First Night Northampton

New Year’s Eve fell on a  Monday night this year. I wanted to bring productivity vibes into the New Year so I  got my butt out of bed on time and put in my Creative Blazer hours. By 3:30pm I was ready for holiday festivities. I wanted a no planning necessary night that was mostly rocking out but could end with me cross-legged on the sofa watching the ball drop in Times Square and sipping decaf black tea.

Northampton First Night provided the perfect answer to my New Years Eve wishlist.

An all day and night event with up to 17 performances to choose from at a time, First Night has something for all ages all day long. In the early afternoon you can catch performances from SHOW Circus Studio (trapeze? Yes, please!) or Henry the Juggler, and then play vintage arcade games for free. Then you can catch an  Americana band, holiday songs sung by a choir or Taiko Japanese drumming. Coding trumped waissaling for us this year, but the selection gives parents with kids on Winter Break plenty to do during the day.

Thornes Marketplace gives out free hot cider and coffee, and Herrell’s ice cream has hot chocolate made with milk, soy, or almond (classic Northampton) available to grab all the way until midnight!

Fireworks happen early in Northampton, 6:15pm, so that families can enjoy them and then head home for a kid-friendly bedtime.

But that doesn’t mean the New Year arrives without heralding. At 11:30pm the dispersed music programs finish up and people gather on the street outside Hotel Northampton. At midnight Northampton has its very own countdown as spectators watch the ball rise from atop the iconic hotel. After the cheering and kissing, the DJs keep spinning a mix of upbeat hits and salsa music so everybody can keep dancing their way into the New Year.

Music Performances

Choosing which musical performances to see was hard with so many options, but here are the top 2 groups who brought us the most musical happiness at First Night.


From the sidewalk, we could see the band Klezamir playing through the panel glass wall of Edwards Church. The pews were packed and folks were dancing in the back.

The clarinet trilled alongside the singer with Yiddish on her tongue. The flute, acoustic guitar, and drums filled out the Eastern European Jewish melodies. They played classics I sang along to like Tumbalalaika and Mayn Elterns Farganign (My Parents Pleasure), and so many more that had me wriggling in place with a wild smile plastered on my face.

Strangers clasped hands and formed a dance line, grapevining through the aisles. A liver-spotted hand holding a tiny, sticky hand. A bright green curly head following a crew cut. A young mom holding her 6 year old’s hand in front of her and with her other arm carrying her little girl who was wearing the brightest yellow tights. Behind them, the man with blond hair down to his hips keeping the chain unbroken by gently holding the little girl’s elbow.

Klezamir was a joyous way to start the night! Check out their music on their website:

Woke Afrobeat Funk

Shokazoba describe themselves on their website as “a nine-piece horn-driven funk powerhouse!” Their blaring horns and hot hand percussion create fire that’s only matched by the lead singer’s voice and their songs’ conscious-awakening messages.

The World War II Club was filled with chairs but had a large space where a few people started dancing. Then a few more. Quickly the space filled up like a packed high school dance floor with people of all ages and sizes and with a palpable fluidity of gender. The person with the long chiseled face, perfect makeup and a ponytail down his back. The septuagenarian in black jeans, a black t-shirt and a delicate, pink-metallic scarf tied around his waist. He was doing the kind of dance I’ve seen at trance dance sessions – moving equally to the music and to the intuitive motions of his own body. Bird-like and thoughtful. Deeply inside his own body and flow, but at the same time part of the moving crowd and vibrating music.

Riley said we should go dance and I felt shy, but I watched this man dancing with no self-consciousness, moving the ends of his scarf over his arms like a flowing wing and feeling the fabric on his skin.

And I thought, in this space, I can get up and dance. Here I can shake off the self-consciousness that has crusted over my spontaneity of late and brush away my shyness with these people who are welcoming the New Year with joy and abandon and community. So we got up and I moved in ways I haven’t moved in a long time. I wasn’t trying to look a certain way, I was just moving the way my body wanted to – stretching, jumping, bouncing, swinging my hips around, and blending in with the crowd of people doing the exact same thing.

Have a dance party at your house! Listen to Shokazoba on Bandcamp here.

Ye Shall Not Pass (without a First Night button)

To gain entrance to all the fun and festivities, you needed to purchase a First Night button, which acted as a full access pass. Pre-purchased buttons cost $16 and were available to purchase online or at one of many locations around the Pioneer Valley.

Alternatively, $20 buttons could be purchased at several venues around Northampton any time during First Night.

Volunteers were stationed at the entrance for each performance to visually spot buttons as people shuffled in.

Performances were 45 minutes each with 15 minutes between to walk to the next one, or grab another hot chocolate.

Parking and Getting Around

For First Night, all the municipal parking lots near the downtown area were free (minus 1 right downtown), the street meters were set to free, and Smith College’s lot was free and open to the public. A free PVTA bus also shuttled revelers around town, which was extra appreciated since the rain varied from ambient dampness to big, fat drops coming down hard and fast.

I’m Hungry! Where’s Dinner?

Northampton has so many delicious food options! I’ll write about more in another article down the line, but I highly recommend Sam’s Pizzeria and Cafe at 235 Main St, right on the Northampton main drag.

Me being me, I picked the weirdest looking slice even though I didn’t quite hear its description. Let me introduce you to the dirty rice, buffalo chicken, and sour cream drizzled pizza slice. All melted onto typical red pizza sauce and mozzarella cheese. It was amazing! Then, the regular cheese slice was one of the best I’ve had in years. Perfect balance of cheese, a light, flavorful sauce and toothsome crust. The BBQ chicken pizza with roasted onions was also good, but Riley liked it better which was good because it was the one that he ordered. We scarfed it all down at a shared table because the place was packed.

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