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By Sharon Gillberg, Downtown Akron Partnership

On Monday, Dec. 31, from 6 p.m. – midnight, thousands of revelers enjoyed enjoy entertainment and fun throughout Downtown Akron. 2013 was the 17th year for First Night Akron, a New Year’s Eve event unlike any other. This family-friendly, alcohol-free celebration of the arts included 10 venues filled with more than 80 experiences featuring music, dance, theater, interactive and visual art performances and projects for all ages.

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Each year, the Shoppes at Akron Centre is a fun, friendly, interactive venue that focuses on imaginative play to reveal the child in all of us. Kids of all ages were able to role play with The Illusion Factory’s Cinderhood (a blend of Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood) and experience Weathervane Playhouse interactive series of short plays.  Arts and craft activities included Asian Services in Action’s ‘Year of the Snake’ project, mask making, paper hat creations and juggle art.

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One of First Night’s best loved venues, the John S. Knight Center, hosted a variety of live music including Horns and Things, Yiddishe Cup, Fergie and the Bog Dogs, Howard Street Blues Band, Colin Dussault, the University of Akron’s Steel Drum Band and Summit Songwriters Circle. Revelers enjoyed roaming talent, contact juggling, made their own “drumpets,” (a five-in-one musical instrument) and took a dip with “Mike” a life-sized blue whale in the Air Aquarium.

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Making their debut in front of the John S. Knight Center were 15 sculptures you can expect to see illuminating future events in Downtown Akron. Through a partnership with Downtown Akron Partnership, Time Warner Cable and a First Night Akron button artist, 12 students from the National Inventors Hall of Fame STEM School created sculptural, solar-powered luminaries.

Learners at the school worked after school with artist, 2010 First Night Akron button artist, and art educator Julie Hogarth and her husband, John, to design, develop and craft the luminary sculptures from wire, solar cells, bulbs, pipe, pantyhose, gesso and paint. The sculptures are a whimsical combination of creative design and technical function that can provide white or colored light.

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Summit Artspace and the Akron Art Museum hosted both gallery displays and musical entertainment in their venues.  Summit Artspace’s third floor was open for seven independent studios.  Jazz, rock and blues filled all three floors and were complemented by improv groups, a caricature artist and make and take activities. The Art Museum hosted theater, film and musical performances while celebrating their 90th anniversary with a special exhibition in the Corbin Gallery.

Also bustling with activity was the Akron Summit County Public Library which not only had children’s activities, but experiences for all ages.  More arts projects, a magician, trivia contests, Irish dancing, brass bands, Japanese Taiko drumming, singer-songwriters and guitarists occupied many rooms and levels of this venue.

New to Greystone Hall, a harp workshop allowed children to get up close with real harps, learn about vibrations and try one out.  Theatrical performances from Actors’ Summit Theatre consisted of mini-productions of Broadway numbers from many shows and several company members.  Art Company Orchestra played music from the 1940’s today in another first for this event, a dance hall.

Additional music, art displays, hands-on activities and wedding festivities were found at Zion Lutheran Church, METRO Transit Center, the Akron Civic Theatre and roaming outdoor entertainment all throughout the event area.

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The culmination of the evening was the grand finale leading up to the countdown and midnight fireworks. In yet another first was the collaboration of many voices for the song “Some Nights” by the group FUN. For several weeks members of Gospel Meets Symphony, Akron Derbytown Barbershop Chorus, Gospel Wonders and Summit Songwriter’s Circle practiced a modified version of this song.  With accompaniment by Mame Daiko, Street Beat Drummers, Joey Fox and lead vocals by Ryan Humbert, the entire midnight crowd joined in creating a wonderful community sing-along.  The fireworks display that followed dazzled thousands on Main Street.

2012 concluded on such a high note that we look forward to many great experiences in 2013.

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