Spokane’s First Night celebration marks its ninth year on New Year’s Eve, with its now well-known range of events for adults and kids around downtown Spokane. But Chris Martin, the event’s executive director, remembers when he would simply have stayed home for the holiday – when Dec. 31 was marked primarily as a festival of binge-drinking. “Like a lot of people, I had quit celebrating New Year’s Eve a long time prior to First Night,” he said. Here’s an edited version of an interview last week with Martin.
Q.Do you think New Year’s Eve has become less of lampshade-on-the-head kind of night in Spokane?
A.There’s no question about it. Having an alternative to going out on New Year’s Eve that doesn’t involve alcohol is a welcome change for people in this region. Spokane is known for being family-oriented. Certainly it’s a big part of the success that’s been created with Hoopfest and Bloomsday and other types of events in this region.
Q.Did you ever doubt it was going to work?
A.Not really. I had worked at the Spokane Arena for seven years. When I left the arena, First Night was in the early organizational stages. I told my wife, “That is the best idea for an event I have ever heard of.” I quickly became a volunteer in that first year, and the second year I was in charge and I have been for the past eight years.
Q.Given that this comes in the middle of winter, what’s the best-case scenario for the weather and the worst case?
A.Last year was the worst-case scenario. Coming off the worst three-week snowfall in the history of this region was tremendously problematic for us. This year, knock on wood, we’ve had a tremendously mild winter. Right now, the long-range forecast is actually perfect … highs in the lower 30s and lows in the mid to upper 20s.
Q.Do you have a favorite activity?
A. My personal favorite would be the Avista Kids Night Out. That’s a program we do from 3 to 6 at the Spokane Convention Center. Having two young daughters, a 6-year-old and 10-year-old, who have done First Night since they both were born, it’s been a great thing to watch them as a dad and see them in the various activities and crafts.
Q.Has the event changed or developed in ways you didn’t foresee?
A.In the beginning, it seemed like people were driven to First Night to experience a certain musical performance or see a particular kind of visual art. … Now I notice more people coming just to gather as a community, neighbors, friends – they have dinner together, they go to First Night activities, just share in the experience and the energy. I think it’s really become as much a gathering place as anything else.