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Springfield First Night

Downtown Springfield once again will celebrate New Year’s Eve with fireworks, entertainment, and fun for all. Yes, after a long pandemic-pause, a Springfield tradition returns. Following a virtual event in 2020 and a COVID-cancelled event in 2021, First Night® Springfield again is being produced by the Springfield Area Arts Council in partnership with the Hoogland Center for the Arts and the City of Springfield.

December 31st marks the 35th year the Springfield Area Arts Council has hosted this local celebration of the arts, a family-friendly event enjoyed by tens of thousands since 1987. It is the longest-running First Night west of the Alleghenies.

“We are proud and excited to offer this event again,” said Sheila Walk, Arts Council executive director, adding most activities will take place inside the Hoogland Center for the Arts at 420 South Sixth Street. “The arts, in one form or another, sustained us all during the pandemic. It’s time to celebrate them, together.”

Friday Night Jazz, live music sponsored for decades by the Arts Council, begins the event one evening early on Friday, December 30, at Boone’s, 301 West Edwards Street, featuring the Rob Killam Quintet from 5:30 to 7:30 P.M. Boone’s offers drinks and food for sale; there is no cover charge.

Younger folks are invited for interactive fun free of charge from 1:00 to 4:00 P.M. on New Year’s Eve at the Hoogland. These afternoon arts and crafts range from designing bead bracelets to creating a fireworks shaker and are a gift to the community from Dana-Thomas House Foundation, Garvey-Tubman Center, Illinois State Museum, Lincoln Memorial Gardens, Lowe’s, Memorial Foundation, and YMCA. Springfield Dance also will perform. No pre-registration is required.

The Hoogland Center is the site for much family-friendly evening entertainment, beginning with a locally-written play by Robert Davis to mark Watch Night, an African-American custom recalling the vigil leading to January 1, 1863, when Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed southern Blacks held in slave bondage. The play will be performed at 4:30 P.M.

From 6:00 to 10:30 P.M., many performances will roll out inside the Hoogland Center. Already signed up to perform are The Lovelorn, Capital Big Band, Geoff Ryan and Tom Beverly, and the Springfield International Folk Dancers. More acts will be announced very soon. Sangamon Watercolor Society will exhibit members’ work in the main floor gallery.

Tickets are $5 for youth and $20 for adults. They may be purchased at the door or in advance by going to Hoogland’s website:

Light refreshments will be available during both afternoon and evening in the Hoogland Center lobby. The Arts Council’s board of directors will staff a silent auction in the gallery.

Performances will take place on several stages inside the Hoogland Center’s spacious four floors. Guests will receive detailed schedules upon arrival.

“While we are thrilled to bring these talents to our Springfield community, especially after their absence for so many months, we still are mindful of pandemic protocols,” commented director Walk. “We will have masks and sanitizer for everyone who wants them and ask our guests to keep one ballet leap apart whenever they can.”

Fireworks will begin at 8:15 P.M. People are invited to gather at the intersection of Capitol Avenue and Fourth Street for the show. Walk expressed appreciation for the assistance of the Springfield public works, police, and fire departments. “They help with so much around town, whether we see it or not.”

“Springfield can take pride that this family-friendly, alcohol-free and fully-accessible New Year’s Eve celebration has so many partners,” Walk continued. She named the City of Springfield for assisting with the fireworks display; NPR-Illinois for giving promotional assistance; and the Hoogland Center for providing rent-free performance space annually for seventeen years.

Walk also noted the passing in 2021 of two men long associated with this local celebration of the arts. Springfield Police Sergeant Robert “Bob” Dilley worked First Night for years and after his retirement volunteered to staff the event’s operations center in the Arts Council office. Carl “Boom Boom” Steinmacher was lead pyro-technician for all but one of Springfield’s 34 First Nights. “Both these fine people are missed,” said Walk, “so we dedicate this event to them.”

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