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New Year’s Eve Festivals Adjust To COVID-19 Pandemic

Fireworks (file)
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Fireworks (file)

Many communities bid Auld Lang Syne with New Year’s Eve festivals across our region.  But the pandemic of 2020 has forced many to rethink how, or if, the celebrations will be held. WAMC’s North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley looks at two communities that have taken different approaches to their traditional celebrations.
Burlington, Vermont hosts a 12-hour festival called Highlight New Year’s Eve. It traditionally features events at venues across the city, a parade and fireworks.  Burlington City Arts Festival and Events Coordinator Zach Williamson says this year it’s gone virtual.  “We’ve never tackled anything like this before.  You know we’ve done in person festivals and multiple venue events across the city before and certainly the last two years of Highlight providing live concerts and events across the city from about noon to midnight or so.  This year we took that same approach but what we really realized is that when we go virtual we have unlimited number of stages and we really could present as many people as wanted to participate. We did a call for artists and we heard from an amazing number of people that either live in Vermont currently or got their start in Vermont that could join us on New Year’s Eve and they’re all doing their own broadcast from their own houses or their own studio. And you can kind of channel surf almost to see what’s next or who else is performing.”             

Burlington’s 12 hours of virtual events will include live music, yoga, art activities and instruction, a puppet show, comedy skits and follies, poetry, and storytelling. Williamson says fireworks are also planned.  “Fireworks turned out to be pretty important on New Year’s Eve and a lot of people have asked about it. We are doing live, in real life actual fireworks at 8 o’clock from the Burlington waterfront. The big asterick there is we are not asking people to congregate down on the waterfront. We will also be streaming those fireworks so we’ll have a two camera shoot plus a drone. You’ll be able to watch those online and then we’re going to rebroadcast them online only at midnight. We are depending on people to use their common sense. There are and have been very clear rules of use of city parks throughout the whole pandemic. We really hope that everyone is responsible as far as keeping it safe for COVID.”

Across Lake Champlain in the middle of the Adirondacks Saranac Lake decided to postpone its First Night celebration until the end of next year.  First Night Saranac Lake Co-chair Sue Patterson said the decision was made in July.  “We had some board members that definitely still wanted to have it. But by the time we got to July everybody was on board that it wasn’t going to happen. You know all our venues are indoors. Our musicians and performers are usually booked and we’re contracting with them by July. So we had to make a decision. And as it turns out it was the right decision.”

Patterson says they did consider a virtual festival.  “We just all felt the joy of it is having the people around and having musicians right in front of you, not on a computer. So no we didn’t do it obviously.”