Shine On: The 10 things we love most about Bright Night by Erin Swanson

For the first time in nearly three decades, Dick Clark will no longer be around to help you ring in the New Year. So what does a hepcat such as yourself do to make merry in his absence? Well, you don’t have to drive to Times Square to have a rockin’ good time. (I mean seriously, who in his right mind wants to watch the ball drop with Ryan Seacrest?) Stay local: Party right here in Providence as Bright Night celebrates its 10th anniversary.

“I can’t say enough about Bright Night,” exclaims director Alexandra Kreher. “It is going to be a really great year.” After chatting with her and several of this year’s participants, we most certainly agree. In honor of its 10-year milestone, we’ve compiled a list of reasons why we too love our city’s annual New Years Eve festival. Read on to discover all the wonderful things Bright Night has to offer.

1. It Isn’t Afraid to Change With the Times

This year, the programming includes new artists and bands with appeal for the younger 18- to 30-year-old New Years celebrants. In the past, that group has been lacking in attendance… possibly due to the common misconception that Bright Night is an alcohol-free event. It’s not. The preceding First Night, which went bankrupt in 2003, did abide by a strict no-booze-allowed policy; Bright Night picked up where First Night left off and at its inception decided that a little bit of alcohol never hurt anyone. Right on.

And while unique artists and talented performers will still be positioned at a number of venues throughout the city during both day and night, this year’s activities focus around Kennedy Plaza as a central hub of the event. According to Kreher, “Attendees can join us in the evening for the opening ceremonies in Kennedy Plaza, featuring a number of the artists participating in the festival.”

While some of us may remember the days when that little chunk of downtown wasn’t exactly the nicest place to be, the employees at Greater Kennedy Plaza have been working tirelessly on its revitalization for several years. The plaza is worlds away from what it once was, now host to a summertime beer garden and concert series, a skatepark and the annual FirstWorks festival, among many other things.

2. It’s Family-Friendly… Without Being Overly So

There will be a number of fantastic kids’ and family activities during the daytime program at the Rhode Island Convention Center, the Providence Public Library and the Providence Children’s Museum. “This will include an antique fire truck exhibit in the Convention Center, storytelling and poetry readings in the library and a puppet show at the museum,” Kreher says.

While kids are, of course, still welcome to roam the streets at night (with their parents), chances are that after being dragged between the Convention Center, the library and the Children’s Museum, they’ll be tuckered out and long asleep. This is a good thing for those of us who want to enjoy the latter part of the evening without being tripped up by little ones underfoot.

Puppeteer Sparky Davis and her Sparky’s Puppets have been entertaining those little ones at Bright Night for six years now. Typically, she performs at the Children’s Museum. “I like the daytime scheduling of children’s activities, especially for the young children that comprise my audience,” Davis says. “If they come to my show, they can also enjoy the exhibits at the museum.”

3. On Bright Night, Puppets Roam Freely


While exploring the festivities on December 31, you may feel like you’ve gone “down to Fraggle Rock, as the Big Nazo crew is out in full force. The troupe of puppet performers and masked musicians include a giant three-eyed robot percussionist; blob-like go go dancers and break-dancing police officers add to the fun. One puppet even rides around town on a penny-farthing bicycle. It’s a spectacle indeed.


This puppet circus of sorts is led by ringmaster Erminio Pinque. “I’m the artistic director of Big Nazo as well as a fabricator and performer of creature characters,” he says. Pinque and his troupe have been involved with Bright Night since the very beginning. He says that people react with “delight, confusion, horror and giddy laughter” upon setting their eyes on the motley crew.

This year, they’ll be performing at the RISD Auditorium from 7-7:45pm. “The best thing about performing at Bright Night is that it allows artists, performers and friends to work together creatively,” Pinque says. “Bright Night creates an opportunity for people to celebrate the beginning of a new year with some of the best things the city of Providence has to offer.”

4. … And So Does An Extraordinary Marching Band


Returning for a third time is the Extraordinary Rendition Band (ERB). “I’m trying to focus on cooking up something special for Bright Night,” says drummer and cornet player Lisa Pellegrino. “We’ll most likely be using the element of surprise and magically appearing in random locations, exploding into song… the ERB is dreaming up some fun and whimsical plans involving puppets, beats, feet and the Providence streets!”


Pellegrino says that everyone in the band has a “deep, wild love for playing music” and that they’re eager to share that love and connect with the public. “We know how contagious that vibe of revelry can be,” she says. “I think that comes through, whether it’s by being in your face blasting a horn, sharing a drumstick with you or by playing at community events… the ERB loves calling Providence home.”


“Marching band wasn’t anywhere on my radar in high school,” she says. “I thought it was for nerds, which was before I saw the epic light of the nerd community. There’s a nice mix of ERBanditos that have that band background and those who do not. We’re an open band and we welcome players, dancers and supporters at all levels of ability.” They’re playing a set on the steps of City Hall at midnight; go be a supporter.


5. Some of its Performers Fly by the Seat Of Their Pants

In a way, life is sort of like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Some of us like our porridge cold, others love it piping hot and the rest prefer it lukewarm; some of us look mostly inward, others are extroverted and the rest lie somewhere in that middle ground. Bring Your Own Improv (BYOI) presents a show that allows audience members to either sit and watch, shout out suggestions or to hop up on stage, depending on the person.


BYOI troupe member Daniel Lee White says, “While we do both family-friendly and adult-only shows, we’ll be family-friendly for Bright Night. Our first show is from 4-4:45pm at the Matthewson Street United Methodist Church and our second show runs from 9-9:45pm at the First Baptist Church on North Main.”


In Bright Night years past, the all-ages show has drawn a large crowd. “We had about 330 people watching us last year,” White says. “It’s probably because family-friendly comedy is kind of hard to come by. We work really hard to keep it clean, which families seem to appreciate. Many of us have kids and work with kids, so we really love doing what we do.”


6. Even the Cool Kids Get In On the Action


No organization reeks of awesome quite like AS220. The creative artists’ community boasts a bar, a kitchen, a live music venue, the 95 Empire performance space, a youth program, live/work space, a printshop and more. One facet of the collaborative that many folks don’t even know exists, however, is its Criss Cross Orchestra. They’ll be bringing the noise to Bright Night this NYE.


The ensemble is known for playing dance music that fuses funk, reggae, R&B, jazz, African drumming and more. Members are diverse, hailing not only from the U.S. but from all over the world: Africa, Ireland and the Caribbean. One member is even a former Brown professor. The Orchestra is led by Ghanaian singer and master drummer Obuamah Laud Addy who was a child singing star in his native country.

The 11-member group performs all original compositions and plays a vast array of instruments including steel pans, bass, guitar, trumpet, Irish pennywhistle, saxophone, flute, percussion, accordion and vocals. This year they will be playing two sets: the first from 3-3:45pm and the second from 6-6:45pm. Both will go down at the RISD Auditorium, a venue large enough to match their grandiosity.

7. Festival-Goers Are Encouraged to Rock Out


Put quite simply, this year’s musical line up doesn’t suck. In fact, Roz Raskin and the Rice Cakes – 95.5 WBRU’s 2012 annual Rock Hunt winners – will be a part of this year’s festival, playing at Bright Night for the second time. “We played at AS220 with our friends in Prayers for Atheists a few years ago,” Raskin says. “I’ve attended Bright Nights in past years with my parents. I saw some killer shows. It’s a great event.”

Raskin says that after playing the WBRU Summer Concert Series she was shocked to see how diverse the band’s audience had become. “There was a seven-year-old at the show. My grandfather (who is in his 80s) attended as well, and all ages in between. Being played on the radio has allowed for people who may not have known we existed to hear our music and now those people are coming to see us live.”

“We try to make sure our shows are as welcoming as possible to every age group so no one feels they are too old or too young to come rock with us,” Raskin explains. “New Years Eve is a great excuse for people to take time out of their schedule to get together with friends and family… and party!” The band is honored to have been asked to play once again and looks forward to seeing both new friends and old.

8. It’s a Total Post-Holiday Decompression Session


While some bands have come to shred, others have come to chill. The Mystic Jammers bring the sweet sounds of Jamaica, promising to drive audience members to a state of ecstasy through their mellow, metaphysical music. They’ve been doing it since the mid-1980s and have shared the stage with reggae greats including The Wailers, Ziggy and Stephen Marley, Burning Spear and Toots and the Maytals.


Founding member Lon Plynton, who plays the bass and “preaches,” says the band is excited to perform, as always. “The crowd at Bright Night is always very wide so we just love the atmosphere,” he says. “I always warn that too much fun is hazardous to your health; have just enough fun so that you don’t faint.”


Plynton goes on to say, “[Listening to] reggae is a deeply spiritual experience – you can change your life for the better and have a great time to boot.” From the minute the Jammers begin their groove-adelic beats, deftly playing the steel drums and wailing out on their guitars, there’s no doubt that everyone in the room will be swiftly transported to a warmer, happier place… if only in mind. Cheers to that.


9. Acting a Fool is, Like, Totally Okay


The Banished Fools have been a mainstay at Bright Night, having performed at all nine events thus far, carrying over from the now-defunct First Night. The group marches around the streets in colorful, mismatched costumes and crazy hats (think redhead stepchild meets court jester). Each “fool” carries a percussion instrument or noisemaker, which is played with zest in order to create festive “music.”


Led by Chris Turner and Rachel Maloney Turner, this free spirited pack always draws quite a crowd. “We make a lot of new outfits every year,” says Chris. “There’s usually quite a lot of us – normally a couple dozen. Everyone is welcome to join in with us as we proceed to march around downtown. We’ll start off at the opening ceremony and then do a bit more parading throughout the evening.”


Rachel pipes in: “Sometimes people forget that the whole point of the evening is to bring in the New Year. We go into both the fanciest restaurants and the biggest dive bars – everyone gets wished a Happy New Year by us.” Chris laughs and says, “We’ve always been musicians and we’ve always liked parades. This is all about the community and involving people of all ages to have fun together.”


10. It Recognizes that Adults Like Bedtime Stories Too


Both adults and children have come to enjoy the verbal stylings of Burr Harrison, the storyteller extraordinaire who’s performing for a third time this year. “What’s great about Bright Night is you get your one bracelet and then there’s so many things you can go to,” he says. During the afternoon Harrison will collaborate with other artists in an event geared for children; at night he’ll tell stories that are directed primarily at adults.


“During the day I’m part of an indoor flight school where kids can come and make paper airplanes, hot air balloons and rockets,” Harrison says. “I’ll be doing my storytelling at 7pm.” He will spin the fictional tale of a Rhode Island family affected by cancer. “Some parts of the story are heavy but other parts are light and fun,” he says. “While it’s not for five-year-old children, older kids might enjoy it.”


Harrison, who has been telling stories for close to 20 years, says that one of the neat things about his craft is the ability to “adjust on the fly depending on the crowd.” He knows his audience is engaged when they seem to fall into a “spell.” The challenge is keeping their attention, as the spell can be broken with something as simple as the ring of a cell phone. “Story telling is a powerful magic but it’s a fragile magic, too.”


Check online for the most up to date schedule for Bright Night Providence 2012.