First Night For Music

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

As the year draws to a close once more, you may be finding yourself wondering what to do on New Year’s Eve.  If you are looking for an affordable, no-alcohol, family-friendly event then a visit to this year’s First Night Monterey celebration may just fit the bill.

First Night Monterey is a non-profit organization with a mission to bring families together and unite our community in all its diversity through the visual and performing arts. It is one of 225 First Night celebrations that will be taking place across the United States and Canada.  Almost 1000 artists and performers will be appearing in 50 venues throughout the city, and one button gets you in to as many events as you like.  There will also be food vendors in case you get hungry, and places to buy souvenir T-shirts, sweatshirts etc.

Fans of live music are especially well catered to at First Night, and this year’s celebration sees some new acts as well as some old favorites taking the stage.  The Serra Ballroom at the Monterey Conference Center has plenty of room for dancing, and you’ll need it this year.  In the afternoon you can hear the Cajun/Zydeco sounds of the Cachagua Playboys, then in the early evening rip it up with Salinas’ very own Chicano All-Stars.  It’s a first ever appearance for the band and bandleader Sam Martinez is excited about the prospect of playing.  “I promise you, it’ll be great,” he said.   The evening closes in the Serra Ballroom with Brazilian music and dance group Batacuda Nana.

Other large stages include the Safeway Main Stage at Custom House Plaza, which plays host to Taiko Drumming in the afternoon, reggae/hip-hop newcomers The Unknown Jeromes in the afternoon and local favorites Red Beans and Rice in the evening.  At 11:00 pm, everyone will gather here too for the Grand Finale featuring special surprise guests.

Over at the Colton Hall Lawn they’ve got the blues this year, with The Blue Tones taking the early evening slot followed by the Broadway Blues Band featuring local legend John “Broadway” Tucker.

If you prefer acoustic music then you’ll find plenty to please you over at the Conference Center’s Ferrante Room and Steinbeck Forum.  In the Ferrante Room you can hear the folk/rock crossover music of Jana Heller, followed by a tribute to John Denver performed by Jim and Anne Curry.  The Steinbeck Forum has performances by bluegrass band Homefire and Celtic music from the Black Irish Band.

Monterey is well known for jazz, and you can hear Kenny Stahl at San Carlos Sanctuary and the Dixie Half Dozen at the Church of Religious Science, among others.

Tastes in Classical and Opera are also catered to by the Monterey Symphony Brass Quintet at MIIS Irving Hall,  Wildflower String Trio at the Museum of Art and Montage Opera at the Church of Religious Science. 

There are many more singers, bands and ensembles appearing than could possibly be listed here, but one thing’s for certain.  If you’re looking for music to suit your tastes, you’ll find it at First Night Monterey.

First published in "411", The Salinas Californian, December 25, 2003

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