After a one-year hiatus, Warrenton will celebrate First Night again this year. The event is being organized by the Bluemont Concert Series, which began the family-friendly, alcohol-free event in the Fauquier County seat in 1993 and then turned it over to a local group.
Last year, First Night Warrenton was canceled two weeks before the event because its organizers, the Warrenton Foundation, would not agree to an audit required by the town. Although there wasn't time to find someone else to organize the dozens of artists, musicians and vendors who participate, Bluemont immediately contacted Warrenton Mayor George B. Fitch and offered to begin planning First Night Warrenton for the eve of 2005.
"I didn't want to see the program just die because of organizational missteps," said Peter Dunning, 61, president of the Bluemont Concert Series, a nonprofit group that organizes a summer concert series and musical performances in Loudoun schools and other venues. "I was sorry not to be involved in the years we weren't."
Dunning said that resurrecting the event after the lull last year was challenging because Bluemont had to re-create the volunteer networks to run the event as well as build up a nest egg to defray losses in case of bad weather. But Bluemont's long history with First Night Warrenton has helped, he said.
"It's not as if we're walking in here brand-new," said Dunning, who estimated that the budget for the event would be $14,000 to $16,000, 70 percent of which pays performers, who could include storytellers, magicians, puppeteers, dancers and bands playing everything from rock-and-roll to jazz.
Dunning said that First Night events complement the overall mission of the Bluemont Concert Series by bringing local residents high-quality performances at an affordable price. The group was founded in the 1970s and is now based in Leesburg, where it began organizing that town's First Night celebrations in 1986.
"We're delighted we are having an opportunity to celebrate New Year's again," said Kenneth L. McLawhon, Warrenton's town manager. "A number of citizens commented that they missed having it."
McLawhon said that in addition to entertaining residents, First Night draws visitors from surrounding areas into town for the evening or the entire weekend. "It's an outstanding opportunity to showcase our wonderful community," he said.
First Night Warrenton will take place in the historic Old Town, which will be closed about 5 p.m. Dec. 31. Festivities will take place in about 10 locations, such as government offices, churches and banks. Each site will have two performers who alternate on the hour until close to midnight. Dunning said a list of performers and venues will be released Nov. 29.
Leesburg's First Night is expected to be about twice as large as Warrenton's. It has a $30,000 budget and involves about 20 locations within the historic district, and a shuttle bus helps revelers get around town. Loudoun County and the Town of Leesburg each contributed about $2,500 to the event.
In both towns, First Night will culminate with a "grand illumination" at their respective courthouses. At 11:45, people will be asked to gather at the courthouse lawn, and candles will be distributed for lighting as the clock rings in the new year.
Bluemont is looking for volunteers, sponsors and performers for both the Leesburg and Warrenton events.
In Leesburg, volunteers should contact Nancy Fixx at 703-771-2707 or email@example.com; Lily Dunning at 703-777-6306; or firstname.lastname@example.org. Donors can call Amy Cross-Monroe at 703-669-1650; Melissa Dunning at 703-777-6306; or e-mail Melissa@bluemont.org. Artists and performers, especially those from Loudoun County and Loudoun schools, are asked to contact the celebration's entertainment committee by mail at First Night Leesburg, PO Box 203, Leesburg, Va. 20178; by phone at 703-777-6306; or by e-mail at email@example.com.
In Warrenton, volunteers should call Andrew Hushour at 540-347-2405 or Lily Dunning at 703-777-6306. Artists and performers should write to Entertainment Committee, First Night Warrenton, PO Box 608, Warrenton, Va. 20188; call 540-347-2405 or 703- 777-6306; or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.