The arts inspire creativity. No surprise, then, that First Night® Morris County, New Jersey’s family-friendly, alcohol and substance-free celebration of the arts on New Year’s Eve, would creatively reimagine its 29 year tradition in the face of the Covid pandemic and still present outstanding performances in music, theatre/comedy, family programming and world cultures.
For all 29 years, Morris Arts has been First Night Morris’ artistic programmer, securing topflight talents who 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. Outstanding performers – both online and live, two virtual fireworks shows and online offerings from the First Contact Film Festival (an independent film makers’ competition) are all included in this year’s reimagined First Night Morris County. An added silver lining for this year’s largely virtual event: attendees don’t have to worry about the weather or travelling on December 31st! The event’s program offerings are available online, accessible from the comfort of one’s home – no matter where you live!
Intrigued by WORLD CULTURES? Irish and all other eyes will be smiling with Champion Irish Fiddler Brian Conway and guitarist/singer John Walsh (streaming, on demand). In true Irish fiddling tradition – hallmarks of Irish county fairs and outdoor celebrations – fiddler Brian Conway and guitarist/vocalist John Walsh took advantage of a spring-like November day to record their First Night performance in a lovely landscape, evoking the green fields of Ireland (while modeling Covid 19 precautions at the same time). Widely considered one of the best Irish fiddlers of any style, Conway is a leading exponent of the tastefully ornamented Sligo fiddling style made famous by the late Michael Coleman. Winner of multiple All-Ireland fiddling titles, Conway was influenced by the legendary fiddler and composer Martin Wynne and the great Andy McGann of New York, a direct student of Michael Coleman, who further shaped Conway’s precision and skill on the instrument. The distinctness of Conway’s tone, the lift of his playing, and the deft ornamentation that he brings to his performances have placed him among the finest Irish fiddlers of any style. He has performed throughout North America, Ireland and Europe and recorded 6 CDs (including for the Smithsonian) to critical acclaim. Conway is also considered one of the premier instructors of traditional Irish music, mentoring many fine fiddle players, including several who have gone on to win All-Ireland championships in their own right. Irish-American guitarist, singer and producer John Walsh joins Conway in the special performance for First Night Morris County.
Looking for a little MAGIC on New Year’s Eve? Be sure to check out Jason Hudy’s Mesmerizing Magic (streaming, on demand). Described as “One of the hottest wand swingers out there!” by actor Neil Patrick Harris, Magician Jason Hudy delivers mystery, intrigue, and comedy in every cutting edge show, as he draws you into the intricate world of illusion. With over 8,000 performances in 14 countries around the world, Jason has brought his magic and illusions to over a million people across the globe! Featured in theaters, performing arts centers, cruise ships and casinos, he is a regular guest entertainer on Disney Cruise Lines, and was one of a select group of magicians invited to perform at the “House of Magic” at Studio City Casino in Macau, near Hong Kong. Jason toured 30 cities across China and headlined 950 performances of “The Magic of Saipan,” a dinner theater show on the island of Saipan (a U.S. Territory in the South Pacific). Additionally, Jason has performed for ESPN, Hersey, Mitsubishi, and appeared on national TV with CBS’ The Late Late Show. In November 2019, his TedX Talk provided an insightful and entertaining peek “behind the curtain” into the world of magic and illusion. Who doesn’t need a little extra magic as 2021 begins?
Desperately seeking some COMEDY? Comedian Joe Larson (live with addition samples streaming, on demand) will tickle your funny bone and have you smiling all night. Joe will be performing live in two limited-attendance performances at the Mayo Performing Arts Center. This Seattle-born and raised comedian decided he didn’t have enough traffic, smog, and pastrami in his life so he moved to New York City. Working the comedy circuit on the east coast, Joe was nominated “Best Up-And-Coming Comedian” at the NYC MAC Awards, and was a finalist in both the prestigious Johnny Carson Great American Comedy Festival and the Boston Comedy Festival. His popular blog, “Man with A Baby,” is read and enjoyed by many, and online sketch comedy pieces with “Grandma’s Favorite” are a YouTube favorite. If you haven’t see him killin’ it on stage, you might have heard Joe on the nationally syndicated The Bob & Tom Show… or seen him in television appearances on The Tonight Show’s Laugh Squad, Laughs on FOX, Gotham Comedy Live and on The Speed Channel. He’s even had the time to fit in an appearance on the film, Stand-Up 360. From a colleges to comedy clubs, Joe has been funny everywhere. Don’t miss the chance to see this great act in action! (In the event MPAC is closed due to new virus regulations, “best of” videos s of Larson’s comedy will be made available streaming and on demand to ticket holders).
For something unique and different within First Night’s CLASSICAL MUSIC offerings, savor the extraordinary skill and musicianship of award-winning harpsichord virtuoso Andrew Rosenblum (streaming, on demand). Noted for his “…beautiful shaping of phrases, his sense of color and inflection, his incisive rhythmic impulse, and his fabulous technique…,” Rosenblum enjoys a multifaceted career as a harpsichordist and pianist. He has performed at Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall, The Kennedy Center, and The Phillips Collection, and internationally, in Mexico, Canada, Saint Lucia, Germany, and the Czech Republic. He won Second Prize in the harpsichord categories of the 2018 Leipzig International Bach Competition and the 2017 Prague Spring International Music Competition, where he also won the Czech Music Fund Foundation Prize for his performance of the newly commissioned work, Harpsycho, by Petr Wajsar. He soloed with Leipziger Barockorchester, Bohuslav Martinů Philharmonic Orchestra, Collegium 1704, and Civic Orchestra of Chicago, and played continuo for Music of the Baroque Orchestra, Haymarket Opera, Third Coast Baroque, and Three Notch’d Road. Rosenblum has advanced to the semi-final round of the Cedille Records Emerging Artist Competition, which will take place in May 2021.
An avid performer of new music, Rosenblum gave the world premiere of Diana Rosenblum’s Curiosities for harpsichord in 2020, performed in the 2018 Julius Eastman Portrait Concert at the Chicago Cultural Center, and played in all three concerts of the 2017 Chicago Ustvolskaya Festival. Lauded for his “beautifully responsive…warm and inviting” playing (Colin Clarke, Fanfare Magazine) on Living in the Body – a two-CD set of songs by Lori Laitman (Naxos, 2019), Rosenblum also serves on the Board of Directors of Kaleidoscope MusArt, an organization that explores links between new, rarely-heard, and well-known works while featuring emerging artists and living composers. On the Piano Staff of the Chicago Symphony Chorus, as well as the Piano Faculty and Harpsichord Faculty of the Heifetz International Music Institute, he has been on the Piano Staff of Lyric Opera of Chicago, Northwestern University, Cleveland Institute of Music, and Cleveland Orchestra Chorus.
JAZZ aficionados can rejoice in the wizardry of the great Frank Vignola Hot Jazz Trio with bassist/vocalist Nicki Parrott (streaming, on demand).
“Frank Vignola is one of the most extraordinary guitarists performing before the public today. His stunning virtuosity has made him the guitarist of choice for many of the world’s top musicians …Vignola’s jaw-dropping technique explains why the New York Times deemed him ‘one of the brightest stars of the guitar.’”
“There is little in this world so awe-inspiring as witnessing total mastery of a musical instrument. Like seeing Yo-Yo Ma play the cello or Placido Domingo belt out an aria – sometimes a performer’s perfection can elevate a piece of music to heights beyond the realm of imagination. By all accounts, Frank Vignola conjures just that sort of magic with his acoustic guitar.” – Matt Cauthron, Intermission Magazine
“For me, the standout musician in the ensemble was guitarist Frank Vignola, who can play more musically at ridiculous tempos than just about anyone I’ve heard.”- The Jazz Session, Jason Crane, Tanglewood Jazz Festival
After a near fatal accident, Frank Vignola, is back, better than ever! One of the top guitarists in the world according to the legendary Les Paul, the amazing Vignola has performed with Ringo Starr, Lionel Hampton, Wynton Marsalis, Tommy Emmanuel, Bucky Pizzarelli and other top stars. With his astounding virtuosity, extraordinary versatility, sly humor and incomparable musicianship, he shares the stage with longterm touring partner, dynamic rhythm guitarist Vinny Raniolo, who himself has toured 14 countries on 3 continents, performed in the world’s top venues and recorded soundtracks for HBO’s Boardwalk Empire and Woody Allen’s film, Café Society.
Joining this illustrious duo for a night of jazz heaven is Aussie bassist/vocalist Nicki Parrott, who performed with Les Paul, Paul McCartney and Tommy Emmanuel, among others. Magic happens when Parrott’s irresistible voice pairs with the wizardry of Vignola and Raniolo, bringing their mega-talent trio to First Night. It doesn’t get better than this!
L-R: The British Invasion Years band- (Photo on left) Dave Hall, Jon Wolf, Bobby M and Lee Scott Howard; Phonebooth top to bottom: Bobby M, Lee Scott Howard, Jon Wolf and Dave Hall.
ROCK your way into the New Year with crowd favorite, The British Invasion Years (streaming, on demand). No time machine is needed as the lads take you back to the 1960s, that golden era of classic rock from both sides of the Atlantic. If you love classic 60’s rock, you will thrill to this group’s note-perfect performances of music from The Beatles to The Beach Boys! Individually and collectively, they have performed with Eric Clapton, Bon Jovi, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes – at the Stone Pony, on The Tonight Show and Late Night with David Letterman.
The band formed in 1997 as the Robert Murdock Band, blending classic 60s British and American rock, and committed to researching and performing the most faithful and joyful “covers” of that iconic repertoire. They developed the concept of an exciting, unique concert experience, meticulously recreating all the amazing 60’s hit songs, complete with period accurate outfits and multimedia.
Over the years they have appeared multiple times at First Night Morris County, packing the Mayo Performing Arts Center with standing-room-only crowds and garnering standing ovations! Their programs include chart toppers by iconic British Invasion bands (The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Herman’s Hermits, The Zombies, The Dave Clark Five, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Manfred Mann and others). The American Response followed with the band recreating mega hits by legendary artists like The Monkees, Simon & Garfunkel, The Turtles, Paul Revere & The Raiders, The Beach Boys, The Mamas and The Papas, to name just a few. In 2011, they realized that dream of every British Invasion tribute band: opening for one of the original Beatles, Ringo Starr and his All-Starr Band! They have since shared the stage with other legendary artists such as The Beach Boys, Herman’s Hermits, Leon Russell, connected with a major talent agency, toured and recorded widely. Rock in the New Year with this amazing band!
Part of this year’s program offerings include: Friday Night Film Nights, December 11 and 18 from 7pm (also streamed on December 31 and available on demand through Jan. 3) as well as Yousic Play Montage including clips from 4 jazz artists: Cory Henry, Jesus Molina, Robert Sput Searight and Arturo Sandoval at 5:40-6:25pm on December 31 and on demand through Jan. 3.
Tickets to these wonderful performances will be available through www.firstnightmorris.com/buynow, through the Mayo Performing Arts Center (MPAC) by phone at (973) 539-8008 or at the MPAC Box Office at 100 South Street, Morristown, NJ. Pricing is discounted through December 21st for each of three options:
First Pass (streaming, on demand through Jan. 3) $10 through Dec. 21; $15 afterwards
Souvenir Package: (streaming, on demand through Jan. 3, button and program) $20 through Dec. 21; $25 afterwards
FNMC2021 (streaming, on demand through Jan.3, button, program and 1 live show) $30 through Dec. 21; $35 afterwards