Organizer, band recall Raleigh's first First Night

Posted December 31, 2010 7:00 p.m. EST
Updated January 1, 2011 12:18 a.m. EST

— Ann Smith, who is considered the visionary behind Raleigh’s New Year’s Eve bash, remembers the first time the city hosted First Night.

It was Dec. 31, 1991.

“It was incredibly cold that first night 20 years ago,” she said.

Smith said she was brought in to help the city plan the event because of her successful philanthropy work and connections in the community. 

“They needed someone who knew people in the community, someone who could spirit up the community and sell this idea,” she recalled.

Her sales pitch started after one First Night planning meeting. That one meeting soon became daily meetings for the next three years.

Smith said she wondered how the event would go over with the public. She said residents called with questions about parking and safety.

New Year's Eve revelers did find their way to downtown Raleigh that year and they have continued to make the event a success.

Last year, Smith walked the People's Procession with her grandson.

“I had tears streaming down my face, looking around, saying, ‘This is incredible. People are here. They love it and it is a wonderful event,’” Smith recalled.

Smith said the event wouldn’t be what it is without countless volunteers and the strong support from the community.

The 1,200-pound steel-and-copper acorn, which drops each year, was originally created for Raleigh's Bicentennial celebration in 1992, but was used for Raleigh's First Night celebration first, Smith said.

Lost Dog band returns 20 years later

The Lost Dog String Band rocked the first First Night in 1991. 

“My recollection was as we walked out onto the stage near where the acorn was to come down, it was people as far as the eyes cold see and it was blisteringly cold,” said Wade Smith, of the Lost Dog String Band.

Band member Wade Hargrove said the big concern was whether the acorn would drop at all.

“Will it actually come down at midnight on the money, at the bottom, at the stroke of midnight?” he said. “And it did.”

“That you would fill downtown Raleigh with an event that was alcohol-free, family-friendly and folks would come out – to see the sea of faces from one end of the mall to the other was really gratifying,” band member John Crumpler said.

Originally called Bloomsbury, the Lost Dog String Band has been together for almost fifty years. They will take the stage again on Friday to help celebrate 20 years of First Night.

“We’ve been singing together a long time and we’re great friends, as well,” said band member Mel Williams. “It’s really a total experience and I hope that translated that First Night and it will again on the 20th anniversary.”