Way back in 1991, the debut of First Night Raleigh was a smaller, less-crowded affair than the 2018 model. But you could say something similar about the downtown Raleigh setting.
“Back then, there would be people calling to ask where downtown was and if it was safe to come down here,” said Cameron Laws, marketing director for First Night and Artsplosure. “Downtown was not activated the way it is now. Unless you worked at a bank or something, there was no reason to ever be downtown.”
That inaugural First Night Raleigh drew an estimated 15,000 people, according to executive director Michael Lowder.
This year’s 28th edition on Monday, Dec. 31, is expected to draw more than triple that figure, a crowd of around 50,000, making it the best-attended New Year’s Eve event in the Triangle.
Along with countdowns at 7 p.m. for the kids and midnight for grownups, attractions include a musical time capsule from the 1970s and ’80s, a pop-up wedding chapel and rides of the sort you’d find on the State Fair midway, including a Ferris wheel.
This year, the main stage will be one block north of City Plaza, at the intersection of Fayetteville and Davie streets.
City Plaza, normally home to the main stage and the acorn drop, will instead have a Pop-up Glow Roller Skating rink because of construction. The rink is open 2 to 10 p.m.
Another change from 2017 is the number of venues, which is down by more than one-third. There will be 23 venues this year, down from last year’s figure of 35.
“This year we decided to get rid of some of the more outlying venues to centralize the footprint around Fayetteville Street more,” said Laws. “There’s more of a Fayetteville Street corridor now and nothing is too far of a walk.”
Other entertainment includes:
▪ Among the names set to perform are area Americana group New Reveille (and Friends) and funk act Boulevards. There will be improv comedy acts, a magic act, a singing trolley and the People’s Procession at 6 p.m. from Bicentennial Plaza.
▪ The First Night Raleigh Globe: A 12-foot globe sculpture from artist Heath Satow has been decorated 22 years after it originally was created. Local neon artist Nate Sheaffer has added neon lights to the globe, which will spin for the first time, Artsplosure organizers said in a news release.
▪ “Next Year I Will...”: Guests are asked to fill in the blanks and write their resolutions on 8-foot walls on Bicentennial Plaza and along Fayetteville Street.
What: First Night Raleigh 2019
When: Begins at 2 p.m. Monday, Dec. 31.
Where: Fayetteville Street, downtown Raleigh
Cost: Advance price is $11, with $50 VIP option. Gate price is $15 for adults and $11 for children age 6-12. Children 5 and under free when accompanied by ticketed adult. All-day admission passes are on sale at Harris Teeter and CVS Health stores.
Details: firstnightraleigh.com. A mobile app can be downloaded at the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.
More New Year’s Eve events
With all of the scrambling that most people end up doing in December, it’s not unusual to find yourself a few days before New Year’s Eve with no solid plan on where to spend the final night of the year. For those still looking for options, we’ve got you covered.
Whether you’re in the mood to let loose on the dance floor, watch someone shred on a guitar, or looking for something just a tad more soulful, there’s something happening in the Triangle Monday night for everyone.
For the family
▪ Noon New Year’s Eve is 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Marbles Kids Museum, 201 E. Hargett St., Raleigh. The cost is $7, or museum admission. marbleskidsmuseum.org
▪ Night Lights: A Family New Year’s Eve is 2 to 6 p.m. at Morehead Planetarium and Science Center, 250 E. Franklin St., Chapel Hill. $5. moreheadplanetarium.org
New Year’s Eve Gala at NC Museum of Natural Sciences
The black-tie gala features food, open bar, DJ and a band.
8 p.m. to 1 a.m. North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences’ Nature Research Center, 11 W. Jones St., Raleigh. $135.06-$168.83. galaraleigh.com
Deep South’s last concert
Raleigh’s Deep South also is using New Year’s Eve as a final hurrah of sorts. The live music venue in downtown Raleigh will feature ’90s and 2000s cover band Undercover, as well as Raleigh-based rock band LaureNicole during its final night.
Between owner Dave Rose’s artist and event management company Deep South Entertainment thriving to the point of exploring opening a third location (they currently staff offices in Raleigh and Nashville), his second kid being due in April and a rent increase due to new ownership of the building, something had to give. He told The News & Observer it was time to close the bar.
Attend festivities for one last chance to revisit a stage that has been one of the more Triangle-band friendly in the area over the past decade-plus.
Doors open at 7 p.m. and the show is at 9 p.m. 430 S. Dawson St., Raleigh. Free. deepsouththebar.com.
Big Something at Lincoln Theatre
Alt-rock band Big Something is known to pack the house at Lincoln Theatre whenever the area band returns from the road, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to find that its three-night run — culminating in a New Year’s Eve show — is one of the most anticipated events in the Triangle this holiday season. Opening acts are The Mantras (Dec. 29), The Kind Thieves (Dec. 30) and Midnight North (Dec. 31).
Shows are Dec. 29-31 at 9 p.m. 126 E. Cabarrus St., Raleigh. Tickets are $18 Dec. 29 and 30 and $30 on Dec. 31. lincolntheatre.com
NC Symphony at Memorial Auditorium
Or for something completely different, ring in the new year by singing “Auld Lang Syne” with the North Carolina Symphony. The NC Symphony takes to downtown Raleigh’s Memorial Auditorium for a night promising “Vienna With a Twist.” Be prepared for Viennese waltzes, alongside Big Band classics while the symphony performs alongside the North Carolina Jazz Repertory Orchestra.
8 p.m. 2 E. South St., Raleigh. $48 and up. ncsymphony.org
Hank Sinatra at Circa 1888
This renovated spot within Raleigh’s Warehouse District has become known for its creative cocktails in the three years that it has been open, but on New Year’s Eve it has a chance to be known as hosting the loudest concert of the night. When Hank Sinatra takes the stage, anything is possible, as the band has perfected a sound that swings from ’70s-era garage rock to classic honky tonk in the blink of an eye.
Tre King Band at Beyu Caffe
Beyu has announced that it no longer will book live music once 2019 gets here, but that still leaves a few nights for audience members to take advantage of the talent this venue brought to downtown Durham. The final night of music is sure to be a banger, as the Tre King Band will be presenting its signature soulful R&B sound for the 2nd annual What the Funk NYE Party.
9:30 p.m. 341 W. Main St., Durham. Standing-room only tickets are $75 and include champagne toast and buffet. $100 VIP tickets include a seat along with toast and buffet. beyucaffe.com
Rose Kennedy at Motorco
Durham’s Motorco Music Hall celebrates its 8th annual New Year’s Eve Celebration with a “World of Tomorrow” party that promises the hits of yesterday. The cover band Rose Kennedy are known to play mostly hits of the late 20th century, so if you’ve ever wanted to watch one of your old mixtapes performed live, this is your chance.
Doors open at 9 p.m. 723 Rigsbee Ave., Durham. Tickets are $15 in advance and $18 day-of, includes champagne toast. motorcomusic.com
Ellis Dyson and the Shambles at the ArtsCenter
An all-ages show at Carrboro’s ArtsCenter with this local favorite among old-time music fans promises to keep everyone moving with a high-energy show that offers everything from traditional jazz to whiskey-soaked murder ballads. Also on hand will be special guest Katherine Whalen (formerly of Squirrel Nut Zippers), whose vocals are sure to be featured on both original music and those classic Zippers hits that everyone remembers.
9 p.m. 300-G E. Main St., Carrboro. Tickets are $25. artscenterlive.org or 919-929-2787.
Dillon Fence at Cat’s Cradle
Well, it doesn’t get much bigger than this for fans of area rock bands. Dillon Fence is headlining the New Year’s Eve party at the Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro this year, with Hammer No More the Fingers supporting. There is an argument that could be made that these two hold the title of being the greatest area rock bands for the period spanning the mid-’80s to today, so this is sure to be a show you’ll be talking about throughout the year.
Doors open at 8 p.m. The show is at 9 p.m. 300 E. Main St., Carrboro. Tickets are $17 in advance, $20 day-of. catscradle.com