Gannett New Jersey, The Courier News, The Home News and

CLASSICAL: And Classical music stars abound at First Night as well. A performer, composer, improviser and professor at Princeton and NYU, electro-acoustic oboe master Matt Sullivan plays the oboe magnificently, exploring classical and avant-garde realms, producing sounds you have probably never heard coming from an oboe. Called “gorgeously lyrical” by the NY Times and “cutting edge” by The New Yorker, Sullivan creates a highly original, mesmerizing improvisatory sonic world.

And, speaking of originality, the Sweet Plantain Quartet gives a whole new meaning to the classical string quartet. Bridging the genre and generational gap, they’ve toured Russia, played at Birdland, collaborated with Grammy award-winning composers, performed with John Faddis, Tito Puente, Marc Anthony, Billy Joel, Alicia Keys and Smokey Robinson among others and trained at top conservatories. Artfully fusing western classical traditions in which they were trained with extended percussive techniques and the jazz improvisation, hip hop and Latin rhythms on which they were raised, these virtuoso musicians (from the Bronx, NJ and Venezuela) are at once contemporary, urbane, multicultural and truly fascinating.

Organist Gordon Turk has concertized with principal instrumentalists of the NY Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra as well as with folk singer legends Peter, Paul & Mary while the sextet  Solid Brass Lite includes musicians who have performed at Lincoln Center (with the Metropolitan Opera, the NYC Ballet), on Broadway, recorded and toured internationally, appeared on PBS-TV and received NEA grants for their work.

WORLD CULTURES: The unique, award-winning multi-ethnic performance group, Féraba explores the universal language of rhythm and fuses traditional sounds and movements of West Africa with American tap dance, hip hop and jazz. The group has performed on international radio and TV, at Lincoln Center, Town Hall and venues throughout USA, Europe and West Africa. Fabled dancer Gregory Hines stated, “I am so impressed. I have never seen anything like this!”

Our audiences can also enjoy the rare opportunity to hear the distinctive Norwegian Hardanger fiddle played by the world-class proponent, Dan Trueman, a Princeton professor, composer, performer and recipient of Guggenheim and MacArthur “genius” grants. Trueman performs traditional Norwegian music on this rare, unusual instrument and explores how its sound has spread to Ireland and the USA.

THEATER: From the Late Show with David Letterman to being hand-picked to open for Jerry Seinfeld at the Gotham Comedy Club, award winning comedian Jon Fisch was featured on Celebrity Apprentice and is a staple of the NYC comedy scene, performing regularly at the Gotham Comedy Club, The World Famous Comic Strip Live, Comedy Cellar and Broadway Comedy Club.

Called a “self-contained Capitol Steps” and “the Jon Stewart of music,” musical satirist John Forster and songs have been featured on NPR’s “Morning Edition,” collected on a duet album with Tom Chapin, and recorded by Judy Collins, Roseanne Cash, Christine Lavin and Cissy Houston, among others. Praised by the legendary musical satirist Tom Lehrer, John is also a prolific Broadway theater writer and four-time Grammy nominee whose fierce and original musical satire will keep you laughing.

Other top theater talents include The Story Pirates and Slam in the Schools/The Mayhem Poets. Called “crazy entertaining” by Jon Stewart and featured on Stewart’s Daily Show and on Conan O’Brien, The Story Pirates, whose professional actors and musicians are drawn from Second City and other renowned improv troupes, are irrepressible as they act out hilarious and often improbable stories written by real kids.

At once poignant and hilarious, Slam in the Schools/The Mayhem Poets have been dubbed “an amazing ride” by the NY Times. This theater trained, comedically gifted trio blends hip hop, theater, improv and stand-up comedy, performing on The Today Show and Eyewitness News after winning 1st place and a grant for $100K in the Microsoft Idea Wins Challenge.

DANCE: Seen on David Letterman, MTC, A&E Showtime, Just for Laughs, on tour in North and South America, Europe and the Middle East and by over a billion TV viewers around the world, the extraordinary, award-winning dance troupe Galumpha combines stunning acrobatics, striking visual effects, physical comedy, experiments in “human architecture” and inventive choreography, creating a world of imagination, muscle and merriment and consistently bringing audiences to their feet.

This is just a sampler of the world class performances which have become a hallmark of First Night Morris County. There are performances to suit every age and taste along with three visual arts exhibits (displaying over 200 artworks) and two sets of fireworks.  You don’t have to travel the world or spend a fortune for tickets to experience artistically excellent live performance. It was all in Morristown on New Year’s Eve.

One inexpensive admission (before 12/22: $20/ticket; $17.50 for 4 or more; prices go up 12/22-12/31/14) covered all events at First Night®. Every venue was indoors and a free shuttle took people to all locations. For more information, please visit the First Night® Morris County website at or call (973) 455-0708.

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,