Night Shift: Downtown's First Night Celebration "Taking the Year Off"

We haven't even gotten through Christmas yet, but there's a popular seasonal event that's curiously absent from end-of-the-year event ads and calendars. First Night Knoxville had taken over Market Square every New Year's Eve since 2007, but for the first time since its inauguration, it's not happening.

John Craig, president of Center City Events, which put on the party last year (and is in charge of the annual Biscuit Festival), says as downtown nightlife hit its stride and became busier and busier every year, several other events started happening on New Year's Eve.

"Rather than compete with some of those [other events] … we just decided we'd take the year off," Craig says.

One of the biggest events that night is the Dirty Guv'nahs concert at the Tennessee Theatre (though the show starts at 8 p.m.), while most nightclubs around town also have special attractions planned. (See our special New Year's Eve insert in this issue for listings.)

First Night Knoxville, sanctioned by the national group First Night USA, was an alcohol-free mega-event that would kick off in the mid-afternoon. It took over 12 venues, Krutch Park, and Market Square last year. Revelers bought $15 buttons in advance ($20 the day of) that allowed them to be admitted to the kids' festival at the East Tennessee History Center and any and all of the concerts that were played. Performers included Austin, Texas singer Carrie Rodriguez and local favorites the Black Cadillacs and Robinella.

"It was getting to be a bigger and bigger [event]," Craig notes. The First Night Knoxville website, still online, hyped it as "the region's preeminent New Year's Eve celebration."

Craig says the nonprofit is reevaluating whether First Night is worth continuing, and there is a possibility that it will return next year.

The city was a sponsor of the event, providing the public-support workers and footing the bill for the electricity and the ball drop. This year the city's running the show itself. Details for the event are still sparse on the city's website, but Judith Foltz, director of the special events office, says Erin Donovan from WBIR will be emceeing the event, which Foltz says should really get going around 11-11:30 p.m. There may be a band, she says, but if not, there will at least be music played. In addition to dropping the ball at midnight, fireworks will be shot off to ring in the new year.

"We feel it will be pretty similar to [First Night]," Foltz says. "It's so active downtown. I'm hoping for a good turnout."

There won't be 12 venues to hop around, but there's no charge to stand around on the Square for an hour before midnight, and Foltz says people will probably migrate to the Square after dinner or any concerts going on that night. She says the city decided to just see if they could pull off the event without the help of Center City Events, and if it's a success, they'll look into continuing it.