St. Johnsbury’s First Night promises something for all

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(Host) A Northeast Kingdom New Year’s tradition turns fifteen this year. First Night is expected to draw over 2,500 people of all ages to more than a dozen different venues in St Johnsbury.

VPR’s Charlotte Albright dropped by the office of Director Jay Sprout to get a sneak preview.

(Albright) Now that Christmas is over, Pastor Jay Sprout can step away from the altar at the stalwart stone North Congregational Church and turn his full attention to what he likes to call his “community ministry”—helping to make the last night of every year a moveable feast for eyes, ears, and stomachs.

Juggling phone calls in his cozy church office, he’s trying to scare up an extra sound system. A tall order, at this late date. No sign of frenzy, though.

After all, this is a man of faith who still fondly remembers St J’s first First Night:

(Sprout) “The snowflakes just came down lightly all evening long, and yet it never got slippery, it wasn’t too cold. It was just perfect.’’

(Albright) What Sprout fears most is freezing rain. But weather rarely deters Northeast Kingdom party goers, and most of the venues are indoors.

For example, you can hear traditional tunes played by the Graham Highlanders, award winning high school bagpipers from St. Johnsbury Academy, or dance to a more raucous beat by a group called Prydein.

(Sprout) “And they really do bring down the house. So you’re right, we run from the most traditional of Celtic music to the most outrageous of Celtic music and Celtic rock.’’

(Albright) Sprout says he aims for a wide mix of regional talent including Vermont musicians who are making their mark elsewhere.

(Sprout) “Avi and Celia who are now a Boston based duo, and they have their own brand of roots based music that has a rock flavor to it.’’

(Albright) As program director, Sprout aims to keep families together–or at least within a few blocks of each other–on New Year’s Eve.

(Sprout) “We have events for little kids, and then we run through the teens. We are trying to aim at them with a breakdancing group from Florida. And we have a couple of good rock bands and then we are bringing in sophisticated music, including classical jazz and classical piano.’’

(Albright) Here, for example, is a sample from Boston-based jazz artist Ben Schwendener.

Sprout says there has never been any illegal or even disruptive behavior at the event, even though roving revelers can swell to a third of the city’s population in time for the midnight fireworks display.

After the original federal grant dried up, area

businesses ponied up half the $30,000 price tag, and the rest comes from $10 buttons. Of course, Sprout has personal reasons to draw a big crowd.

Donning yet another hat, he’ll be performing with the Pumpkin Hill Singers.

For VPR News, I’m Charlotte Albright.

(Host) St. Johnsbury’s First Night celebration, by the way, includes some names familiar to VPR listeners, including storyteller Willem Lange, and meteorologist Mark Breen of the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium.

There also are First Night celebrations elsewhere in Vermont.

In Montpelier, performances range from the Green Mountain Youth Symphony to a hat-making workshop.

And Burlington will stage its 25th annual festival. Activities include a talent competition for teen-agers, and a variety of dance performances. For more information, visit our web site,



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