First Night Welcomes 2021 with a Celebration of Art and Community That’s Virtual But True

December 28, 2020 | By Carlene Cobb

. . .

December 31

. . .
. . Celebrating its 28
th year, First Night St. Petersburg is recognized as the
. . largest family-friendly New Year’s Eve event in Florida and part of a
. . nationwide festival of arts and community. This year, the popular event’s
. . planners reimagined the traditional outdoor gathering to create the first
. . virtual First Night St. Pete. As a safeguard during the pandemic this year,
. . First Night celebrations across the country will all be virtual.

. . First Night St. Petersburg Executive Director Jamie McWade’s goal?
. . Evoke the feel of previous years’ festivals, add the safety net of a virtual
. . format to reduce risks of exposure to COVID-19 – and preserve popular
. . First Night traditions.

. . “Planning for the first virtual First Night St. Petersburg was a totally
. . different animal from planning a live event,” says McWade. “It took a lot of
. . research. Our videographer, Lens Honey, LLC filmed performances, and.
we worked with Candido Consultants to curate the performance videos.”

– The First Night 2021 button is designed
by Creative Clay artist Aaron Fraser

. . .

“The mission of First Night is to broaden and deepen the public’s appreciation for the visual and performing and literary arts through an innovative, diverse and high-quality program on New Year’s Eve, which offers the community a shared cultural experience in the center of the city that is accessible and affordable to all.”
. . .

Highlights from last year’s First Night 2020 celebration. Video by Lens Honey.

This year’s virtual First Night St. Petersburg will present interactive crafts, games, a scavenger hunt, shared New Year’s resolutions and quality entertainment captured in professionally prerecorded videos.

Diverse arts will be featured — musicians, dancers, aerialists, poets, painters, sculptors… Performances and activities, including fireworks filmed at the St. Pete Pier, can be accessed with your receipt link and cast to your television screen. Once you register online, you can enjoy the party with your friends online from 9 p.m. until midnight in the safety and comfort of home.

First Night New Year’s resolutions


“The first hour is focused on the kiddos,” adds McWade, describing a fun, instructive hat-making video plus hat-making supplies you can receive in the mail. Online Bingo, the popular bubble wrap stomp mailed to your home, rock painting, a Mad Science performance about fire and ice, and a scavenger hunt offer entertainment for all ages. 

The next two hours will be filled with a variety of arts including concerts by accomplished musicians like jazz guitarist, composer and producer Nate Najar performing with Daniela Soledade; vocalist and producer Fred Johnson; violinist Cal Morris; and Paul Wilborn, vocalist and pianist with his recently formed acoustic band, Seventh Avenue Picnic.

Paul Wilborn and Eugenie Bondurant performing at the St Pete Arts Alliance MUSE Awards

“St. Pete has kept First Night going all these years, and they do a great job,” says Paul Wilborn, author, musician and executive director of the Palladium Theater at St. Petersburg College. “We’re happy to be part of it this year for the virtual event.”

Seventh Avenue Picnic, with Wilborn on piano and vocals, guitarist Robin Sibucao, vocalists Sher Sibucao and Eugenie Bondurant, bring a soulful mix of songs by The Beatles, Elvis Costello and Young Rascals, to name a few.

Nate Najar

Daniela Soledade

Fred Johnson and the Michael Ross Quartet
Profile in CL Tampa

Cal Morris

Paul Wilborn

If you are passionate about dance, movement and thrilling choreography, you will enjoy African dance performances by Dundu Dole Urban African Ballet and high-flying aerialists with The Movement Sanctuary.

“I love to see our students perform and watch them experience being appreciated by the people watching,” says Jessica DeLeo, co-founder and owner of The Movement Sanctuary. “It’s been a lot easier to do the virtual performance. The live performance was an hour-and-a-half show with over 35 performers. In the video, there are fewer people, and the style is like a tour so you can see a variety of skills.”

The Movement Sanctuary

The Movement Sanctuary opened at 910 5th Avenue N in St. Petersburg in June 2017, and they have performed at First Night the last two years.

“When life allows it, I look forward to everyone coming back in,” says DeLeo. “This is an ‘all-levels space,’ meaning you don’t have to come in the door knowing what you’re doing, being super strong and in your best shape. Our instructors are very encouraging. You are taught how to stay safe… Learning to be safe, even if you fail — that’s how we learn with new things. It is a progression. It is attainable.”

Dundu Dole Urban African Ballet

The Movement Sanctuary

A range of arts is always represented at First Night, this year including visual art by Zulu Painter, and literary arts shared by Gio’s Typos and Keep St Pete Lit

Zulu Painter

Gio’s Typos

Keep St Pete Lit

Resolution Sculpture by James Oleson

First Night Traditions

The entertainment builds to the mesmerizing Resolution Fire Sculpture, The Colt Moon by James Oleson. Oleson creates vivid sculptures that catch fire for catharsis, and leave just a metal skeleton behind.

First Night button holders are encouraged to submit their New Year’s Eve resolutions via email, Instagram or Facebook. More than 50 resolutions have been submitted so far, and there is still time to submit yours online.

Then, watch on New Year’s Eve as resolutions rise up in flames and soar into the night sky.

To participate choose one of these easy options:

  1. Email: Write your resolution, your city and state and (if desired) your name on paper, snap a photo of it, and email the image to:
  2. Instagram: Post image of your resolution on Instagram, including your city and state. Use the hashtag #Resolution2021
  3. Facebook: Post your resolution on Facebook with your city and state. Tag our Facebook page @1stnightstpete

To see more of James Oleson’s work, visit

The Resolution Fire Sculpture will be followed by fireworks filmed at the St. Pete Pier.


How to Join the Celebration

Sculptor James Oleson at work

“The first ticket purchases came in from Springfield Illinois,” says McWade, adding that a benefit of the virtual format is that it extends the reach of this event and its participating artists. “We all need cheerful performances now to take our minds off the fear and loss of the pandemic, and each performer is very much appreciated. This year, we’ve partnered with First Night in Monterey, California and in Springfield Ohio. So, there will be performances from those cities’ celebrations as well.”

Tickets, in the form of Button Packages, include a variety of amenities and supplies for interactive creations and games. This year’s unique light-up First Night button was designed by Creative Clay artist, Aaron Fraser.

Button Packages cost $25, $35 or $100, depending on your desired sponsorship level. All proceeds support future First Night St. Petersburg events.

Button Packages can be purchased through Eventbrite on and at and you’ll receive keepsake buttons and materials for activities to do at home. Donations are also very welcome, at

First Night has always been inclusive. If you cannot afford to purchase a ticket,
you may still watch online performances.

“Our vision,” says McWade, “is to invite First Night-goers to safely be a part of the community, without having to be out in the community.”


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