First Fun on the Beach

Why are years more important than moments? As any Buddhist will tell you, there is no molecular reality in time. It's just a way our species sorts and measures -- a feeble grasp at the intangible. The calendar in use by modern society is arbitrary, random, borderline nonsensical. Leap year? Thirty days hath November, April, June and September? Months named for Roman despots? Good Lord, no wonder so many people drink themselves stupid every December 31 through January 1. We measure our lives like we're playing Lotto.

Then again, days-weeks-months-years is probably better than coffee spoons. For those who presume to transcend time, there is art. Creativity, not time, is the soul of the world. Revolutions (industrial, technological, whatever) come and go, but the need for creativity within the species endures. It's, uh, timeless.

All of which leads to the notion that instead of celebrating time (both its passing and its promises), New Year's might as well be devoted to celebrating art. Minus the heavy-handed philosophy, that's exactly the aspiration of First Night Miami Beach.

The first First Night in 1976 added a little culture to party time in Boston. The idea caught on in a couple of hundred cities eager to mingle their sundry communities, celebrate in a more sober and sensible fashion, and expand art appreciation.

The Beach's version, produced by the county's Family Resource Center, unfolds along Lincoln Road and Convention Center Drive, and at several area venues. And miracle of miracles: Parking will be available. Drop your wheels at Watson Island or Omni Mall and hop a shuttle to the sites. There you'll find kids' stuff such as face painting, clowns, and crafts tables. Also scheduled: a performance by a duo from Miami City Ballet; Middle Eastern dancing and belly dancing; Maximum's modernist moves; plus several other movers and shakers. There'll be music, including opera, classical, Cuban pop rock, Irish, vocalese, African spirituals, U.S. rock, and various styles of jazz. Storytellers, puppeteers, and performance artists will do their thing. Muralists, photographers, paper quilters will display their work. Art, art, art, and more art.

Among the headliners are the lauded La Gran Scena, which features legit opera singers spoofing the genre with sophisticated parody most of us won't get, while demonstrating their prowess as screechy, skeezy drag queens involved in the sort of psychodrama for which the Beach is known and loved. Pilobolus Too, a duo from NYC's notable Pilobolus Dance Theater, will shimmy in a captivatingly athletic and energetic format. Much-honored pianist Kevin Sharpe will shape tunes from the 88 keys.

And then there's Ann Sams, a nationally known art veteran based at the Bakehouse Complex. Find her set up near the Holocaust Memorial and she will hand you a rag. Write a prayer on it and she will hang it from a rope. "When something concerns me," she explains, "I make prayers. I don't know where they go." Followers of Eastern religions believe these prayers (hung in the wind or placed in wheels and cylinders to be spun) become part of the eternal and infinite universe. This is a primary tenet of Tibetan Buddhism. Why is art human? Because it's spiritual.

A button entitles admission to all the indoor shows, but you can join the mad-fun parade on Lincoln Road freely and for free. You won't be arrested for Philistinism. Heck, you could overdose on alcohol, kiss strangers, or fire off guns, and not be arrested during certain hours of a specific night connecting the beginning and end of 365 (except when February has 29) enumerated 24-hour segments. So take a moment and have a good time.

-- Greg Baker

First Night Miami Beach takes place from 5:00 p.m. to midnight Thursday, December 31, in the Lincoln Road area. Admission buttons cost $10 for adults and $5 for humans age five to twelve. Call 305-670-7053 or access the Website at

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Greg Baker