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Posted January 3, 2012 | comments Leave a comment

'Let's count our blessings'

City celebration rings in the year on positive note

By Candace Sipos -- csipos@nvdaily.com

Heston Phillips, 12, helped his mom, Claudia Phillips, pick up handfuls of colorful confetti and throw it at his family members.

It might be the only time each year he's allowed to stand in the middle of North Cameron Street, and to his mom, this family fun is what First Night Winchester is all about.

"My kids love it," Claudia Phillips said, noting that it's one way for them to celebrate the new year without alcohol or any illegal activity. "It's something you can do as a family... It promotes just fun."

After thinking for some time, Heston Phillips decided on his favorite part of the event -- the fireworks.

"He loves it because he gets to come dance," his mom quickly added.

The family had just witnessed the large, lighted apple drop Saturday in between the intersection of North Cameron and East Boscawen streets, where it had been dangling from H&W Construction Co. equipment while thousands listened to music from 92.5 WINC-FM.

Dozens of people formed a long line that weaved in and out of the antsy crowds before radio host Barry Lee came to the microphone for the apple drop.

"Let's count our blessings and think positive thoughts," he said about the new year.
About an hour before the night's climax, in the awkward moments when friends try to pull each other onto the unofficial dance floor, Winchester resident Brenda Chapman was unabashedly dancing in the street. Chapman has been coming to First Night for as long as she can remember, and this year, she was joined by her husband and 14-year-old daughter.

"The fun, the friends and everybody's so polite," she said, listing her reasons for returning every year.

For Alexa Thomas, 8, who was dancing with her mother during her second First Night experience, the earlier events were also a highlight.

"My favorite part is counting down and doing kids' things," she said, listing off such events as the magic shows and IMPROV 4 Kids, which was held at Christ Episcopal Church Sanctuary.

One of Thomas' new year resolutions is to get her grades up, which her mother agrees is a good idea.

Dozens of performers for all ages were scheduled across the downtown area as early as 2 p.m.

City resident Patti Keeton's favorite performance was by the Robbie Limon Band, who played at the Market Street United Methodist Church. She said there seemed to be more people at the event in general this time around.

Jack Dunlap, guitarist for the Banana Express band that often plays along the pedestrian mall, agreed.

"We're getting some cash," he said, noting his guitar box full of bills.

Although Karen Huffman, who owns the Liberty Foods vendor with her husband Terry Huffman, said this is one of the smaller festivals they attend around the country, she only had positive remarks about it.

"I think it's beautiful," she said of the city, lit up with Christmas trees and bustling with people barely bundled in the roughly 45 degree weather. "The festival is very nice... We hope to come back to the Apple Blossom Festival."

Liberty Foods was one of about a dozen vendors along the walking mall, which offered options ranging from kettle corn and funnel cakes to Asian stir fry and gyros.

According to Anne Trindal, secretary of the event's board of directors, the nice weather and plenty of events have drawn big crowds the past two years.

She estimated that about 1,500 to 2,000 people showed up last year, but the numbers were harder to calculate this year because it was the first time online payments were accepted via PayPal.

Sales totaled more than $15,000 last year, she said. According to Ed Grainger, treasurer of the board, about $3,000 of that goes into the roughly 20-minute firework show. Most of the remaining chunk goes into paying for entertainers and printing the pamphlets and other paperwork, Trindal added.

Many teenagers bought buttons, which serve as tickets, just to vote in the Battle of the Bands held at Braddock Street United Methodist Church, she said.

"I think every teenager in Frederick County is out there right now," Grainger said.

"That's the whole purpose of it, is to bring young people in for a non-alcohol event," Trindal said. "... I always say the best for me, though, is before the apple drops, to watch those kids out in the street like that. It's just great."

Linda Coffman, button sales chairman for the board, has been to every one of the 25 First Night events, which have only grown over time, she said. Not only do more local residents show up, but there are now vendors and different forms of entertainment.
"But a lot of it is the same," Coffman said. "We still keep the basics."

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