Three children ago, Lexie Bonitatibus spent her New Year’s Eves at friends’ houses, partying up a storm.
Now the New Year comes earlier — by 9 p.m. — and the Bonitatibus family has found a different type of party. This one has Disney music and children dancing in the aisles.
First Night Saratoga is their new tradition, Bonitatibus said.
“We can’t really go to parties with three little kids!” she said.
And the kids — ages 5, 3 and 1 — love the child-friendly alternative their parents found. Instead of sitting at home, they could wave their hands for free T-shirts, or beg to be a magician’s assistant. They could shout and sing without fear of being heard over the booming speakers. And so children took to the aisles, dancing wildly.
Musically, there’s something for everyone at First Night, but it’s definitely a family affair. Even those without kids prefer it for that reason.
“It’s just that it’s not boisterous,” said regular First Nighter Neil Marrone, who was buying popcorn outside a music venue. “You’re not going to be sucker-punched by a guy at the end of the night. The atmosphere is one of hopefulness.”
A few audience members at the City Center were wishing they were at home, where it is warmer and the television offers more professional entertainment, said one man who would not give his name.
But most said enduring the cool weather was worth it.
“We sat home and did nothing. Nothing! And now we don’t even have Dick Clark!” said Susyn Kelly, who brought her children to First Night this year after several years at home.
A regular, Bill Baker, said he would come no matter what the weather.
“I’ve been here even in the freezing rain,” he said. “There’s just so many new things going. Other than the cold weather, it’s a fantastic time, and tonight’s nice.”
There were other strategies for dealing with the weather. Some walked to one venue and stayed there, letting the acts change around them.
“Here, you’re going to have Disney, and then Tartan Terrors, and then a Latin orchestra!” said Paula VanDerVeer, who was delighted by the variety.
And she was looking forward to the big finale.
“I’ve never seen fireworks in winter,” she said.
Visitors donned New Year’s hats and glittery 2013 glasses and danced with growing abandon as the last night of the year wore on.
Some said they wanted to be part of a happy crowd.
“We love seeing the children, all the people on the street. It’s great to see families enjoying the night,” said Ruth Yetto.
And all the venues are close by, added Fred Thompson.
He and his wife Virginia have driven to Saratoga from Niskayuna every year since First Night started.
“Way back, we did Albany [First Night], but it was a lot of walking back and forth,” he said. “This is a small town.”
Some were truly there for the music, including teenager Mitchell Rigley, who confessed he was having a great time with his father.
They had gone to First Night regularly when he was young, but the tradition faded four years ago. This time, dad Tom Rigley suggested it as a way to learn from professional musicians.
“He plays guitar,” Rigley said of his son. “He’s a musician. It’s a chance to see other musicians up close and live, a chance to see the techniques.”
Mitchell Rigley has been playing guitar for four years now. But he said he was enjoying more than just watching guitar players.
“It was fun as a kid, and it kinda still is fun,” he said of First Night. “Staying up late. Listening to good music. Good food.”