New Year's Eve hardly seems like celebrating. It's not the end of anything. If it it were, life would be exponentially more interesting. Imagine if, every 365 days, at the stroke of midnight, everything stopped and we all got a do-over. A fresh start, a blank slate to start the new year without all the baggage from the previous years.
Now, that would be interesting.
Instead, we have the holiday as it stands - amateur night in the bars and the attempt to cobble together a mass delusion that things didn't get any worse over the past 12 months. So, with that cheery mindset, I set off to Oil City (PA)'s First Night. Last year was my first First Night. I wasn't sure what I was expecting, but what I got was pretty great - although I don't care for fireworks (believing, like the Aimee Mann song, "4th of July", "And when they light up our town/I just think What a waste of gunpowder and sky "), they were appropriately festive.
The streets were crowded with people not being jerks and there were several pleasant surprises in the music acts. This year, not so much. While there were highlights - the volunteers were almost universally polite and helpful, for example. I left disappointed. Although we have a deep talent pool in the area, I couldn't find any local performers. But, what struck me most powerfully was that while there were plenty of teens on the street (Indeed, my family got to watch a vicious catfight between two Oil City High School girls while I ducked into a McDonald's for a restroom and fries.) the average age inside the events seemed to hover around 60.
Much of that can be placed at the feet of scheduling. While there were special events for children and a ton of performances for those in late middle age, there was nothing for teens and young adults. I may have found the clogger Janet Reing to a pumpkin of a human being and a heckuva dancer (although ill-behaved children who attempted to steal the show left a sour taste in my mouth) most teens will not. Our area faces a serious brain drain - bright talented young adults leave for college and never come back because they don't feel that there's anything here for them - that they have any say in what the region looks and acts like. Festivals like First Night can be a great tool for beginning to recruit young adults back to the region before they've even left, but, as long as our "leaders" think of the youth only as problems to be solved, we will continue to head down the road of irrelevance, locked in an oily past, wondering where all the good times went.
Luckily, I guess, for the First Night committees and other arts leaders, programs like this do get do-overs each year. I'm hoping they take advantage of it.