Saturday, January 02, 2010

January 2, 2010 – Oil City First Night

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.


Venango Area Chamber of Commerce said...

Our family has been attending Oil City's First Night since the very first one, 13 years ago. Accompanied by our 3 toddlers, those early years had their own challenges in navigating the celebration. But over the years we learned to dress properly(weather always a consideration), not arrive on an empty stomach, know where clean restrooms are located and not get freaked out if we didn't make it to every venue.

I am pleased to say that two of our teenagers willingly joined us this year. As with every year, we had a couple of favorite stops and others we could have skipped, but...what we love about this event is the chance to be out among friends.There's no real planning needed on our part. We don't have to bring "a dish". I don't have the worst "hat head".

All this said, I agree with your comments on the need for entertainment that is attractive to young adults. The same challenge exists for Oil Heritage Festival and other local festivals and arts programs. I would love to know what programming could be offered that they just would not miss!

I applaud the First Night committee for all their work. The Venango Chamber sells buttons, but other than that we just enjoy the fun.I hope to be attending First Night for years to come.

Dittman said...

Absolutely nothing can take away the fact that the Night was an overall success - there were butts in seats and buttons on scarves. Putting together any festival takes a lot of volunteer hours, and the more voices that have input, the greater the chance that Night will continue to improve.