SARATOGA SPRINGS – Saratoga Springs will have a New Year’s Eve celebration, though it won’t be First Night.
Instead, “Saratoga New Year’s Fest” will ring in the holiday with live music, comedy and fireworks.
The new event is billed as a reinvention of First Night Saratoga. Organizers include the county Chamber of Commerce, Saratoga Springs City Center, Discover Saratoga, the city and The 398Group, an event development company.
It’s slated to start around 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 31 and run through midnight. It’ll pick back up again at noon the following day and run until 6 p.m. National touring bands, as well as local bands, will perform at venues throughout the city. There will also be comedy shows, dancing and contests. Unlike previous celebrations, alcohol will be served at some of the venues.
The fireworks show will return, as will the popular road race, though that will be held on New Year’s Day rather than New Year’s Eve.
For years, First Night was organized by Saratoga Arts, a nonprofit arts center. However, the organization hasn’t held the event since 2019, partly because of the pandemic.
When Executive Director Louise Kerr came on board in August 2020, one of the first things she was asked about was the future of the New Year’s Eve celebration. That first year, it was canceled because of COVID-19 and, the following year, Kerr realized it just wasn’t something the arts center had the resources to pull together.
“I decided that we didn’t have the bandwidth nor the staffing nor the finances to plan something for 2021,” she said.
The news sparked frustration from some community members. Kerr believes, in part, because of a misunderstanding about the role that Saratoga Arts played in putting First Night Saratoga together.
“A lot of people thought that this was in part funded by the city in some way. And none of that’s true,” Kerr said.
Saratoga Arts put up the money to organize First Night and had a full-time staff member spend six to eight months of the year planning the event, Kerr said. The organization was also responsible for drumming up 140 volunteers to help run it.
It cost the arts center around $100,000 each year, a considerable portion of its $600,000 to $700,000 operational budget. They usually aimed to recoup that cost through button sales and sponsorships.
“But when I did look at the financials, I think the most they ever made was $6,000. More often than not, they were losing money,” Kerr said.
It didn’t make sense for Saratoga Arts, which was in the midst of trying to build back from the hit it took during the pandemic, to continue organizing First Night, according to Kerr.
In the spring of 2021, she met with leaders from the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, the Saratoga Springs City Center and Discover Saratoga, among others, to let them know the arts center wouldn’t plan First Night.
The organizations tried to pull together an event for 2021 but ran out of time to book bands, according to chamber President Todd Shimkus. This year, they’ve had more time to plan and had the help of additional organizations, along with Robert Millis of The 398Group, who has planned many other festivals and concerts.
“All of us have been talking about wanting to do this now for two years, and the support of the city and Robert [Millis’] professional expertise really drove us to what’s possible for this year,” Shimkus said.
“I like to turn around festivals that are a little bit of trouble or music venues that are a little bit of trouble,” said Millis, who has previously volunteered at First Night.
In the beginning planning stages, he suggested they drop the name First Night and bring in more national acts.
“We wanted to make a little more noise on the music side,” Millis said. “We wanted to start bringing in national acts, instead of it being just local acts.”
Beyond the music though, Millis added that there will also be a variety of activities and performances.
“That was always the First Night spirit, that there was a wide variety. And we’re going to do that,” he said.
The budget for the event is between $120,000 and $140,000, according to Shimkus.
“We’ve got enough partners to help us with volunteers and we’ve had a host of incredibly generous organizations that have stepped up to sponsor so that we can make sure we don’t lose money because if we lose money, it doesn’t sustain itself and then it goes away next year,” Shimkus said.
More information about the event will be announced later this week, including some of the names of the national acts that will perform. General admission tickets purchased in advance are $20 and then $25 as the event gets closer. Kids under 16 can attend for free. There are also VIP packages.
“This is . . . really a new event,” Shimkus said. “If we’re successful running it this year, our hope is to expand it.”
For more information visit eventcreate.com/e/saratoga-new-year-fest.