First Night Morris County

A Sparkling Lineup for First Night Morris County’s 27th season (December 31, 2018)

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

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 calypsoAlborada 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’sIndian 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.


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’sComedy 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 TalentDavid 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.

Children’s/ Family Programs: Who could resist Dinoman Dinosaurs! with Bob Lisaius’ life size, inflatable dinosaurs? Rizzo’s Reptile Discovery shared livereptiles (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.  



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:

For more information, please visit the First Night® Morris County website at 

Check out our interview at WMTR from December 19, 2018:

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

And Kevin Coughlin, editor of, 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 some PHOTOS taken by Jeff Sovelove for

Enjoy these VIDEOS, courtesy of Jeff Sovelove and Marion Filler for


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 are some additional PHOTOS  from First Night Morris County: 


First Night Morris County keeps its WOW factor for the 26th year (December 31, 2017)

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  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 Stabinsky)HERE 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 ChoomnooriHERE 

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 StoryHERE.

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

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  (and Kevin Coughlin) of



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

And how could anyone resist hearing the soaring, heart-stopping songs of BroadwayA 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, we hope you caught the crystalline voice of award winning singer /songwriter Christine DeLeon. Those who preferred musical satire packed the performances by “the Jon Stewart of Music,” John Forster, a four-time Grammy nominee whose 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.

Love Theater/Comedy?  Crowds 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. Others laughed along  with HypnoMarc’s Comedy Hypnotism persuading some to feel an imaginary heatwave. Laughs also accompanied 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 is 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.


Children’s/ Family Programs: Who could resist Dinoman Dinosaurs! with Bob Lisaius’ life size, inflatable dinosaurs? And Rizzo’s Reptile Discovery shared livereptiles (and other animals) – under the watchful eye of a seasoned animal handler.  Clowns, face painting balloons, and juggling brought extra delight at The Children’s Fun Festival and kids of all ages visited  Transformations Facepainting where each face became a living work of art.  Perennial favorite and skilled circus performer, Mr. Fish  amazed 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 top 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.

December 31, 2016: First Night Morris County celebrated its 25th Anniversary – bigger and better than ever!


Check out the FIRST NIGHT MORRIS PROGRAM HERE and visit for more information, to purchase tickets or to volunteer for the event.

On the Rock/Pop front, Brian LaBlanc’s multi-artist tribute band (which opened for Grammy winners such as Blind Boys of Alabama), features dazzlingly authentic performances of Billy Joel, Neil Diamond, Johnny Cash, John Lennon, and more!  Making big sounds with tiny instruments, the ukulele rock band Cousin Earth not only offers Rock, but also Fusion, Ragtime, Funk, Bluegrass, Hip-Hop and even Electronica.

For Blues/Bluegrass and Modern Country, First Night is the place. Groove with the “real deal” in Blues, R&B (and funk) as Yankee Stadium organist Ed Alstrom’s Quartet features Rob Paparozzi, the Grammy-nominated vocalist/harmonica virtuoso from the original Blues Brothers Band and Blood Sweat & Tearsbands. Another solid pro, jazz singer Maggie Worsdale pays homage to the earthy, innovative Nashville sound of legendary Patsy Cline and, if you prefer traditional Nashville-style bluegrass, check out the tight, soulful harmonies and serious fiddle/guitar and mandolin chops of the Feinberg Brothers – with champion banjo master Terry McGill. If the modern country/folk sound of Alison Krauss and James Taylor is your taste, don’t miss the haunting, clear, pure voice of rising talent, Frances Catherine Ihling.

Clockwise from top Left: Jazz bassist/vocalist Nicki Parrott performing with jazz guitar greats Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo;  Modern troubadour Lara Herscovitch; Mauricio de Souza, Bossa Brasil bandleader;Folk singer/humorist Mike Agranoff;  “The Bishop of Jazz,” pianist Rio Clemente. 

Experience Jazz heaven with the amazing Frank Vignola Trio. One of the top jazz guitarists in the world, Vignola and talented Vinny Raniolo join forces this year with a fellow Les Paul colleague, the irresistible Aussie vocalist/bassist, Nicki Parrott (who has performed with Paul McCartney and Tommy Emmanuel, among others). Mauricio de Souza’s band, Bossa Brasil®, adds a touch of smooth, Brazilian-tinted jazz and, First Night would not be complete without our own sizzling jazz pianist, Rio Clemente (the “Bishop of Jazz”) whose inventive and sparkling improvisations astonish and inspire all. 

Do you like the soaring, heart-stopping songs of Broadway? A Night of Broadway Stars brings the Great White Way to First Night, featuring actual Broadway stars singing unforgettable songs from Broadway productions such as Phantom, Wicked, The Color Purple, Fiddler on the Roof, and Cats.  Who could resist?

If Folk Music is your bag, be sure to catch the “pure musical poetry” of troubadour Lara Herscovitch who’s appeared on the Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor, or check out the witty and sly humor of the Folk Project’s own Mike Agranoff. If your musical tastes are more Electic, break out your kazoo and washboard to jam with the Philadelphia Jug Band or feel the beat with Carol Peña in the Gefyra Participatory Drum Circle.


Clockwise from top Left: Dennis Kobray as Bach/Meet the Musicians;Shuang Guo Wroe,  conductor of  the NJ Festival Orchestra; Laryssa Krupa with Nova Chamber Ensemble ; Solid Brass Lite; Peter Saleh’s Marimba & Percussion Ensemble; and Harmonium Choral Society.

If you prefer Classical Music, First Night offers the artistry of the NJ 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 Harmonium Choral Society. Hear Peter Saleh’s distinctive Marimba & Percussion Ensembleor travel back in time and meet Bach himself with Dennis Kobray’s Meet the Musicians.

Clockwise from top Left:  Random Test Reggae; Eco Del Sur; Afrika Meets India; Nai Ni Chen Dance Company; Taikoza; Kleztraphobix; .

First Night also offers a generous sampling of World Cultures such as the renowned Nai Ni Chen Dance Company, blending traditional and contemporary Chinese dance or Taikoza’s thundering, powerful drumming, folk dance and delicate shakuhachi flute music from Japan. With its pre-colonial instruments, colorful costumes, music and dance, Mexico Beyond Mariachi explores the long cultural history of Mexico while Eco Del Sur performs ancient and contemporary music from multiple Latin American regions on indigenous instruments.  Dance along with the infectious Latin salsa, merengue and tangos of Daniel Herrera’s DREAMS dancers or savor the rich musical blend, performed on tabla, bansuri, mbira and kora by the global fusion ensemble, Afrika Meets India. A hot group with a cool name, the Kleztraphobix blends the traditional and contemporary with its mix of klezmer, Macedonian music and jazz and you can always channel your inner Bob Marley with the lilting, joyous Caribbean sound of that great shore band, Random Test Reggae.


Clockwise from top Left: Comedian Keith Alberstadt; Comedienne Erin Jackson; Shakespeare Theatre of NJ’s comic actors Connor Carew and Patrick Toon; Mr. Fish who will demonstrate his knife throwing and bullwhip skills; and  Mr. Hypno (comedy hypnotist, Stephen Christopher).

Do you love Theater/Comedy?  Laugh your way into the New Year with exceptional Comedians Keith Alberstadt (featured on late night shows with David Letterman, Jimmy Fallon Seth Meyers and appearances on SNL), and Erin Jackson (seen on Last Comic Standing, Ellen DeGeneres, Comedy Central and Standup in Stilettos). Not to be outdone, the Bard also provides laughter as Connor Carew and Patrick Toon of the Shakespeare Theatre of NJ present the Abbott & Costello classic skit, “Who’s on First?” – but in Elizabethan English: Who Doth Inhabit the Primary Position?!


L-R:  Johnny Peers & the Muttville Comix; Storyteller Julie Pasqual; Flea Circus Ringmaster  George Esparza.

Laugh along with Mr. Hypno’s humor and hypnotism which can make people lose the number 6 or have an urge to ballet dance. Ringling Brothers grad Johnny Peers and the Muttville Comix (and 18 “rescue” dogs) combine the circus with slapstick humor. Picture a Bassett Hound on a skateboard! Dish the political dirt on first ladies with Maggie Worsdale’s First Ladies According to Martha Washington and join the enchantment cast by Storyteller extraordinaire, Julie Pasqual.  Check out street performer and flim-flam man, George Esparza who presents his suitcase Flea Circus & Wahoo Medicine Show.



Clockwise from top Left: Alborada Spanish Dance Theater; Latin dance with D.R.E.A.M.S. Dancer; NJ Tap Ensemble Soloists  Jeffry Foote and Maurice Chestnut; Nai Ni Chen Dance Company; Aztec dances performed by Mexico Beyond Mariachi.

When it comes to Dance, First Nighters can savor the fancy footwork and dazzling routines of NJ Tap Ensemble soloists Maurice Chestnut (who danced with Savion Glover) and Morristown’s own Jeffry Foote or sample the swirling costumes and fiery flamenco dancers of the Alborada Spanish Dance Theatre.  Love salsa, tango and merengue? Try your hand at Latin dance with Daniel Herrera’s DREAMS dancers, and enjoy dances from Aztec times to the present day with Mexico Beyond Mariachi. The award-winning Nai Ni Chen Dance Company highlights ancient and contemporary Chinese Dance in all its power, elegance and grace.

Clockwise from top Left: Illusionist Benjamin Lipman; Facepainting by Gina Velazquez at Children’s Fun Festival; Rizzo of Rizzo’s Reptile Discover, with frog friend; Creative Caravan’s Tiny Book Workshop; Keith Leaf, light up juggler; Art 4 Kids with Christine Wagner .

For Children’s Programs: Kids of all ages love Illusionist Benjamin Lipman’s Comedy Cascade with its magic and humor as well as Rizzo’s Reptile Discovery which shares the excitement and wonder of live reptiles (under the watchful eye of a seasoned animal handler). Perennial favorite and skilled circus performer, Mr. Fish will be back to amaze audiences with his knife throwing and bullwhip skills!

L-R: Hula hooping with Whirled Revolution; Fun with LEGOs; Clowns “Glitter” and “Juggles,)  at the Children’s Fun Festival.

The Early Session for younger children (4:45-6:45pm) includes hula hooping with Whirled Revolution, art making  activities with artist Christine Wagner’s Art 4 Kids and  the always popular Fun with LEGOs®. New to this year’s early session is the highly acclaimed Nai Ni Chen Dance Company, whose dazzling costumes and inventive choreography showcase traditional and contemporary Chinese dance – and the Creative Caravan’s Tiny Book Workshop where participants can create their own unique tiny books. Additionally, both early and regular sessions will feature the Children’s Fun Festival, with a lively mix of magic, juggling, balloons, facepainting, kazoos and even an organ grinder!


 Clockwise from top Left: Artworks at the ATRIUM GALLERY: Doug DePice’s oil, Rembrandt; Raymond Sigicinano’s oil, Mare, Sean Carney’s carved wood portrayal of the Lambertville Train Station; at ART UPSTAIRS, Medy Bozkurtian’s The Rolling Hills of Tuscany; At the STARLIGHT GALLERY, Nina Nemeth’s collage, All Things Illuminated; at the ATRIUM GALLERY,  Nicholas Gammarello’s oil, Eric Clapton with Black Beauty.

Three Visual Arts exhibits (displaying over 300 artworks) and two sets of fireworks top 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 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.



2fnm_logo-2016-orange-Buy-Now-MA-Logo4 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,