Vt. Arts Organization Offers At-Home Version of ‘First Night North' Tradition

The special from Catamount Arts is one way audiences can ring in the new year while following public health guidelines around gatherings

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With public health officials continuing to urge Vermonters to avoid large gatherings to reduce the spread of COVID-19, a Northeast Kingdom organization is stepping up to provide an at-home arts experience on New Year's Eve.

Catamount Arts in St. Johnsbury is turning First Night North, a tradition since 1993, into an eight-hour, at-home special this year, from 4 p.m. to midnight. Featuring original performances and some from the archives, the family-friendly celebration will air on local cable access channels throughout Vermont and will stream online.

If it weren't for the pandemic, folks would be enjoying the shows in-person at scattered sites around St. Jay.

"It's got its own charm," Molly Stone, the artistic director of Catamount Arts, said of the at-home version of First Night North. "First of all, you don't have to go outside."

The non-profit said in an interview with NECN and NBC10 Boston Tuesday that its mission to bring the arts to its neighbors wasn't going to stop because of COVID-19—adding each and every artist participating in the at-home celebration is being paid.

Stone said providing those paychecks is important to Catamount Arts, after so many performers' traditional gigs were canceled during the pandemic.

"There's so much stuff we didn't do this year already, that not doing this would've been tragic," Stone said of First Night North.

The offering is the kind of activity state leaders are encouraging folks to consider for New Year's Eve, perhaps pairing it with takeout from a local restaurant to cut down the size of typical parties.

Ideally, people celebrating will keep get-togethers to just their own households or maybe one other they trust, the Vermont Department of Health said, to slash the chances of the virus spreading.

"Reduce your risk of exposure, consider getting a test following any get-togethers," Dr. Mark Levine, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Health, advised Tuesday. "Make sure if you are in the older age group or with chronic diseases, you avoid having such multi-household gatherings. Keep in mind this simple guidance: 'masks on faces, 6-foot spaces, uncrowded places.'"

Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, noted the toll the pandemic has taken on Vermonters after almost 10 months, but asked them to stay vigilant going into the start of 2021.

"I know how frustrating it is to still be facing restrictions, having to be thinking about your every move, and having to be extra cautious," Scott said. "But we know these steps are the best way to help limit the spread of the virus while we wait for more vaccines and can get the majority of Vermonters vaccinated."

The team behind First Night North said it is eager to give audiences something that feels somewhat familiar—after a year that's been anything but.

"It's going to be great for this year, but we're not going to do this next year—hopefully," Stone said, noting next year she wants the event to feature in-person performances again. "We need to have that back."

Stone said the First Night North presentation will be available on Comcast Cable channel 1070, on Spectrum Cable channel 192, online and on more than 20 other community access TV channels around the state.

While Christmas vacation week tends to be one of the busiest for Vermont's ski areas, operations look very different this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
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