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First Night Alexandria a Sell Out! The Magical Night Lingers With Marilyn Patterson

Marilyn Patterson in Market Square on New Year’s Eve (Photo: Lucelle O’Flaherty/The Zebra Press)

ALEXANDRIA, VA – Marilyn Patterson woke up on New Year’s Day after a long, exhausting night. She opened her blinds and peered out the window at the mist and drizzle. “I said to myself, thank you, Lord, for waiting 24 hours so we could have what we had yesterday.”

On Jan. 3, The Zebra Press caught up with First Night Alexandria‘s executive director. Patterson’s company, Joyous Events, is hired by First Night Alexandria to run the mammoth New Year’s Eve extravaganza. This is her sixth year at the helm of First Night, and she has been working on this monumental project for a whole year. Now that it’s over, Patterson can finally exhale.

“I am tired,” she admitted with a laugh. “It’s a lot of work. But you know, it’s work that has great purpose, I feel good about what we put out there for the public to experience. I am energized and inspired by all the wonderful notes and responses that we’ve gotten from a variety of sources.”

First Night Alexandria, in its 29th year, completely sold out by 3:30pm on New Year’s Eve. Tickets were only available online, and 4,410 were snapped up.

Merrymaking comes to a standstill as King Street pedestrians stop in their tracks to view the twilight fireworks display (Photo courtesy Carol Jean Stalun Photography)

One huge addition to First Night 2023 stands out. For the first time ever, Patterson introduced a twilight fireworks show, the first of two pyrotechnic displays that evening.

At exactly 6 p.m., Patterson ascended the Market Square stage at City Hall, flanked by Mayor Justin Wilson, Vice Mayor Amy Jackson, and Councilman R. Kirk McPike. (Councilmembers John Chapman and Canek Aguirre attended the Market Square Block Party.)

The crowd was pumped, electrified by thumping dance tunes spun by DJ Infinite Sounds. Food trucks served meals and beverages. There was a ight-up toy vendor on N. Royal St. Twinkly skies and a clear, windless evening made for perfect weather, despite a bit of a chill. The mayor welcomed everyone, praising the team effort of all the city departments that made the night possible.

Together, the mayor, councilmembers, and Patterson began the countdown. After “One!,”  fireworks exploded above the Potomac River, clearly visible. Diners and shoppers spilled out onto King Street to gaze at the colorful splash of sparkle streaking across the night sky.

“We didn’t go to the waterfront at six because you could see the fireworks directly from Market Square,” Patterson pointed out. “We encouraged people to stay, dance, and watch. You don’t have to go down there to see the fireworks, you can stay here! Fireworks burst over City Hall.”

Photo: Judith Fogel

First Night Alexandria is the largest family-friendly, budget-friendly and alcohol-free New Year’s Eve event in the region. FNA began in 1994 as a celebration of the new year through the performing arts.

The George Washington Masonic Memorial, rec centers, churches, coffee shops, retail stores, and museums were transformed into performance venues.

“Alexandria is the destination for family-friendly music on New Year’s Eve. Everybody loves Old Town, so you’ve got a trifecta right there. Musical performances, Old Town, and fireworks!” Patterson said.

Fireworks over the Potomac (Photo courtesy Carol Jean Stalun Photography)

She ticked off the numbers. There were 13 venues, 22 different performers, and close to 100 performances.

“We did go down to the waterfront for the midnight countdown and fireworks,” Patterson shared. “People were just excited about being out and feeling free, strolling amongst the crowd. It felt so good to be back after the non-traditional celebrations created by pandemic-driven regulations.”

Photo: Eliza North

During the interview, Patterson summed up what made the evening a success.

The crowd heads to the waterfront as the midnight hour draws near. (Photo: Joseph Oliva)

“Weather, day of the week. [and] New Year’s Eve on a weekend meant many people were off work and could come out with their families earlier,” she said. ” And that is why we took a chance on those twilight fireworks.”

Starting on New Year’s Day, Patterson goes off the grid for awhile. But not for long. She will be busy again soon enough – analyzing, crunching numbers, and reviewing what worked and what did not.  All in anticipation of next year.

[SEE ALSO: Community Engagement Events Planned Around Potomac Yard Arena Development]

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