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First Night Morris 2013 Features New, Familiar Faces

Over 40 performances set for 21st-annual New Year's Eve event in Morristown.

If it's New Year's Eve, you know where Rio Clemente's going to be.

Morristown's native son and pianist extraordinaire, "The Bishop of Jazz" has performed at First Night Morris, Morris County's annual alcohol-free end of the year celebration in Morristown since its second year.

"That's a pretty long run," the Randolph resident said. So long, in fact, it's hard to remember just how many years that has been.

"Even last year, I was trying to figure it out, then the Arts Council (organizers for the event) told me," Clemente said with a laugh.

He is not the only one to return to . Over 40 acts are booked throughout town—some returning, others celebrating a new year in Morristown for the first time.

One of those new performers, Nashville-based Americana banjo player and singer Cia Cherryholmes, came to First Night Morris County through admiration by Lynn Siebert, of the Arts Council of the Morris Area.

"[She] had heard me before with my other band (Cherryholmes, a five-time Grammy-nominated group comprised of several of her family members) and asked us if we would be interested in coming up," she said. "We were really happy to do so."

Cherryholmes, along with guitarist and husband Stetson Adkisson, will bring their current project, Songs of the Fall, to Morristown.

It's not Cherryholmes' first trip to the region, having performed at venues in New York City and at the Count Basie Theater in Red Bank.

She said the evening won't just be about work. "We'll be at the festival the whole time," Cherryholmes said. "We love checking out all the acts. It's going to be a great fun family evening."

It's a formula that seems to have worked for an event that appeared close to extinction just a couple years ago.

Craig Schlosser, with First Night, credited a tireless staff of volunteers that begins to prepare for the next one shortly after the last one for First Night Morris's bounceback success.

"We're more engaged throughout the year," he said.

It's a recipe for success evident to Dennis Kobray, whose "Meet the Musicians" music, history and storytelling performance returns for its 18th year. This year, the musician will present a pair of 45-minute productions as Mozart.

"They have done a great job at marketing," the Millburn resident said. "The wide-variety of different shows—music, magic, dancers, whatever—people get to pick and choose and they have a lot to pick and choose from. It's a very well-organized First Night."

It's also one of the few left standing.

"Twenty years ago, there must have been 200 First Nights across the country," said John James Lepiarz, whose "Mr. Fish" and the Super Scientific Circus have been performing at First Night Morris for about a decade. "Morris is one of the last. It's a testament to everyone involved."

Performing this year at The Presbyterian Church in Morristown, Lepiarz said his act involved "Phenomenal Physics," to understand and appreciate science using circus tricks.

But, an element to First Night Morris he appreciated was that while everything is geared toward families, "none of the shows are kiddie shows," he said. "The humor is aimed toward adults with plenty of stuff for the kids."

Both kids and adults appreciate an energetic performance, which organist Ed Alstrom—the Montville resident known best as the organist for the New York Yankees—promises to bring to his act on New Year's Eve.

"Expect fireworks," said Alstrom, the former music director at Morristown's Church of the Redeemer performing in his first First Night Morris event. "I will be in fifth gear most of the evening."

An expert at a variety of styles—not just the one involving peanuts and Cracker Jacks—Alstrom and accompaniment will present a "classical organ recital," he said. But, if that does not sound like something to get the blood pumping, the musician has something to say.

"Let's dispense with subtlety. Everything is basically going to be loud and fast, except for maybe about five minutes of the whole concert," Alstrom said. "I will not be there to show off the subtlety. I'll be there to show off the power of the organ."

Whichever performance, on whatever stage throughout town, those involved aim to give patrons a memorable send-off to 2012.

"It's an honor for me every year, not only to be representing the Arts Council, it's also my Alma mater and I'm proud to be on that stage," said Clemente, a 1960 Morristown High School graduate.

"I think it's a wonderful venue, and it's great when families can be together on New Year's Eve," he said.

For more information, including how to buy tickets and a list of performances and times, visit the First Night Morris 2013 website.

Pat landers December 22, 2012 at 05:12 PM
First Night is so stupid. I can't believe people still are into this.

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