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Thousands will jam downtown for family-friendly First Night

On Dec. 31, 2001, Spokane grappled for the first time with a concept called First Night.

It proved an instant hit. About 14,000 revelers jammed downtown streets.

And after that, it really got popular.

Attendance topped 20,000 in its second year and has stayed mostly above that range – with the occasional blizzard-caused dip – ever since.

This year, executive director Chris Martin expects somewhere on the order of 26,000 people for the 10th annual First Night Spokane on Friday. Temperatures will be brisk, but since most events take place inside heated buildings (or next to bonfires), that shouldn’t deter crowds too much.

At this point, most people know what to expect – a family-friendly New Year’s Eve festival of music, arts and kids’ activities, spread out over 40-plus venues downtown. A $12 button ($15 at the event) gets you into everything.

So let’s dive into some of the details, starting with the logistics.

Free parking and shuttle – Free parking is available at the Riverpoint Campus-South Campus lot at 412 E. Spokane Falls Blvd. From there you can catch free shuttles to and from downtown. The shuttles run every 10 minutes.

The music and arts events – The core of First Night consists of dozens of concerts, dances and performances scattered in venues all over downtown, from 7 p.m. until midnight.

Performances begin on the hour and most last about 40 minutes. Seating begins about 15 minutes before the hour. You’ll receive a complete schedule and map with your button.

Run for fun – For the first time, First Night is sponsoring a fun run called the Resolution Run, as a way to kick-start your New Year’s resolutions. Runners can write out their resolutions and burn them at the end in a ceremonial bonfire.

The run begins at 6:45 p.m. in Riverfront Park; it’s free and no advance registration is required. The main route is a 5-kilometer course along the Spokane River and back, though you can opt out at one mile.

Runners should line up in the vicinity of the Rotary Fountain beginning at 6 p.m. A bag drop will be available.

The Opening Ceremony – The gathering for the race will roughly coincide with the Opening Ceremony at Riverfront Park at 6:30 p.m. The ceremony includes the lighting of a bonfire and some fireworks (although the biggest fireworks display won’t be until midnight).

The Variety Show – First Night launched a vaudeville-style variety show at the INB Performing Arts Center last year and it proved to be a huge draw. So it’s coming back this year, with Seattle comedian-magician Louis Foxx, Daniel DaVinci of Pinole, Calif., (“The Juggling Genius”), Portland’s Hot Shot Tappers (you might have seen them on “America’s Got Talent”) and Spokane’s own Jarom Watts, (“The Bubbillusionist”).

They’ll repeat the whole show five times, so just pick an hour and head for the INB (formerly the Spokane Opera House).

The Urban Rail Jam – Year in and year out, this is the most popular of all of First Night Spokane’s stand-alone events, according to Martin. More than 40 competitive snowboarders and skiers will show off their tricks on a ramp in Riverfront Park. They’ll begin practicing at 4 p.m. and start competing for prizes at 7.

An east end excursion – Downtown’s east side has been added to the First Night map this year, with the Main Market, Merlyn’s and the Main Street Garage hosting events.

The Magic Lantern also will be showing short films, courtesy of North by Northwest.

The 48-Hour Film Festival – The instant auteurs among us were given their assignments on Dec. 3: make a short film on a chosen theme, using a particular prop and a particular line of dialogue. Then the filmmakers were unleashed for the next 48 hours to write, shoot and edit a three- to five-minute movie.

Vote on the best of the resulting films at the Spokane City Hall Council Chambers.

Art demonstrations and exhibitions – Dozens of artists will be scattered throughout downtown demonstrating how to blow glass, throw pottery and spin wool. Sometimes they’ll even let onlookers have some hands-on experience.

Something different – Want a break from nonstop music? Here are a few other ways you can spice up your First Night: play readings, improv comedy, yoga classes, ballet, author readings, luxury condo tours and family adventure games. And you can even learn how to make your own flute.

Fun and games – Your First Night button is good for a free ride on the Looff Carrousel at Riverfront Park from 7 to 11 p.m. It also gets you a free skate at the park’s Ice Palace (but you’ll have to pop for your own skate rental).

You can also get reduced admission to the miniature golf course and the Spokane Falls Sky Ride. Then, on New Year’s Day, you can get into the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture for free.

Hungry? – You’ll be able to find food for sale throughout downtown, including at these sponsoring restaurants: Azteca Mexican Restaurant, the Safari Room at the Davenport Hotel, Cyrus O’Leary’s, Hill’s Restaurant, P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, The Melting Pot, Rock City Grill and McDonald’s.

The fireworks finale – Performances will end just before midnight, in time for everyone to head toward Riverfront Park to see the Midnight Fireworks Spectacular, sponsored by the Spokane Tribe.

And while celebrating the arrival of 2011, you might want to celebrate the ongoing success of First Night. It wouldn’t have thrived for this long without hundreds of volunteers, dozens of sponsors and thousands of enthusiastic attendees.