First Night Chatham Runs On Volunteers

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Community events

Volunteers are needed to staff First Night venues, such as the First Congregational Church, shown here, as well as numerous other sites. FILE PHOTO


CHATHAM – The town's First Night celebration is a survivor. As it heads into its 26th year, the annual event has left New Year's Eve celebrations in other communities in the dust, and still reliably sells out its 7,500 admission buttons.

Mounting First Night Chatham is a massive effort, however, that takes many hours of planning and help from hundreds of volunteers.

“To put on something like this, it really does take a village,” said John Reed, who handles marketing and public relations for the non-profit organization.

The group is recruiting volunteers for several different functions that must be filled to make the event a success. While many volunteers return year after year, there's always a need for “new blood,” Reed said, both in helping to organize First Night – a task that takes nearly 50 people most of the year to do – as well as lending a hand for a few hours on the day of the event.

The largest number of volunteers, about 200, are needed on New Year's Eve to staff the various venues where entertainers perform. These volunteers usually work two-hour shifts, Reed said, checking buttons, welcoming patrons and generally keeping order. Some work more than two hours and may be assigned to different venues. It can be thankless work, making sure everyone admitted has a First Night button and clearing the room when one act is finished so that the patrons waiting on line outside have an opportunity to see the next act. Two years ago supervisors were assigned to some locations, Reed said, such as the Orpheum Theater, where the cafe and bar remain open to the public during the event.

This is the area that's hardest to staff since so many people are needed, Reed said. To become a venue volunteers, fill out a form on the event's website,, send an email to volunteers@firstnightchathamcom, or call Carol Kolb at 508-432-6810.

Specialty volunteers are also needed to handle specific jobs, such as face painting, helping in the children's art studio, or being a marshal for the wagon rides. Some jobs are behind the scenes, such as helping to set up loudspeakers outside of churches, set up and remove luminarias, put up and remove signs and install fencing. A list of specialty volunteer jobs is posted on the First Night website under the “Volunteer” link on the home page. To volunteer, email the committee at

Finally, the First Night Chatham committee, which organizes and manages the event, is always looking for new members, Reed said. This year there are a number of new faces handling different aspects of the event, planning for which usually begins in earnest in September. An organizational chart of the various subcommittees and functions of the committee is posted on the website under the “Support” tab.

The website is a good place to learn both about the event as well as volunteer opportunities. Reed said Chairman Ron Clark has created new pages specifically aimed at volunteers with information about the different volunteer opportunities that are available.

Asked about the benefits of volunteer for First Night, Reed, who regularly staffs the Orpheum on the night of the event, said it has a lot to do with interacting and enjoying the many people who attend.

“The energy of the entire town during those 12 hours, it really is special,” he said. First Night attracts all generations – from young kids to teens to grandparents – in a safe, fun, sometimes chaotic but never dull environment.

This year's First Night theme is “Celebration of the Arts on New Year's Eve.” A quick check of the website shows the several dozen acts that will be performing during the 12-hour celebration, including musicians representing almost every genre, jugglers, comedians, a Chinese dance troupe and a circus. Activities available throughout the day include model car racing, miniature golf, a life-sized Candyland game and horse-drawn wagon rides. There are special events just for teens and middle schoolers, a number of button-free events and the traditional Carnival Caper Costume Road Race and Town Photo at the lighthouse, which kicks the event off at noon.

Once again this year there will be two fireworks displays, the first at 6:30 p.m. at Veterans Field. The evening culminates with fireworks at midnight at Oyster Pond, where the Countdown Cod will drop to usher in the new year.

First Night admission buttons, which generally sell out, are available now through the First Night website or at several locations in town, including The Chatham Clothing Bar, Cape Cod Five Bank Chatham branch,

Chatham Light Liquors, Larry’s PX, Puritan Cape Cod Chatham store, South Chatham Liquors, Where The Sidewalk Ends Bookstore, and Snow’s Home and Garden in Orleans.

Buttons cost $20 for adults (12 years old and up) and $5 for children 3 to 11; kids under 2 are free. There are a total of 6,000 adult and 1,500 child buttons available. First Night headquarters at 578 Main St. will open in mid December.