Nearly four decades ago, Boston debuted its New Year's Eve First Night celebration in hopes of gathering several disjointed communities for a unified party to start the year. It worked, and the tradition has subsequently cycled in and out of favor, reaching nearly 300 cities at one point before receding in recent years. But Raleigh's First Night Celebration, now in its third decade remains true to the premise of recruiting artists, musicians and activities from many distinct scenes. This year, the buoyant songs of The Lollipops and the bustling numbers of Lonnie Walker share the bill with singers from the North Carolina Opera and the autobiographical numbers of Colombian harpist Pavelid Castañeda. There's yoga and comedy, an enormous Lite Brite made of recycled plastic bottles and miniature towns built by artist Tim Gabriel. With its half-mile expanse of carnival food and pockets of kid-friendly activities, First Night is a bit cheesy by design. But it balances that necessity with genuine variety better than any municipality-steered event in the area, and that's not a bad start to a new year.
—Grayson Haver Currin