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Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News
Above, members of the Incendiary Circus perform during First Night celebration Sunday at the Gallivan Center. At left, musicians perform during the New Year's Eve fete.

New Year's Eve revelers milled through the Gallivan Center during the last hours of 2006. A nippy cold night and the fact that it was Sunday kept the crowd to about half its usual size, agreed spectators and sponsors.

First Night Salt Lake 2007 was the 14th celebration of the arts, said sponsors. Participants with the First Night buttons rode TRAX for free to the annual "alcohol-free, family-oriented New Year's Eve celebration of the arts," in the words of a press release.

Bob Farrington, executive director of both First Night and the Downtown Alliance that sponsors the celebration, was working in event headquarters at the south side of the Gallivan Center. "It looks like it's off to a pretty good start," he said around 9 p.m.

Most years the crowd would be 30,000 to 40,000, he said. On Sunday, "our estimate are about half of that," he said. But final figures won't be known until ticket outlets tally their sales.

Tents and food stalls had sprouted on the center's plaza. Snacks ranged from buffalo burgers and hamburgers to coffee, soda, funnel cakes and other delights.

One stand sold soft light sabers and hats. A middle-aged husband and wife sat together wearing glasses whose rims were flashing lights. On the center's stage, a woman read poetry while dozens of people sliced along the ice-skating rink. A Latin beat rumbled from a packed tent.

In another tent, designated the "Noise Lab," dozens of children and parents made noisemakers and decorations or stood waiting their chance. "I make a noisemaker!" said a little girl in a blue parka top and a pink hat that covered her ears.

Heather Anderson, Sandy, Miss Utah USA, was behind one table helping a gaggle of girls assemble glittery headgear. "We are making crowns," said the 26-year-old.

A student at Utah State University and a professional runway model, Anderson explained that they used wires with bright little stars and sparkly material.

Another table specialized in making rattles, paper tubes with rice or beans in them. "Or both," said Carissa Weaver, a girl who was putting together a noisemaker. She was there with her mother, Virginia, and other family members.

"We're having fun so far," Carissa said.

Salt Lake Police officers stood in groups or walked quietly through the throngs. One agreed that the celebrants seemed well-behaved, so far.

People a dozen deep surrounded one venue where a troupe of fire dancers, "Incendiary Circus," performed. The group, from Salt Lake City, twirled and waltzed with burning brands, bent over backward with batons blazing and spread wings of fire. A child toward the back complained, "I can't see."

Landy Alger, Sugar House, said he and his girlfriend loved the fire dancers.

"Really cool," said Clark Hardell, Sandy. His son, Jason, said what he liked was "how they could keep the fire burning in their mouth and light the other torch with it."

Sean Meacham, Salt Lake City, pushing two children in a long stroller, said the dancers' "finesse and spirit captivated us. That was good stuff."

Todd Hanson, Salt Lake City, estimated he had attended about two-thirds of the First Night celebrations since 1991. The plaza was "much less crowded right now," he said. "I'm sure it'll pick up as the night goes on."

This year, he said, there were "a lot less people" because of the temperature and the day of the week.

To accommodate those who preferred not to celebrate New Year's Eve on the Sabbath, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints provided free festivities Saturday night at Temple Square.


E-mail: bau@desnews.com