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First Night, Whistler-style

The inside scoop on Whistler's annual alcohol-free, family-friendly festivities

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What: First Night

When: Friday, Dec. 31, 6:30 p.m.

Where: Village Square/Conference Centre

Cost: $15 for adults, $8 for kids 12 and under, and free for kids under the age of two (in advance)

Anyone who's been in Whistler to ring in the New Year is well aware that there are plenty of parties going on around town for the "party-hardy" pack. But what about the families? Where can they go to celebrate the end of one year and the new beginnings of another? That's where First Night festivities come into play.

Whistler began hosting First Night almost 17 years ago. Local events producers, Watermark Communications Inc., stepped into the fray in 2003.

"This is the brainchild of Sandra Smith (Bylaw Supervisor for the RMOW) and Maureen Douglas, as I understand it," explained Sue Eckersley, president of Watermark.

"I think it was as a result of concerns around safety in the village," she said.

"We're basically trying to fill the niche of those people who don't necessarily want alcohol as part of their New Year's celebration, or other people around them with alcohol. In particular, obviously that targets a family market, making sure that kids have a safe, secure and also creative environment to play in during New Year's."

The end result is an alcohol-free, positive environment for people of all ages.

"It's a whole lot of fun, and there are a lot of families with kids, but there are also older people of every age that want to come out and just enjoy a bit of good music and great crafts and enjoy storytelling, all those kind of things that are part of First Night."

The musical lineup for the 2011 celebrations include three acts on the main stage in Village Square - Vancouver's Five Alarm Funk, Whistler's own Brother Twang and Squamish's Scott Verbeek. While all have performed in Whistler before, it's Five Alarm Funk and Brother Twang's first time at the NYE event.

"Most of the lineup has changed: we make sure we refresh that every year," Eckersley said.

For six of the past eight First Night parties Watermark has organized, they've had Whistler DJ Mat the Alien spin through the countdown, welcoming the New Year. But this year, Mat's playing a gig in the city, so Five Alarm Funk will be playing the big midnight moment.

"Five Alarm Funk came to Whistler their first time with Mountain West (Music Fest) a couple years ago, and then we've had them at the World Ski and Snowboard Festival and Whistler Live! put them on their stage, as well. They're just a group with high energy, really great people to work with, and really appeal to just about anybody. I've never met anybody who doesn't like watching them!"

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