Downtown Oklahoma City will bustle Monday night with the sights and sounds of roller derby girls crashing around a track, comedy fans shouting out suggestions to improv performers and musicians of all tastes playing live.
For the 27th year, Opening Night will transform downtown into a true variety show to celebrate New Year's Eve. Organized by the Arts Council of Oklahoma City, the alcohol-free, family-friendly event will assemble more than 40 performers on 16 different stages across nine venues, with the festivities starting at 7 p.m. Monday.
“For one price, you get to go to all these different places and see a wide variety of performers that perhaps will be the first time you've ever had the chance to see them. So Opening Night makes the performing arts very accessible. That's what's wonderful about it,” said Arts Council of Oklahoma City Executive Director Peter Dolese.
Old and new
Opening Night 2013 will pair a new venue — the recently opened Devon Energy Center's Garden Wing corridor adjacent to Nebu restaurant — with a familiar performer — local guitarist Edgar Cruz.
“The Devon atrium that has all the cool Christmas decorations right now will be open to the public, but then to get back to the performance space, you'll have to have an Opening Night wristband,” said Opening Night director Christina Foss.
With his devoted fan following and his classical guitar style, Dolese expects the ever-popular Cruz will fill the four-story corridor in more ways than one.
“He's kind of a New Year's Eve tradition,” Dolese said.
Other returning favorites include the Ambassadors' Concert Choir, OKC Improv and Dave Thomas, who is returning with his popular World of Magic.
“He brings a full-blown Hollywood-style, Vegas-style magic act,” Dolese said. “People just absolutely love that show.”
Revelers who long for a classic big band New Year's Eve can hoof it to Leadership Square to hear the Al Good Orchestra.
“Most people like to bring their dates and go for a night of dancing,” Foss said. “There's a whole space set up.”
Partiers who prefer a rowdier form of entertainment can cheer on the OKC Roller Derby skaters.
“You would not believe how much people love it,” Dolese said. “To me, roller derby is an art form, but it's probably stretching it a bit. But it's a lot of fun.”
To keep the lineup fresh, organizers add a few new entertainers to the roster every year. Bluegrass band Travis Wackerly & Honey Creek Pass, rock fusion group Squirrel & Friends, songbird Allie Lauren and Latin American duo Alegria Real are among this year's newcomers.
Classical pianist Wayne McEvilly also will make his Opening Night debut playing two sets in the Oklahoma City Museum of Art's lobby. When they visit the museum, Opening Night attendees also get free admission to the exhibits, including the “American Moderns” traveling exhibition closing Jan. 6.
“We bring many new people into their venue,” Foss said. “It's a really neat partnership to have with them, and it gives people another kind of avenue to see some more types of art.”
Of course, the countdown to midnight is the highlight of any New Year's Eve festival, and the Opening Night finale has new sponsorship this year from The Oklahoman and NewsOK. For the second straight year, the traditional raising of the giant lighted ball will take place at the Myriad Gardens, where local R&B band Shortt Dogg will get people revved up for the final moments of 2012.
“Shortt Dogg is gonna be amazing,” Dolese said. “They've got that power to really just slowly build the energy and then crescendo at midnight. I think it'll be a wonderful way to ring in the New Year.”
He said an estimated 70,000 people gathered last year at the Myriad Gardens to count down and watch the big fireworks display.
“You've got a Barons game that night, you've got a Thunder game that night, and you've got everybody partying all over the place ... but people literally leave wherever they are and come there,” Dolese said.
By the time the fireworks herald the arrival of 2013, Dolese said he hopes attendees will be thoroughly entertained.
“It's kind of amazing ... you can walk outside where you're seeing Shortt Dogg just tearing it up on the main stage (into the Crystal Bridge) to this tranquil, beautiful environment of trees and tropical plants and Albert Gray-Eagle playing his flutes,” Dolese said with a laugh.
“So really there is something for everybody.”