By Maddy Vitale
Where else will $20 get a person a night of listening to bands, singing a bit of karaoke, watching a stunt dog show, catching fireworks and more while ringing in the New Year?
Only in Ocean City.
For just $20, families and friends will celebrate New Year’s Eve with an array of family- friendly entertainment in an alcohol-free environment for First Night 2019.
To get your buttons now, visit www.firstnightocnj.com or call 609-399-6111. They’re also available at the Roy Gillian Welcome Center on the Ninth Street causeway, City Hall’s Welcome Center at 861 Asbury Ave. and the Welcome Center at 46th Street and West Avenue.
“I think with all the madness of the holidays, you really need to make time as a family, or as a group of friends, to set the plans for New Year’s, get your buttons and commit to doing it,” said Ocean City Special Events Coordinator Michael Hartman. “In this day and age, you have to carve time out for memories. And for $20, the night is so affordable. It is a no-brainer if you are looking for a neat way to spend New Year’s.”
The all-inclusive admission buttons are good for more than 70 shows and activities at venues throughout Ocean City. The celebration begins at 4 p.m. and is capped off by a brilliant, fireworks show at midnight shot off from the Fifth Street beach.
Hartman said it didn’t take him long to really enjoy organizing and attending First Night.
“I love not worrying about driving somewhere or who is hosting a party,” he said. “The whole night is planned for you. Whatever you are feeling like doing, you can go do.”
With such a packed schedule of activities and attractions, Hartman said it is Ocean City’s version of Disney World for the celebration.
The city is selling a total of 10,000 buttons. They are expected to go fast, so get your buttons now, Hartman is emphasizing.
“The First Night buttons have become keepsakes for people because of the memories they have created with that button,” Hartman said. “I encourage people to take a minute and review the schedule. I think they will be impressed.”
First Night was founded 27 years ago and modeled after an alcohol-free New Year’s Eve celebration in Boston that marked the nation’s bicentennial in 1976, Ocean City Public Information Officer Doug Bergen explained.
The first celebration in Ocean City included 25 entertainment acts at five different locations with about 800 people attending, a far cry from the bigger acts and crowds of today.
Both Hartman and Bergen attributed some of the city’s success with First Night to its quality acts.
R&B legends The Spinners will be the headliner at the Music Pier for First Night.
The city also added some new entertainment to the lineup. Hartman anticipates the crowds will love the shows.
“Vocal Trash,” which is described as “Glee Meets Stomp,” will get the crowds energized with rhythmic music. Another exciting twist will be a “Rockin’ New Year’s Eve with the Ocean City Pops.” The orchestra will perform a concert featuring an American Bandstand feel. The entertainment lineup also includes Johnny Peers Stunt Dog Show. A Choo Choo Train will run between Sixth Street and Eighth Street on the Boardwalk between 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. and there will be traditional favorites including ice-skating.
For those who don’t relish going out in the cold, organizers have made it possible to watch more than one act at a venue, before heading to another.
“We sort of reinvented the schedule a little bit. In the past, it was always three hours of a show,” Hartman noted. “What we did was change it to two hours for one show and then another, so you don’t have to leave the venue.”
Some of the venues include the Ocean City Community Center, the Music Pier, the High School, Primary School and Ocean City Tabernacle.
Bergen said while other First Night events have faded, Ocean City’s has only grown more popular with families, making it an annual tradition for a safe New Year’s Eve.
“It’s a great way to spend the holiday. It’s a great value for so much entertainment,” he said. “And it’s really fun to see Ocean City filled with summer-like crowds in the heart of winter.”
Hartman said the volunteers who work to make First Night possible deserve praise.
“I really want to thank all of the volunteers and committee members who, over the years, have helped build up such an incredible event.”