Festival a howler; Snow, wind keep venue lines short.


Byline: Nancy Sheehan

Well, let's just look on the bright side, shall we? There were no lines last night to get into the performance venues at First Night Worcester. Any show you wanted to see, you could just slip right in there, often snagging a spot in the first few rows.

Once comfortably seated, it took only minutes for your cheeks to stop stinging and a semblance of feeling to return to your fingers and toes.

No, this was not the weather any of us would have asked for on First Night. First there was the heavy snow which finally tapered off in the early evening only to be replaced by frigid northwest wind blasts. It wasn't too bad between gusts, but the icy wind would occasionally roar and when it did revelers, even those dressed in their Arctic best, shrieked like banshees.

Ah, but there was a wonderful reward for the momentary suffering: uncrowded venues with all kinds of great acts ranging from ventriloquists and dance troupes to storytellers and top-notch bands. (Although we did hear, from First Night Worcester Executive Director Joyce Kressler, that some of the children's shows in the afternoon were crowded in spite of the snow.)

The fireworks had to be canceled, however. People were disappointed, but we need to consider that the Fire Department just wasn't comfortable with the concept of live sparks being blown onto buildings all over downtown then getting fanned into roaring flames by the high winds.

The weather kept crowds down although certain venues, including the Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts, were busy throughout the night, Ms. Kressler said. "Overall I would say it was a really spirited group that very much enjoyed themselves." The hardy revelers who did turn out made up in enthusiasm what they lacked in numbers. "They've been great crowds and enthusiastic crowds and brave crowds who come out in the cold," she said.

So, if you are less spirited you may have stayed curled up at home on the couch in your Snuggli. Here is some of what you missed:

A small but spirited procession made its way down Institute Road shortly after 6 p.m., stopping in front of the Worcester Auditorium where spotlights highlighted a stage with four large boxes on it, each one sporting a numeral of 2009.

They were meant to be surprise boxes, but those of us who had gathered there ahead of the procession had gotten a sneak peek and knew that there were people inside. The wind had blown the tops of the boxes prematurely but the startled people...

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