First Night 2005

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

Salinas-based Latin rockers the Chicano All-Stars are back as the headline band at this year’s First Night Monterey celebration.  They will be playing in the early evening at the Serra ballroom in the Monterey Conference Centre, then later in the Finale on the Custom House Plaza Main Stage to a crowd of over 20,000 revelers.  “We’re really looking forward to it,” said band leader Sam Martinez in a recent interview, “To stand on that main stage and just feel the spirit of those 20,000 people in the crowd is just incredible.”

For those unfamiliar with the First Night concept, the event is organized each year “to bring families together and unite our community in all its diversity through the visual and performing arts.”  Taking its lead from the original event hosted in Boston in 1976, First Night Monterey is a family-friendly event, and no alcohol is served at any of the performance venues.  Many of the artists taking part are from the local community; others come from the Bay Area and beyond.  The price of an admission button gains you access to over 30 venues throughout the city of Monterey.

The Conference Center at Portola Plaza is the main Button Venue, and it will be buzzing all day with a wide variety of entertainment to choose from.  In the afternoon, Richard Meyer and Farrell Dillon will present their Grand Illusion Magic Show, including spectacular magic tricks such as Levitation and Sawing the Woman in Half.  There’s audience participation fun for the kids too, with top children’s entertainers Mary Lee Sunseri and Juan L. Sanchez.

In the early evening, as well as the Chicano All-Stars, you can hear acoustic folk-rock by Jana Heller and see world dance from Danzas Aditi.  Later in the evening, enjoy hip-hop by MC Lars, Brazilian drumming and dancing by Batucada Nana or infectious Zimbabwean dance grooves courtesy of Sadza, a Santa Cruz based band that received a standing ovation at a recent performance at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. 

The Conference Center will also be hosting a variety of visual arts projects, including The Tree of Peace, an interactive art project,  and 3-D assemblage art by Ray Magsalay.  This year’s centerpiece , focusing on the “Midnight Impressions” theme of the event, is titled “An Open Studio with Henri Matisse. “ This installation will let you walk into Matisse’s studio on this, the 135th anniversary of his birth,  and meet the man himself, played by Salinas actor Tim Hart.

Elsewhere in the city, you can find world dance performances on Alvarado Street by the Monterey Bay Lion Dance Team, Ka Pa Hula O’ Maluhia and Ayotochtli Aztec Dance Group.  Monterey’s favorite blues band, Red Beans and Rice will be tearing it up at the Colton Hall Lawn stage.  Also definitely worth a visit is the newly refurbished Golden State Theatre on Alvarado Street, which will celebrate its re-opening at First Night with classic movies in the afternoon, then jazz from Along Came Betty and Celtic mayhem from the Black Irish Band in the evening.

There is really way too much happening at First Night Monterey to list here.  Best thing to do is buy a button and experience it for yourself!

First published in "411", The Salinas Californian, December 30, 2004

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