A Sparkling Lineup for First Night Morris County’s 27th season

December 31, 2018 marked the 27th year of New Jersey’s biggest and brightest First Night, a New Year’s Eve family-friendly, alcohol-free celebration of the arts – with more than 100 artists, 81 events in 23 venues – representing dance, theatre, music, world cultures, visual arts and children’s programs.  For all 27 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 features new artists (or artists returning after several years), many of whom have performed at world class venues, 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 gypsy/neo-Balkan Trio, a Moldovan piano virtuoso, or a legendary hot jazz guitarist to a one-man sideshow, a champion Irish fiddler or a live reptile show.     

L-R: The legendary Frank Vignola and his Hot Jazz Guitar Trio; John Ginty with his Hammond B-3 organ; The Feinberg Brothers Bluegrass Band; The Zydeco Revelators; The Cobra Brothers Blues Band; Dana McCurdy’s Community in Rhythm Drum Circle; Rio Clemente, Bishop of Jazz.

On the Rock/Bluegrass/Blues/ Zydeco/Drum front, The John Ginty Band rocked the house, showcasing Ginty, who toured/performed with the Dixie Chicks, Jewel, Santana and received two Grammy nominations as a founding member of Robert Randolph & the Family Band. The Feinberg Brothers’ 5pc. band, profiled expansively in a recent Bluegrass Unlimited, embodied classical bluegrass with their tight, soulful harmonies and masterful, intricate instrumentals. For gutsy, full-throated blues, wailing harmonica riffs, and raw voiced vocals (with a touch of funk, R&B, country and jazz), the Cobra Brothers  hit the mark. They’ve been heard at blues festivals, The Stone Pony and The Bitter End.  Audience members got rhythm with Dana McCurdy’s Community In Rhythm Drum Circle. And New Orleans “Big Easy” was visiting Morristown with The Zydeco Revelators offering that sweet Cajun accordion, cool rubboard vest mixed with zydeco classics, rock and jam band in an irresistible “jambalaya” of sound.

Hankering for
Jazz ? Miracles happen. After a near fatal accident, the legendary guitarist Frank Vignola  was back and better than ever with his Hot Jazz Guitar Trio, with guitar partner, Vinny Raniolo, and “monster” bassist, Gary Mazzaroppi. One of the top five guitarists in the world according to the great Les Paul, Vignola has performed with Lionel Hampton, Ringo Starr, Wynton Marsalis and other superstars, and brought his astounding virtuosity, sly humor and incomparable musicianship back to our stage – to two standing ovations! 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.

L-R: Comedy folk singer and “professional smart aleck,” Carla Ulbrich; Americana folk singer Spook Handy; Folk band/vocal chameleons The Windborne Singers;  Harmonium Choral Society; Baroque Orchestra of New Jersey.

Folk Music fans enjoyed he wit and wordplay of comedy folk singer, Carla Ulbrich, with her songs about wedgies, Waffle Houses, Klingons and how rich she would be if she had the copyright on the “F” word. Remembering Pete Seeger, Spook Handy “kept the flame alive,” in his ongoing World Tour, sharing Seeger’s music and legacy in all 50 states, 10 Canadian provinces and 21 NJ  counties.  The Windborne Singers, a unique trio of vocal chameleons captivated listeners with the purity of their voices, their close harmony singing and a fascinating repertoire spanning centuries / cultures.

L-R: Moldovan piano virtuoso, Maria Sumareva; The Solid Brass Quartet; Electro/acoustic Oboe Master, Matt Sullivan; Champion Irish Fiddler, Brian Conway; Alborada Spanish Dance Theatre.

First Night’s Classical offerings include the superb artistry of Moldovan piano virtuoso, Maria Sumareva, winner of international piano competitions who dazzled with a repertoire spanning the Baroque through contemporary.. Audiences gave her standing ovations for both performances.  The Baroque Orchestra of New Jersey explores great orchestral works from the 17th through the 21st centuries while the Solid Brass Quartet’s grand and resonant brass features music from the Renaissance, Baroque and contemporary eras. Known for its inventive, international programming, Harmonium Choral Society will feature South and Central American Christmas music, spirituals, Yiddish and American works. And, for “something completely different,” check out the Electro/acoustic Oboe mastery of Matt Sullivan whose sonic explorations/improvisations produce sounds you’ve probably never heard from any double reed instrument.

  L-R: Global fusion ensemble, Afrika Meets India; Tavche Gravche, Gypsy/Neo-Balkan Trio; Shubanjali: Indian Classical and Folk Dance; Random Test Reggae Band; NJTAP2, young tap dance ensemble; Square dance caller Mary Moody.


First Night’s generous sampling of World Cultures included the global fusion ensemble, Afrika meets India,  which blended the rich rhythmic and melodic traditions of India and Africa. Irish (and other) eyes were smiling at the music of champion Irish Fiddler, Brian Conway while Tavche Gravche, a gypsy/neo-Balkan trio, offered a unique, fiery mix of Balkan/Eastern European and Mediterranean melodies while maintaining the explosive dance rhythms of Balkan music. Audiences danced in the aisle  to the lilting, joyous music of Random Test Reggae playing Caribbean reggae, soca and calypso. Alborada Spanish Dance Theatre showcased Spanish flamenco traditions while Shubanjali’s dancers highlighted Indian Classical/Folk Dance

 And, speaking of Dance, after sampling the power, passion, and castanets of the Alborada Spanish Dance Theatre and the stunning costumes and intricate gestures/footwork of Shubanjali’s Indian Classical/Folk Dance, First Night audiences also enjoyed the dynamic rhythms of NJTAP2, whose young artists showcase the great American art form of rhythm tap dancing. For those who love line dancing, square dancing or were just curious, neither experience nor partner were needed to participate in Square Dancing with caller, Mary Moody –  which was great fun for all ages.


L-R: David Darwin, One Man Sideshow: Comedienne Erin Jackson; Comedian Tom McTiernan; Mr. Hypno, Comedy Hypnotist Stephen Christopher; Storyteller Extraordinaire, Julie Pasqual; Living Voices: Our Revolution; Illusionist Benjamin Lipman.

Looking for  Theater/Comedy?  Large crowds laughed  their way into the New Year with the wit and wry humor of two comedy stars, Erin Jackson and Tom McTiernan. Erin’s megawatt smile and keen insights have made her a regular at NYC’s top comedy clubs, on numerous TV comedy shows and as a semifinalist with NBC’s Last Comic Standing. Tom is one of the East Coast’s best (and cleanest) comedians, featured at top clubs on both the East and West Coasts, on TV and opening for top acts in Atlantic City and Las Vegas. More laughs were in store with Mr. Hypno’s Comedy Hypnotism as hypnotized volunteers discovered such hidden talents as ballet dancing or cow milking! Illusionist Benjamin Lipman’s Comedy Cascade combined circus arts, vaudeville and humor with juggling, mime and magic. Billing themselves as “Manhattan Transfer meets Second City,” The Loose Canons were master purveyors of musical parody. A semifinalist with America’s Got Talent, David Darwin, the one-man sideshow, astounded audiences with  sword swallowing, magic, juggling,  unicycling and comedy. And, if you love history,  Living Voices: Our Revolution, provided a profoundly moving account of the American Revolution, told from the perspective of an African-American soldier (portrayed by a professional actor) and enhanced by riveting documentary graphics.

  L-R: The clowns Glitter and Juggles at Children’s Fun Festival; Fun with LEGOs; Rizzo’s Reptile/Wildlife Discovery; Transformations Facepainting; Art 4 Kids; Dinoman Dinosaurs!; Mr. Fish with the History & Mystery of Magic!.

Children’s/ Family Programs: Who could resist Dinoman Dinosaurs! with Bob Lisaius’ life size, inflatable dinosaurs? Rizzo’s Reptile Discovery shared live reptiles (and other animals) – under the watchful eye of a seasoned animal handler. There were clowns, face painting and glitter tattoos at The Children’s Fun Festival and Transformations Facepainting turned each face into  a living work of art.  Perennial favorite and skilled circus performer, Mr. Fish explored The Mystery & History of Magic, making things float in the air, appear/disappear and replicating signature feats of legendary magicians. Another favorite, Storyteller Julie Pasqual, brought her uniquely playful, physical theater skills, sharing stories from around the world.

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 Fun with LEGOs®. New to this year’s early session was the NJTAP2, an ensemble of young tap dancers, sharing their skills in rhythm tap dancing as well as Square Dancing with Caller, Mary Moody, with fun for the whole family.  

   L-R: Mimi Topping demonstrating Zentangle; Art Upstairs’ Carol Johnson’s Chicakdee on Winter Farm; Starlight Gallery’s work by Nina Nemeth, Buddha Within; At the Atrium Gallery: Bascove’s oil, Inscope Arch; Chris Kappemeier’s oil, Taxi Crossing Manhattan Bridge; Ruth Bauer Neustadter’s multimedia work, Dreamscape.



No experience was necessary to try Zentangle, a unique method of drawing using structured patterns, guided by art teacher Mimi Topping.

And, as in years past, 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: www.firstnightmorris.com.

For more information, please visit the First Night® Morris County website at www.firstnightmorris.com 

Check out our WMTR interview from December 19, 2018: 

News Channel 12 covered the events at the Morristown High School here.

And Kevin Coughlin, editor of MorristownGreen.com, along with his staff covered the event in multiple writeups highlighing specific performers in advance as well as sampling the actual performances that evening. Be sure to check out the writeups HERE and HERE.

Here are PHOTOS taken at First Night Morris County by Jeff Sovelove for MorristownGreen.com:

Enjoy these videos, courtesy of Jeff Sovelove and Marion Filler for www.morristowngreen.com:


Square Dancing with caller Mary Moody

Champion Irish Fiddler, Brian Conway with guitarist John Walsh

Baroque Orchestra of New Jersey 

Jason hoops it up with Whirled Revolution at First Night

Glitter the clown (with Tiffany and Preston)


Enjoy additional VIDEO glimpses of First Night performances …

Get a taste of the exquisitely expressive Frank Vignola and his Hot Jazz Guitar Trio

Catch a little of John Ginty’s solo on Hammond B3 organ as his band performs an Allman Brothers’ hit

Hear the Windborne Singers trio in their excellent close harmony a capella renditions of Poor Soldier (very short excerpt) and  Fire in the Hole  

Hear Moldovan piano virtuoso, Maria Sumareva, performing excerpts from: 
Chopin’s Polonaise in c#minor, Op. 26
Chopin’s Etude (The Revolutionary), Op. 10, no. 12 in c minor
Bartok’s Piano Sonata, Sz 80 – part of the 1st movement

And hear Harmonium Choral Society heroically “singin’ in the rain” – with their version of Auld Lang Syne

And catch a little of  The Cobra Brothers‘ blues HERE

Here are some additional PHOTOS  from First Night Morris County from Morris Arts: