City, Coronavirus, News

New Year’s festival in Boston to go virtual

First Night Boston, the city’s annual New Year’s Eve celebration, will shift online to ring in 2021 as the pandemic continues to limit in-person gatherings.

First Night Boston, the City’s annual New Year’s celebration, is going virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. COURTESY OF FIRST NIGHT BOSTON

The day-long festival, typically filled with live performances and interactive events, will be broadcast by NBC10 Boston, NECN, Telemundo Boston and on the First Night website, according to a Boston Celebrations Inc. press release.

The virtual event will feature ice sculptures, art, music, comedy and theatrical performances, said T.K. Skenderian, director of marketing and communications at Coventures Inc., which sponsors the event.

Originally, organizers considered hosting a smaller event with ice sculptures to reduce crowd size, Skenderian said. 

“We didn’t feel it was the responsible thing to do to have crowd-gathering attractions as part of the New Year’s Eve celebration,” Skenderian said. 

The City of Boston, which co-sponsors First Night, supports the pivot to a virtual event, Skenderian said, especially with COVID-19 cases on the rise.

“First Night Boston is a cherished tradition for the people of our city and those who come to enjoy it,”  Mayor Marty Walsh said in the press release. “While we are unable to safely gather in celebration this year, we appreciate the work of the performers, organizers, and the NBC family of networks to help keep the celebration alive.”

Skenderian added that hosting the annual celebration was important to keep residents’ spirits high and “keep the celebration alive” as this year rolls into the next.

“Whether digitally through a hashtag or by tuning into a broadcast from afar,” Skenderian said, “it’s one thing we can do to help Bostonians and those who love the city.”

Audience members can use #together21 to engage with one another during the celebration. The broadcast will feature posts from the hashtag, according to the press release. 

Three performers from the Old South Church’s “King of Instruments” performance will participate in the virtual event through an organ recital with the Boston chapter of the American Guild of Organists, according to Mitchell Crawford, the church’s minister of music.

Crawford said in an interview that the church has live-streamed events before and is prepared to do so for this New Year’s celebration.

However, because of the virtual format, its performance will be limited to an organ recital instead of its typical full show, which also includes brass instruments.

The performance is a “unique” occurrence for the church, which usually hosts religious and community-building activities, Crawford said.

Crawford said he envisions the virtual format could reach a larger audience than the in-person event. 

“[It’s] funneling the entire audience that one might expect to very specific events that are not competing against others in the same time slot,” he said. 

First Night Boston will also provide a platform for performers and artists who have been most impacted by the pandemic, Crawford added.

“Keeping First Night going means that it’s an unbroken continuity,” Crawford said, “and that people will be expecting it just to be as it was when we are no longer in a pandemic.”

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