First Night: New Year's Eve festivities honor arts and the Winter Classic

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Sports and arts will share the spotlight at this year's First Night Pittsburgh celebration. In honor of the NHL Winter Classic on Saturday at Heinz Field, some of the approximately 150 events taking place at more than 40 locations throughout the Downtown Cultural District will be iced with a hockey theme.

"Keeping in mind that it's still an arts event, we wanted to recognize that we'll have a lot of sports fans in town and we want to welcome them," said director Kathryn J. Heidemann earlier this month at a press conference at the Trust Arts Education Center, Downtown.

Live ice carving shows, hockey-inspired art exhibits and African penguins from the National Aviary will greet the approximately 30,000 out-of-towners the NHL is expecting to descend upon Pittsburgh this weekend, she said.

"We're anticipating record crowds with lots of feet on the street to make this the best First Night ever," said board chair Kenneth McCrory. On an average year, First Night typically attracts about 35,000 people.

The First Niagara First Night parade will boast a classic winter wonderland theme, including large penguin puppets and an appearance by the Penguins' mascot, Iceburgh.

"All in all, there's something for everybody, both children and adults alike," Ms. Heidemann said.

But hockey is not the only highlight. R&B soul band Tower of Power will bring a mix of jazz, funk and rock to the Highmark stage, and Tia Fuller, saxophonist for Beyonce, will show off her talents at the First Night jazz club.

Nicoletta Giacchino, a senior from Franklin Regional High School, won the Equitable Gas Sing-Off competition and will open for Squonk Opera at the Byham Theater. The contest invited regional students in grades six through 12 to submit brief videos via YouTube of them singing songs related to New Year's. In addition to performing during First Night, winners will receive free passes to the night's festivities and the chance to meet a cappella group Straight No Chaser.

First Night also will include many returning favorites, such as a sampling of visual and performing arts shows, hands-on activities at the family tent and two fireworks displays.

"We always mix it up between new and repeat programming," Ms. Heidemann said.

The midnight countdown and the raising of "The Future of Pittsburgh" ball on Penn Avenue will wrap up the night.

"The No 1. message for First Night is that the arts can be fun," said Kevin McMahon, Pittsburgh Cultural Trust president and CEO. "There is something in the arts for everyone."

This is the 16th year for the family-friendly, alcohol-free event in Pittsburgh and the eighth year the Cultural Trust has organized it. Highmark is the event's lead sponsor.

Events are opened to those wearing all-access buttons, which are available for $8 in advance at participating Giant Eagle locations, the Box Office at Theater Square or by calling 412-456-6666. Buttons are $10 at First Night Pittsburgh. Admission is free for children 5 and under.

Some events require special vouchers, which will be available for free at the Theater Square box office with presentation of a First Night Pittsburgh button.

For more information, visit www.firstnightpgh.org. To receive First Night Pittsburgh news updates and special offers, text FIRSTNIGHT to SMASH (76274). To participate in the First Night Pittsburgh Twitter treasure hunt for a chance to win prizes, visit twitter.com/culturaltrust.


Sara Bauknecht: sbauknecht@post-gazette.com . First Published December 30, 2010 5:00 AM


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