About First Night Alexandria, VA

First Night celebrations around the country are becoming more popular with each passing year. If you’ve never attended First Night Alexandria (VA) you don’t know what you’re missing!

First Night Alexandria is a celebration of the new year through the performing arts. Retail stores, churches, museums and public buildings are turned into performance venues to showcase incredible local and regional talent. Recent performers at First Night Alexandria include a Grammy-nominated rock and roll guitarist, traditional jazz, country bands and a rising pop star, as well as clowns making balloon sculptures, face painters and magicians for children.

For a small fee for adults (children 12 and under and active military are free), you have access to all the entertainment, more than 100 performances, all evening! Everything is within easy walking distances. And we celebrate the dawning of a new year at midnight with a spectacular fireworks display on the Potomac River at the foot of King Street sponsored by First Night Alexandria and MGM National Harbor.

If you like the fireworks, help us keep bringing them to you. Producing such an amazing fireworks display is VERY EXPENSIVE. Contribute now!

It’s all great fun, affordable, safe and venues are alcohol free. Make your plans now to join us for First Night Alexandria on December 31st. We’ll update this site frequently so check back often and follow along as the final plans come together!

First Night History!

1975 1975
1978
1994
2000 2000
2001 2001
2002 2002
2003 2003
2004
2005 2005
2006 2006
2007 2007
2008 2008
2009 2009
2010 2010
2011 2011
2012 2012
2013 2013
2014 2014
2015 2015
2016 2016

1975

A group of performers in Boston were tired of performing in bars and restaurants as background for a lot of drunk people.  They started First Night as a non-alcoholic alternative to celebrate New Year’s where people paid money to come and hear them perform.

1978

On New Year’s Eve in 1978 three members of the City of Alexandria’s Pipes and Drums, wearing the scarlet, green and yellow Clan Cameron tartan, flood the candlelit hall of Carlyle House with the shrill tones of the bagpipe and the steady beat of the drum.  At midnight a Pipes and Drums band member marches through the back door of Carlyle House and onto the terrace.  Happy New Year is declared by all!

1994

First Night started in Alexandria by two women, one from McLean and one from Alexandria.  The board was comprised of dedicated volunteers, some were Alexandria residents, few were Alexandria business people, some were performers, and others had an interest in an alcohol-free New Year’s Eve.  From that time through 2000 fund raising was haphazard.  A decision on whether or not the event would even happen usually occurred in September.  Board meetings were sporadic.

2000

First Night did not happen on 12/31.  Funds were not raised during the year and the board made the decision to cancel the event.

2001

In the spring, after meetings with Ann and Rick Dorman, the board hired them to produce the event and either run the organization for the next year or, if not successful, dissolve First Night Alexandria.

  • The organization had about $350 in the bank and nearly $3,600 in debt.  If the event was successful, the Dormans were to restructure the board for 2002.  The Dormans plan was to run First Night Alexandria in a more business like manner, changing the model practiced since the inception of the event.
  • There were virtually no complete records passed on in the transition
  • The Dormans took on the event for the first year with no fee unless it was successful (defined as being able to pay all the bills and have enough cash to move forward to the next year).  A fee would be paid in January if the event was successful.
  • For several years after that, half the fee would be paid monthly with the balance paid in January, once all other bills were paid.
  • Then board president, David Martin (an Alexandria resident employed by a large law firm in DC), understood the BOD wasn’t the right mix of people; it needed to be more Alexandria business focused.
  • The event was successful and after all bills were paid (including the Dormans’ fee) there was a $24,000+ surplus to begin the next event.
  • First Night Alexandria received major support from Bill Euille, then on counsel, and then Mayor Kerry Donley.

2002

After a successful event on 12/31/01, in spite of 9/11/01, the first strategic planning session occurred.

  • Notes from that meeting are included in your board book but a few highlights include:
    • After seeing Rockville cancel its 2001 celebration because the City pulled all the funding (no private money had been used), FNA made the decision to remain a public/private partnership.
    • We also knew we had to show the ROI to the City
    • We knew we wanted to sell admission badges on-line; whether people showed up or not we got the money.
    • We wanted to build reserves to $50,000 to carry us forward.  This was equal to that year’s admission badge sales.  This reserve would cover expenses if it became necessary because an act of God or war to cancel First Night.
    • We discussed a wheel with spokes approach to the footprint.  Old Town was the hub and we would expand to other parts of the City as soon as possible with Del Ray being the first likely expansion.
  • The First Night Alexandria board early-on saw the wisdom of being a private/public event and to show the ROI to sponsors and the City.
  • Although income went up in 2002, expenses were up as well.
    • Performer fees were up significantly.
    • The management fee was raised to reflect a full year of responsibility.
  • Our surplus was only $1500.

2003

Badge sales, corporate and individual donations were up significantly and we ended the year with another high net of nearly $34,000.

  • We now had started to build a reserve to shield us against a down year and/or bad weather.
  • The goal was to have enough in reserve to cover lost income from admission badge sales.

2004

The first year we expanded to Del Ray, implementing one of the discussion items from the 2002 planning session.

  • Badge sales were up significantly again by $15,492 to $84, 045.
  • Corporate donations and the City’s contribution were both down.
  • We had a good surplus of $8,200 after all bills were paid.

2005

We expanded Del Ray venues and significantly increased the amount of money we spent on advertising.

  • Artist fees were up.
  • The City’s contribution increased significantly giving us the boost needed to close the year with another nice surplus.
  • We had reached our 2002 goal of having a $50,000 reserve within five years to guard against a bad weather year.
  • Contract support (PR and Volunteers) increased

2006

This was the first really down year for First Night Alexandria since 2000.

  • The City’s contribution was down
  • The weather was bad; drizzle and rain all day which directly affected 12/31 badge sales.
  • DASH nearly doubled its fees unexpectedly
  • Contract support and the management fee were increased slightly
  • Printing costs nearly doubled due to increased prices.  By using multiple printers to spread the business we lost economies of scale.
  • All this contributed to the first time since 2000 that we ended the year with a negative balance.  However, we didn’t dip into savings (management deferred payment several times in 2007 rather than go into reserves)
  • Getting volunteers to work in Del Ray was a struggle

2007

A banner year for badge sales; up nearly $24,000 to $91,650

  • This was the last year badges were a maximum of $15
  • The City’s funding stabilized
  • Advertising again increased
  • Buses increased again
  • The management fee was raised slightly and management took over booking the performers.  Nora Partlow had taken on this responsibility as part of her board responsibilities at no fee.  After that we had two contractors at various times (Michelle Swann and Rob Gabriel) who were paid small fees.
  • Police costs nearly doubled.  Prior to this time, much of the cost of security was absorbed by Federal grants the police department received.
  • The year ended with a slight surplus.
  • Getting volunteers to work in Del Ray was nearly impossible
  • The King Street Mile was created to attract media earlier.  We were limited to elite runners, those that could do eight-minute miles.  The start was at City Hall; the end at the Amtrak Station.  Costs were shared by Pacers who organized the race part of it.  It was successful but costly.

2008

The worst year we’ve had yet with regard to weather.  It was so windy that by mid-afternoon half of the fireworks barrier had been blown down and there was no way to reset it.  The truck carrying the fireworks could not get across the Bay Bridge.  A number of fireworks displays were cancelled throughout the area.

  • Badge sales were down $20,000 from 2007.  The price was raised from $15 to $20 each; children 12 and under were still free.
  • The economy tanked.
  • We tried the King Street Mile again absorbing more of the expenses.
  • Artist fees increased reflecting more venues and performers wanting more money
  • We reduced buses slightly by using the trolley.
  • We had no venues in Del Ray and saved money on buses; the performer fees were diverted to Old Town venues.

We will see our second negative year end.  However, this time we dipped into reserves.

2009

We knew that the City funding will be down at least 5%

  • With the economy, what is the outlook for corporate fund raising?
  • Artists fees were cut.
  • We eliminated all venues on the south side of Duke Street in the PTO area.
  • We eliminated free bus service except for two buses going from Metro to the George Washington Masonic Memorial?
  • We struggled with how to replenish reserves and remain sustainable?
  • First Nights in general have struggled financially.
  • Rockville (the City) completely funded their First Night.  After 9/11 all funding was stopped and Rockville hasn’t had a First Night since then.
  • The City of Fairfax started one in ’03 or ’04.  They didn’t have it in 2008.
  • Annapolis had a thriving First Night through 2006.  In 2007 the City did an event like First Night although they pulled out of the international organization.  In 2008 a private contractor took it over; it’s still not an official First Night.  They did OK but not as well as expected.
  • Manassas started a First Night in 2007 put on by the City.  It has been modestly successful.
  • The media is always asking for activities for B role around mid-day broadcasts.  Should we create or move something to the afternoon (kids activities; the race at noon rather than 5:00 pm) to accommodate these requests?
  • We created the Fun Hunt which was very successful and cost only about $2,000.
  • What is an appropriate commitment from each Board member?  In 2006 and 2007 it was $3,000; in 2008 it was $2,000.
  • We received an organizational grant from ACT to review our operations and get opinions from stakeholders.  (Also included in the board book)

2010

The economy was finally beginning to look better and we really lucked out with the weather.  It was in the mid-50’s with no precipitation.

  • We had the second highest ticket sales in ten years.
  • 60+% of those sales were the day of the event.
  • The budget had been severely cut.
  • Performers were asked to hold fees at the same level as 2009.
  • In July were we told we could not do traditional fireworks at the Masonic Memorial (GWMM).  The Commonwealth changed the setback from 100 feet to 300 feet and there was no place there to do them.  The City officials and police had concerns about doing them on the river (midnight, people drinking, reorienting crowds, etc.).
  • We opted to look at other options and hired Image Engineering from Baltimore to produce a multimedia show.
  • With one exception (a too long year in review photo piece), the show was very good.
  • We were able to do what is referred to a “close proximity pyrotechnics” from two roof areas of GWMM as part of the show.
  • GWMM gave FNA a financial incentive to keep the finale there and GenOn was a major sponsor.
  • Given the success, in January management suggested and the board approved a small “bonus” to all the performers in appreciation of them holding their fees.  The volunteer coordinator received an additional amount and ACVA staff that did all the media outreach were also given a gift card.
  • We ended the year with the highest net in ten years and will replenish the $20,000 in reserves

2011

Unusually, there is a very high turnover of board going into the new fiscal year (April 1-March 31).  The terms had been staggered to avoid this possibility but several people resigned early for various reasons.  Although our bylaws allow for 15 board members, we have just 12 going into the year with the option of adding more if the right person(s) come along.  The philosophy has always been the right person, not just a warm body.

  • We got the highest grant from the Arts Commission.
  • We had our highest badge sales to date.
  • It was the warmest New Year’s Eve in recorded history.
  • We did a ping pong ball drop (6,000) at GWMM at the end of the laser show.  It was a great hit.
  • We told people to take pictures of themselves with their FNA badge and one of the balls and post on our Facebook.  We would pick a winner of $500.  Not one ball was left!
  • We did so well that we shared our good wealth with the performers.  If their fee was under $1,000 we sent them a check for $100.  If the fee was over $1,000 we gave them a 10% check.  Great hit with the performers and the Arts Commission.
  • We also gave money to the middle and high school music programs at Hammond, GW and TC.

2012

We had a full complement of 15 board members this year.

  • We did not meet our corporate fundraising goals.
  • It was our best year ever for badge sales.
  • We had success with food trucks and learned later we were the beta test for the City allowing food trucks on a regular basis.
  • Bonnie Rideout performed one set at St. Paul’s.  We charged an extra $10 and sold out the church.
  • The finale in the street (unit block of King) starting at 10:00 with the Stairwells followed by DJ Ray Casiano until the fireworks all a huge hit!
  • Fireworks were spectacular!
  • A friend of Jeanne’s captured a photo with the City Christmas tree and fireworks that is great.
  • We sent each performer a second check (10% or $100 if their fee was less than $1,000).  This was the second year we did this and it was a huge hit.
  • We donated money to the music programs at Hammond, GW and TC Williams (again second year for that).
  • We also “paid” each scout and ACPS student that worked or showed up for the afternoon performance $10 per hour per kid.  Checks went to the organizations, not the kids.

2013

We had 14 board members

  • We did not meet our corporate fundraising goals.
  • Badge sales were down slightly from 2012.
  • We continued with the successful finale in the street and fireworks on the river.
  • Performers received a bonus again; same formula as 2012.
  • We did the ACPS donations again and paid the scouts to help out.

2014

We had 15 board members

  • We exceeded our corporate fundraising goals by almost 19%
  • Badge sales were the highest ever!
  • We continued with the successful finale in the street and fireworks on the river.  This year the police added more bicycle fencing to provide “corridors” for emergencies.
  • The fireboat was in the water as a precaution.
  • Performers received a bonus again; same formula as 2012.
  • We did the ACPS donations again and paid the scouts to help out.

2015

We had 13 board members

  • We exceeded our corporate fundraising goals.
  • Badge sales blew 2014 out of the water.  Sales were 72% higher than 2014.
  • We continued with the successful finale in the street and fireworks on the river.  This year the police added more bicycle fencing to provide “corridors” for emergencies.
  • The fireboat was in the water as a precaution.
  • Performers received a bonus again; same formula as 2012.
  • We did the ACPS donations again and paid the scouts to help out.

2016

We had 13 board members

  • We did not meet our corporate fundraising goals.
  • Badge sales were down from 2015 but up over 2014.  In retrospect, this was attributed to a number of actors – 2015 was an anomaly, 2016 was a four-day holiday weekend and more people traveled out of town than came here, MGM Grand opened and had two big name performers, the media since Thanksgiving focused on terrorism events around the world and finally there was a lot of election fatigue.
  • We continued with the successful finale in the street and fireworks on the river.  This year the police added more bicycle fencing to provide “corridors” for emergencies.
  • The fireboat was not in the water because of repairs.
  • Performers were not given a bonus and asked to hold their charge to the same level for 2017.
  • We did the ACPS donations again and paid the scouts to help out.
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