Traditionally opening at 5:30 p.m., Dec. 31, with a 30-piece tuba band, the Kalamazoo New Year’s Fest swings visitors into the New Year– with music.
New Years Eve celebrations like this one began in Boston in 1976. The intent was to celebrate local talent and provide an alternative to alcohol-fueled partying. Kalamazoo had its first family-friendly non-alcoholic New Year’s Fest in 1985, so this year will be the 26th anniversary.
In the heart of downtown Kalamazoo lies Bronson Park. The surrounding churches and civic buildings serve as venues for performances held throughout the evening so that all shows are within easy walking distance.
Reasonably priced food is served at several of these buildings and also by vendors in the park.
According to the program director Deborah Droppers, of Kalamazoo, this year’s fest will provide a great blend of entertainment geared toward all age groups and tastes.
Included are music from many genres, comedy, juggling, yo-yo, magic and storytelling. Nearly all performers are from the Midwest.
Performances are repeated throughout the evening.
“The Fast Pass ticket is a new feature that allows priority seating to the next show for those who could not get in on the first try,” Droppers said.
One favorite act at the fest is the father and son duo, Rich and Brandon Ridenour. Rich is an accomplished concert pianist and son Brandon, playing trumpet, is a musical wunderkind. Brandon attended Julliard and then became the youngest-ever member of the famed Canadian Brass.
Elvis Presley became associated with Kalamazoo in 1988, when tabloids picked up the story of alleged sightings of the deceased pop star in the area. He still shows up on New Year’s Eve in the form of tribute artist Doug Church.
As the clock approaches midnight, ‘Elvis’ will perform some of his favorites at the Bronson Park band shell, then count in the new year. Just like in Time’s Square, a lighted ball drops when the count reaches zero.
Then, as couples kiss and revelers roar “Happy New Year!” the fireworks begin. The crowd gathered in the park looks up (toward the east this year) as blossoms of color burst in the sky, possibly accompanied by snowflakes.
One of the best things about this annual festival is the price. A button admitting the wearer to all shows is only $5 purchased in advance or $8 on the day of the event.
For those who would like to extend their visit, try the Kalamazoo Air Zoo, just south of town at 6151 Portage Rd. The Air zoo features vintage aircraft, many in flying condition. Included are a collection of WWII fighter planes, an F-14 Tomcat like those in the movie “Top Gun,” and the last surviving SR-71B Blackbird spy plane.
The Air Zoo also features a new interactive exhibit called “Space: Dare to Dream.” The exhibits are open Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., and Sunday, noon-5 p.m. General admission is $8, and rides, including flight simulators, cost extra.
For nature lovers there is the Kalamazoo Nature Center, 7000 N. Westnedge Ave. The woodland trails and the Interpretive Center make for a great family outing.
Sports fans may want to visit Wings Stadium, 3600 Vanrick Drive, and catch a hockey game or other winter sports including figure skating and curling.
Kalamazoo is home to Sweetwater’s Donut Mill, 2138 S. Sprinkle Road, where pastry lovers will find some of the best donuts in the Midwest. For the adults, Kalamazoo is also home to Bell’s Brewery and its Eccentric Café, at 355 East Kalamazoo Avenue.
Below is a detailed list of activities: