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Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News
Ice skaters zoom around the Gallivan rink in 2006.

With each year that passes, the Downtown Alliance puts a lot of pressure on itself to create a better First Night celebration welcoming the new year.

"We have based the celebration throughout the past 14 years on many different themes and have added many different twists with the event," said Robert Farrington Jr., executive director of Downtown Alliance First Night, during an interview with the Deseret Morning News.

"We have changed location, the presentation and the approach but have always managed to keep the essence and certain aspects of First Night — which is a nonalcoholic, family-oriented community party."

On New Year's Eve, First Night will keep that tradition alive while paying homage to the city of New Orleans.

On tap for the shindig will be headliners the Hot 8 Brass Band and the All-Star Voodoo Revue, featuring Papa Mali and Henry Butler.

Also gearing up for the celebration are the fire-juggling Incendiary Circus, Zivio Ethnic Arts Ensemble, the Paul Green School of Rock, the Afro-Brazilian martial arts team Salt Lake Capoeira, Urban Dance, Mama's Faith Temple Choir and hypnotist Kerry Sharp.

"I was raised in the New Orleans area," said Farrington. "And there is more to that city than Mardi Gras, wearing beads and getting drunk.

"I mean, the culture is so rich in music and culture," he said. "And it isn't a bad thing that we keep New Orleans in the minds of our community. There is still some distress out there from Hurricane Katrina. There has been some improvement, but there is still a long way to go. And we decided that we wanted to help them this year with our celebration."

By hiring the Hot 8 Brass Band, the First Night staff has helped with the New Orleans rebuilding efforts. The band belongs to a grass-roots, post-Katrina program called Save Our Brass!, which reunites New Orleans brass bands that play relief shelters and various benefits.

"It's our little, humble way to help," said Farrington.

In addition to the New Orleans tribute, this year's First Night activities will not be scattered throughout downtown. Instead, the event will be centered around the Gallivan Utah Center.

"We've had complaints in the past that people couldn't get to all the different venues because the event was so spread out," said Farrington. "So we made the decision of focusing on the Gallivan Center and closing 200 South from State Street to Main Street."

The street will be closed about 5:30 p.m., giving people who work downtown a chance to leave, said Farrington.

While the area will be considerably smaller, Farrington said he doesn't fear the area will get overcrowded, even during the fireworks display that will be shot off from the Wells Fargo parking garage.

"There are a lot of people coming and going throughout the night," he said. "We average between 15,000 to 20,000 people a year, and there is a lot to see. But the crowds tend to balance themselves out because everyone has their own interests. We're just making it easier for them to get to the performances and exhibits they want to see.

"Also, when people gather for the fireworks, it usually isn't as crowded as others may think. There are many families with children who leave before the fireworks and some find other places to watch them."

If you go ...

What: First Night Salt Lake 2008

Where: Gallivan Utah Center, 239 S. Main

When: Monday, 6 p.m.-midnight

How much: $8 and $10 at Albertsons, The Gateway or Gallivan Plaza

Phone: 359-5118

Web: www.firstnightslc.org

E-mail: [email protected]