A new type of celebration in Louisville could become a new holiday tradition for your family.
Lou Year’s Eve, an indoor-outdoor event that will be held downtown on December 31, may be especially appealing to families with children because it will be a kid-friendly party featuring games, crafts and storytelling as well as music, magicians and museums.
The event also should appeal to fans of Louisville’s performing and visual arts. Highlights of Lou Year’s Eve will include performances by several community arts groups, such as the Louisville Ballet and Actors Theatre of Louisville. There’ll be an appearance by Louisville native and “The Voice” contestant Dave Moisan, and local muralist Braylyn Resko Stewart will create a series of interactive art pieces along with event attendees.
Lou Year’s Eve will fill “a major gap in the landscape of our News Year’s Eve events,” says Lucy Dalton, founder and co-director. “It’s a family-friendly arts and culture event that has many aspects.”
Overall, there will be 40 performances and activities at 15 different venues and museums on West Main Street. Mayor Greg Fischer says the event will be a “wonderful way to bring the community together around our arts.”
It’s also an event that could appeal to everyone who maybe spent too much on holiday gifts and wants to save a little money on their end-of-the-year celebration. Many of the West Main and Main Stage activities will be free. Lou Year’s Eve tickets, which will get guests into all of the bigger, inside festivities, cost $8 (in advance) or less per person.
Celebration Starts Early
Lou Year’s Eve will officially start at 2 p.m. on West Main between Fourth and Ninth streets, which will be closed to traffic.
Children’s activities will be offered at several museums on Museum Row between Seventh and Ninth streets: The KMAC Museum, the Frazier History Museum, the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, the Kentucky Science Center and the lobby of 21c Museum Hotel. The activities will include a scavenger hunt, hands-on art projects, caricatures, face-painting, magicians, puppet shows and balloon-making.
When these activities end at 5 p.m., the Louisville Lions Dance Team will lead a People’s Procession, which Dalton describes as “a very organic kind of parade” because it will include anyone who wants to join. The procession will march down West Main from Ninth to Fifth Street, stopping at the Main Stage, which will be located in front of The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts.
At 6 p.m., the stage will host a concert by country-rock-blues band Wildwood, which will be followed by DJ Glenn Smith and other local musicians. An adult beverage garden also will open at 6.
Other evening highlights will include performances by Small Time Napoleon and Kentucky Shakespeare as well as poetry readings and improv shows. Local food trucks will participate too, and several area restaurants will offer Lou Year’s Eve specials.
The finale of the festivities will involve a countdown to midnight and the “bourbon jazz” band Billy Goat Strut Revue playing “Auld Lang Syne” on the Main Stage. The finale also will feature the raising of Kentucky’s largest disco ball.
the ville’s Version of First Night
Family-friendly New Year’s celebrations with a focus on the arts date back at least to the first time Boston held a “First Night” on December 31, 1975. This event was organized by a group of artists who wanted to downplay the emphasis on alcohol common at other parties.
The First Night idea spread to surrounding communities, and by the 1990s, First Night Boston was attracting more than 1,000 artists and half a million attendees. The idea also spread to other cities – at least 55 in the U.S. and Canada, according to a December 26, 1990, article in The New York Times.
“From Boston to Calgary to Honolulu,” the article said, “more than a million Americans and Canadians are expected on New Year’s Eve to ring out the traditional celebration of booze, noisemakers and hangovers and ring in Mozart, ballet performances and a wide selection of popular entertainment from rock ‘n’ roll to reggae to hula dancing.”
By the turn of the century, more than 200 cities were hosting First Night celebrations, and for the past several years, Dalton and the other Lou Year’s Eve co-director, Debra DeLor, have visited many of the events around the country.
Dalton and DeLor also have founded Arts and Cultural Events, Inc. (ACE), a nonprofit foundation with the mission of producing “quality events that highlight the work of Louisville’s most imaginative and celebrated artists in an effort to enrich our community and inspire greater love for the visual and performing arts.”
Lou Year’s Eve is the foundation’s first project. The co-directors have been getting help from the organizers of the St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Raleigh First Night celebrations.
Dalton first had the idea for a First Night in River City when she attended Boston’s event about 20 years ago. She remembers thinking, “We need that. We need that right here in Louisville.”
Since then, she has pitched the idea to various city officials, including previous mayors, but she was always told that the time wasn’t right for Louisville to kick off another big community event.
Mayor Fischer was skeptical too when she first talked to him about it four years ago. The nation was still recovering from the recession, and the mayor thought a project on the scale of Lou Year’s Eve might be too ambitious, but Dalton kept pursuing the idea, and Fischer now praises her persistence.
“Usually, when someone tells me they have a great idea, I never hear from them again,” he says. “Hardly ever does a citizen come up with a great idea and then have the gumption and fortitude and team-building ability and fundraising ability to go out and make a dream like this come true.”
The mayor also notes that Dalton has pursued the idea not for herself but “for the citizens of Louisville, asking nothing in return other than wanting to throw a celebration for our community. This is an extraordinary act of citizenship.”
Creating a Memorable Community Event
According to the organizers, Lou Year’s Eve will be not only “the grand finale of Louisville’s holiday celebration” but also a “memorable, legacy event for the city.”
Dalton has tried to involve as many artists and arts organizations as possible. “The talent we have in Louisville is incredible,” she says, “and we are unleashing just a little bit of it. We’re bringing it to the streets where everyone can enjoy it.”
Kim Baker, president and CEO of The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts as well as the incoming chair of the Arts and Cultural Alliance, says she is “delighted that our great city will have the opportunity to showcase its authentic and world class art and culture on the most celebrated day of the year.”
“The city’s arts and culture vibrancy is key to its success,” Baker adds. “Arts and culture support education, economic development, talent attraction and compassion — all of which contribute to a thriving quality of life and economy, and of course, there’s nothing like the arts to bring people together and build bridges of understanding in our community. It will bring us together to ring in the new year.”
Fischer adds that “we’ve got a lot of momentum in our city right now” and Lou Year’s Eve will unite people “around our resurging Main Street in our resurging downtown in our resurging city.”
Many of the city’s businesses have signed up to support the event. Official sponsors include Hilliard Lyons; Commonwealth Bank & Trust; Old 502 Winery; Highland Cleaners; Deco Paper Products; the Gheens Foundation; Axxis, Inc.; Goodwood Brewing; Tilford, Dobbins & Schmidt, PLLC; Doe-Anderson; and the Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Lou Year’s Eve tickets for adults cost $8 in advance and $10 on the day of the event. Tickets for children ages 6 to 12 cost $5. Admission for children 5 and under is free. A very limited number of VIP tickets are available for $175 each. They include entrance to SCENE, the new restaurant in The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts, which will overlook the Main Street activities and offer a cash bar as well as complimentary hors d’oeuvres prepared by Bristol Catering.
You can buy tickets and get an event schedule, map and parking information at louyearseve.com. You also may want to follow @louyearseve on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.
Another way to join the celebration is to volunteer your time to help make sure the first Lou Year’s Eve is a success. Volunteer shifts will last two hours, and you’ll get such perks as complimentary tickets for your friends and family. Tasks for volunteers include event set up, venue check-in, working registration booths, and being on the clean-up crew. For more information, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Will Lou Year’s Eve join Louisville’s list of popular community celebrations – the list of memorable, legacy events that includes the St. James Court Art Show, the Humana Festival of New American Plays, the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, the Forecastle Festival and the Kentucky Derby Festival?
Time will tell. But if you’re looking for a fun way to celebrate not only the arrival of 2017 but also our community’s culture and spirit, then there’s a good chance that attending the first Lou Year’s Eve will be time well spent. VT