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Pop Filter Hot Pick: Ring in 2014 and 20 years at Highmark First Night Pittsburgh

Photograph courtesy of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.
Photograph courtesy of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.
Why you should go: Feeling those annual pangs of New Year's Eve stress just pondering the party options, cover charges, wardrobe choices and travel headaches? We suggest you look no further than Downtown Pittsburgh for an Auld Lang Syne filled with art, culture and community.

If one of your resolutions is to make more time for art, then the best place to kick off 2014 is at Highmark First Night Pittsburgh. Bid adieu to 2013 and help mark two decades of First Nights Downtown at the 'Burgh's biggest New Year's Eve bash, which boasts some 150 events taking place in 50 indoor and outdoor venues located within the 14-block Cultural District.

From an immersive ice and LED labyrinth to a miniature city constructed from medicine cabinets, desk lamps, Victorian dollhouses and repurposed junk, Highmark First Night Pittsburgh offers arts-centric family-friendly programming from 6 p.m. to midnight.

Your one-stop shop for a New Year's Rockin' Eve, and among 200 First Nights held in cities worldwide, the region's largest single-day celebration is produced by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust along with presenting sponsor Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield. Expected to draw more than 35,000 residents and tourists, the dynamic showcase of arts experiences also spotlights recent growth taking place throughout Downtown.

Programs include cutting-edge and high-quality local and international dance, music, theater, comedy, magic, visual art and film--along with engaging hands-on activities for children and adults, and of course multiple fireworks displays. At the event's 14 venues dedicated to the visual arts, revelers will experience a wide range of visual media and expression, from film and installation art, to painting and sculpture.

Hop on the T or bus before or after making the party rounds--or better yet, make an entire night of it. For those already shivering--we've got you covered (literally)--because 90% of First Night events take place indoors.

The sounds of First Night

Kicking off the merrymaking at 6 p.m. will be country rock band NOMaD on the Dollar Bank Stage, along with a festive children’s fireworks display.

Swing by the WYEP Music Station, located on the fourth floor of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust Education Center, to enjoy live performances by singer-songwriter Joy Ike and indie folk duo Broken Fences. In the Trust Arts Education building's Peirce Studio, Sean Jones will lead the Mission Statement 2014 Reunion Band in a 10th anniversary performance.

Additional featured performers throughout the night include local musical legends Johnny Angel & the Halos at the Benedum Center, the River City Brass Band at the Byham Theater, magician Jason Hudy at CAPA High School, juggler and yo-yoer Mark Hayward at the Highmark auditorium, First Night Comedy Club at the Cabaret at Theater Square, and Attack Theatre and the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School at the August Wilson Center.

Headlining the 20th anniversary celebration on the Highmark Stage is soul, R&B and funk sensation Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires. Once performing as a James Brown impersonator at Brooklyn clubs, the American funk, soul and R&B singer released Victim of Love on Daptone Records 2013. Creating music that is evocative of funk and soul sounds from the 1960s and 1970s, Bradley is the subject of the 2012 documentary, Soul of America.

What's new this year?

A must-see First Night attraction is the event's special one-time Ice Labyrinth. Step into and walk through an immersive five-foot high and 40 feet by 40 feet maze of giant ice blocks. Commissioned for the 20th anniversary celebration of Highmark First Night Pittsburgh, the massive maze features LED lighting and was carved and designed by Rich Bubin of Ice Creations. Located next to Fire & Ice Plaza at the 8th Street parking lot, the dazzling labyrinth will also feature Steel Town Fire.

Over at 820 Liberty Avenue, catch FJ Hartland's award-winning play Funeral in the Rain and a new visual art exhibition presented by Edinboro University's Bruce Gallery. Serving as a conduit of art between Pittsburgh, Erie and Edinboro, the temporary pop-up installation entitled Transpose involves a community-based approach.

Ready to move? Head to EQT Plaza to join a dance party hosted by iQ Kids Radio, a commercial-free, family-friendly educational radio station developed by WQED Multimedia and SLB Radio Productions, Inc. which is celebrating its one-year anniversary.

Don't miss Miniature Curiosa's It Was the Coldest Winter Ever, an interactive variety show created by puppeteer Zach Dorn that will be featured at Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Pittsburgh (212 9th Street). Encounter a miniature city constructed of medicine cabinets, desk lamps, Victorian dollhouses, and repurposed junk, where trees are actually tiny copper wires and pocket-sized residents are housed in cramped bedrooms. Equipped with video technology, Dorn will send digital cameras through the city's cardboard streets, projecting puppet performances for children and adults alike that reveal the miniature city’s hidden stories.

Also new this year is Bricolage Production Company's First Look: First Night, an immersive urban adventure that invites audiences to embark on a personal 30–minute journey interacting with the world of art. Equal parts game and performance art, First Look: First Night is an experience unlike any found on a stage, taking its audience on an actual journey through various city locations.

Visual arts showcase

Among the 14 visual art venues participating in First Night is the Trust Arts Education Center, which will be transformed into an exhibition space for the event. Featured exhibitions include the mixed-media group show Memory Terrains, Don Jones' child-size, energetic animated robot Cycle Sam, Matthew Buchholz's Alternate Histories prints of Pittsburgh, and a selection of Mia Tarducci Henry’s vibrant abstract paintings reflecting her experiences in Grenada.

On the third floor of the Trust Arts Education Center, enjoy a screening of the 1959 animated film “Rhapsody in Steel” by former Disney staffer John Sutherland. Commissioned by U.S. Steel, the 23-minute industrial cartoon features a score by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and tells the story of the history of steel, from the first meteor hitting the earth to space flight.

Pop into the First National Bank Family Tent to participate in hands-on activities for kids and adults led by the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, Citiparks, Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, Pittsburgh International Children’s Theater, and more.

Love a parade?

Kicking off at 8 p.m., the FedEx Ground Parade is based on a timely “Special Delivery” theme for 2013, and features Grand Marshals Mr. McFeeley, First Night Pittsburgh founders former Mayor Tom Murphy and Jamee Todd, giant puppets, art cars, marching bands and even a bicycle parade.

When hunger strikes, head to the First Night Food Trucks which will be set up in the parking lot at 9th Street and Penn Avenue. While you nosh on local fare, view a display of visual memories celebrating 20 years of First Nights in Pittsburgh projected on a giant screen located at 6th Street and Penn Avenue.

View a complete schedule of Highmark First Night Pittsburgh events, performances and activities, and purchase an all-access First Night® Pittsburgh Button. For a sneak peek, check out the First Night promo video.

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