Craig Schlosser, director of First Night Morris, speaks fast about the county's alcohol-free celebration of arts is ringing in the New Year it is not just because he has a lot to say and little time to say it, but because he is passionate about the subject matter.
“For me it is what I do to give back,” Schlosser said. “Making a positive difference with First Night Morris. My hope is when my eight-year-old son hope is my age we can say New Jersey's largest First Night is still going strong.”
Born and raised in Morristown, the Field Service Supervisor for Coca-Cola and Executive Director at the Parsippany Area of Commerce has a lot on his plate but takes his volunteer work with First Night very seriously.
“I got involved back in 2009 for the 2010 First Night. Michael Schmidt, who is now our Chairman was the treasurer back then,” Schlosser said. “We graduated Morristown High School together. We played baseball together, I was a pitcher and he was my second baseman.”
Schmidt and Schlosser share a vision for First Night and work with scores of volunteers to push the envelope on the possible.
“We have what we call three pillars as our guiding principles,” Scholsser said. “Affordable world class entertainment, strengthen our communities and future artist investment.”
Schlosser said they are trying to drive First Night forward while keeping the same core of the event.
“A county celebration with great entertainment, great prices but also make it an experience that tries to anticipate people’s needs,” Schlosser said.
An enhanced customer service experience begins with the website, which Schlosser said was overhauled this year to make it easier to find information on the performances, purchase tickets and answer questions.
“We just added a search function and a frequently asked questions section to the site,” Schlosser said. “But we also have enhanced transportation, food and drink offerings and signage.”
Schlosser says there are new additions to improve the experience.
“We are very sensitive to the weather conditions and we realize as a family friendly event we have young children and grandparents who attend,” Schlosser said. “So besides all of the events being inside, we also have five shuttle buses that will be running from venue to venue throughout the night.”
Schlosser said that previously Morristown High School, which had a full slate of attractions, had no food or drink offerings.
“We changed that this year. Now in the cafeteria guests can get hot chocolate, pretzels, hot dogs,” Schlosser said. “Snack items to keep you going. The goal is to make certain venues a little more self contained and a little more weather sensitive.”
This year also features an earlier start time for the children’s events, starting at 5 p.m. at the High School, and an earlier ticket pick up time, 3:30 p.m. at the Morristown-Morris Township Library. Another addition this year well me an MC who will be stationed on the Green.
“Not a DJ, but someone who will be on the Green, playing games and interacting with those there for the fireworks or on their way to the next event,” Schlosser said. “To make it a little more of a hub.”
According to Schlosser, while he brings operational efficiencies to the operation, Schmidt brings a past as a performer to the table and a hands on approach as director.
“If we need a permit picked up, Mike will do it. Or call up sponsors,” Schlosser said. “ And we have been able to bring some amazing people on board. We are a non-profit that lives off of our volunteers. People think that we are run by the town, but we are completely self-funded. We have a great group of people that give of their time because they see it was a worthwhile endeavor.”
Schlosser said that what often gets lost is that New Year’s Eve is still an night with a high level of alcohol related accidents, and an alcohol free night is something First Night provides to the community. By offering teens a place to showcase their work, Schlosser said they are investing in the arts for the future.
“We are telling teens it is ok to express themselves,” Schlosser said. “And that is one of the best gifts we can, as a community, give our teens.”
With so many options to choose from for New Year's Eve, Schmidt said those who choose to spend it in Morristown will not be disappointed.
"First Night Morris 2014 will be an experience you will always remember. The strong sense of community, tremendous talent of performers, and interactive nature of the event are almost impossible to describe," Schmidt said. " You have to experience it for yourself."
For his part, Schlosser said that the remarkable thing about the evening is that it truly is an event that will captivate the entire family.
“You see families in the different venues, participating in our interactive entertainment,” Schlosser said. “And no one is on their cell phone.”
For more info, to volunteer or to purchase tickets, call 973-455-0708. You can also view a complete schedule of performances to download and print out, and a full map of the venues as well.