Back in 1994, relatively few U.S. cities staged big public art-focused New Year’s Eve festivals; the best known among them was Boston. Pittsburgh joined the list that year with its very first First Night, and it’s become a tradition. The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust event marks its 25th anniversary Tuesday.
The evening-length Pittsburgh Cultural Trust festival — yes, it's technically on the last night of the old year — features more than 100 family-friendly performances, exhibits and activities, including live music, dance, theater, comedy and visual art.
The alcohol-free event also features magic acts, acrobats, fire performers, live ice-sculpting, the big community parade down Penn Avenue, kids' activities, and a countdown to midnight with fireworks. Other highlights include the annual Williams Sing-Off Compeition for students in middle and high school, judged this year by Pittsburgh native Peter Matthew Smith, who stars as King George in the touring version of "Hamilton" that opens here Jan. 1.
“There will be glow-in-the-dark accessories, and lots of lights and lasers,” said First Night director Sarah Aziz. “I think that’ll be fun for everyone but it’s especially fun for kids that are sort of in that middle-school age range.”
First Night, sponsored by Highmark, regularly draws between 25,000 and 40,000 visitors, said Aziz.
While Cultural District streets during First Night are typically filled with audiences for the parade and live-music stages, about three-quarters of the attractions are either indoors or in heated tents erected for the occasion. Patrons are asked to purchase a $10 First Night button to gain admission to indoor events. Performances at a few events, including a stand-up comedy showcase at the Byham Theater and the Zuzu African Acrobats (from TV’s “America’s Got Talent”) in the CAPA High School auditorium, are free but ticketed.
First Night begins at 6 p.m. with a special fireworks display for children, visible from Seventh and Penn avenues. The parade – including high school marching bands, fire trucks, and giant puppets courtesy of First Night stalwart Cheryl Capezzuti and collaborators – starts at 8 p.m. Other events are staggered throughout the evening.
Other featured performers include magician Lee Terbosic, Arcade Comedy Theater (improv comedy), and Staycee Pearl Dance Project.
The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust is an underwriter of WESA.