An interview with Emily Guthrie, Board member since 1992 and current vice president
"First Night Evanston (FNE) began in December of 1992 after the idea was brought here by Anny Heydemann who attended one in Boston with her son and his family. She took the idea to Joe Zendell, staff person for the City of Evanston Arts Council. He found funding from the Illinois Arts Council, the City of Evanston, Northwestern University, the Evanston Arts Council, Downtown Evanston and many other local businesses and organizations.
The first event was held on the eve of 1993 and drew several thousand people. Eventually First Night Evanston took place on several blocks between Emerson and Lake streets to the north and south and between Hinman and Ridge Avenues to the east and west. Churches, businesses, and other downtown spaces opened their lobbies to the celebration, and at 10 minutes to midnight, people would go down to the Lakefront for fireworks, according to Guthrie.
To celebrate the millennium in 2000, over 15,000 people from 70+ zip codes joined in the daylong events. Evanston's was one of the largest New Year Eve’s events in the US with a budget of over $250,000. There were over 100 acts at more than 40 locations, all located in or near the downtown, with 500 volunteers helping staff the sites.
Then, in 2007, with the economic downturn, things got rocky. Many First Nights across the country and in Illinois had difficulty in getting funding. A lot of them closed shop. First Night Evanston found itself in the same position. In October 2007, the organization disbanded. All bills were paid, the corporation formally dissolved, and the 501c3 status abandoned.
As 2013 approached and planning began for the 150th anniversary of Evanston’s incorporation in 1863, several former First Night board members discussed bringing back the event to cap off the year following all the many other events taking place (nearly one a day). The organization re-incorporated with the State of Illinois and renewed the 501c3 status. A core group of roughly 20 people met once a month and were aided by another 60, all volunteers. Funds were raised from dozens of local businesses, the City of Evanston and through sales of "Evanstonopoly," an Evanston-themed Monopoly game.
So, on December 31st, 2013, despite 6” of snow falling by 6 p.m., over 3,000 people attended the renewed First Night Evanston. That year there were 30 musical and theatrical performances, a poetry slam, and afternoon events for children. Headliners included Grammy Award-winning harmonicist Howard Levy, folk and blues singer Corky Siegel, jazz guitarist Bobby Broom and bluegrass singer James King. The Nairobi Girls Choir was a last minute and very welcome addition when one of the artists fell ill. Festivities for children began at 1 p.m. with crafts, storytelling, music, and a flea circus with Professor Marvel Michael Kett.
"We knew we had support from local businesses, the hosting institutions, contributors and volunteers, but we didn't realize how big our audience would be. The community response was overwhelmingly positive," said President Anny Heydemann, the original founder.
First Night Evanston continues to bring together first-class talent, both national and local. The group’s goal is to provide a distinctive cultural event that offers entertainment for all ages. First Night wants to ensure families in Evanston and surrounding communities that they can fully enjoy themselves on New Year's Eve, taking part in all of the sights and sounds and at a reasonable price. Music ranges from bluegrass to Caribbean to jazz to opera. Magicians, poetry slams, and comedy, along with ballroom, folk, square and line dancing, also draw large audiences. Kids have their own events and activities to enjoy.
Since then, First Night Evanston has continued to bring together first-class talent, both national and local. The 2020 event was creatively engineered as a virtual event because of the pandemic and the lockdown. First Night hosted an intimate concert featuring Corky Siegel and friends. Admission was free and enough donations were made to fully compensate the performers. This year plans include a 2-hour variety show hosted by Corky Siegel with as many as 18 performers and groups.
Now we are encouraging folks to contribute to help fund the 12/31/21 event so that we can offer it for free. Our box office will open after December 1 so you can make a reservation with a suggested contribution of $35 (but with no minimum) . That way people can pay what they feel they can afford.
WHAT WE DO
First Night Evanston is a family-friendly community Celebration of the Arts taking place on New Year's Eve since 1992.
This year because of Covid 19, First Night will be hosting a virtual variety show celebration.
You can stay safe at home and still celebrate with Corky Siegel and all the performers we are lining up for our "Virtual Variety" show livestreamed on Mandolin.com.
First Night Evanston is a 501c3 non-profit Illinois corporation that relies on the generosity of local businesses, civic associations and individuals to keep this annual tradition alive.
First Night Evanston strives to make the event accessible, welcoming, and affordable.
Thanks to Romano Wealth, Byline Bank (formerly First Bank and Trust), Northwestern University, Kiwanis Club, Hecky’s, Chicago Blues Guide, and members of the congregations at local churches for their continued support.
Contributions from our loyal audience will compensate the performers and help us build a reserve for next year's live event on 12/31/22.
Our "Virtual Variety" show takes place on New Year's Eve, 12/31/2021, starting at 9:45 pm CST.
Corky Siegel will emcee the "Virtual Variety" streamed concert and will also perform a personal version of Auld Lang Syne with a countdown to midnight so we can virtually ring in the new year together.
Hooray for 2022--a new, NEW year for all of us.
Comment or Questions?
1003 Dobson, Evanston 60202
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