BRISTOL — New Year’s Eve brought freezing temperatures and a flurry of snow, but downtown Bristol was alight and abuzz with activities, as area residents and families came out in droves to enjoy a series of performances and activities during the seventh annual Bristol Best Night celebration.
“It’s a real community event,” said Rick Ceballos, one of the small number of volunteer organizers. He described the town’s annual New Year’s Eve celebration as a labor of love.
Ceballos recalled that Best Night began years ago, out of a last-minute desire among artistically inclined community members — and those appreciative of them — to have an in-town event that would showcase local talent and spare those who wanted to go out on New Year’s Eve the drive to Burlington for that city’s traditional First Night. Ceballos credited David Brynn, Bristol resident and president of Vermont Family Forests, with getting the first Bristol Best Night off the ground.
“At the very last minute they threw something together,” Ceballos said. “And it gradually grew.”
In recent years, due to steady interest from attendees and performers alike, the town’s annual New Year’s Eve celebration has expanded to three venues: Holley Hall, the First Baptist Church and the Walkover Gallery. It has a loyal following in Bristol, and also attracts revelers from outside the Five Town Area.
“We’ve been coming here for three years,” said Jessa Karki of Vergennes, whose three children, 6-year-old twins Hannah and Lisa, and Lucius, 8, were busily creating elaborate tinsel hats at the crafts table and waiting their turn for face painting in Holley Hall this past Monday evening. “The goodies are really good from the Bristol Farmers’ Market, and the acts are terrific.”
In the back of Holley Hall, Ken Pohlman of the farmers’ market was cheerfully staffing a table overflowing with baked goods and hot soups donated by market vendors. The Bristol Farmers’ Market has been offering tasty treats at Best Night for several years.
“We provide a little bit of food for people at the concerts, and for us it’s a chance to keep our name out there in the off-season,” Pohlman said.
Across the street, the First Baptist Church was hosting another dining option in the form of the annual soup dinner. The ladies of the congregation had donated a variety of soups, including corn chowder, minestrone, beef stew and Chinese cabbage.
The festivities kicked off with kid-friendly activities like face painting, paper hat making, and family-friendly music from local duo The Swing Peepers at Holley Hall. A big draw for many of the nine-year-olds and younger in attendance was a performance from magicians Tom Verner and LaFleur. The Lincoln-based duo also operates the nonprofit Magicians Without Borders, which performs in underprivileged areas to empower and train children in magic tricks.
As the evening progressed, the adults got to have some fun as well, with all three venues hosting live music from favorites such as Mount Abraham Union High School’s a cappella singing group Sweet Transition, and local bands such as Last October, Va-et-Vient, Hannah Hummel, Ceballos’ group the Hip Replacements, the Hibernators, and Deb Flanders and Pete Sutherland.
“It is just phenomenal, the amount of talent that is in this area,” Ceballos said. “It makes Best Night easy to program.”
Karki and her husband said they started coming to Bristol Best Night as an alternative to Burlington’s First Night when the children were young.
“Burlington for us is just too big,” she said. “The kids get lost in the whirl of 20,000 other people trying to get to events. Here, they get personalized attention.”
What keeps them coming back?
“Affordability for one,” Karki said. “And closeness to Vergennes would be number two. And number three — the kids love it!”