While adults around Western New York were dining, dancing, drinking or maybe dreaming their way into the new year, thousands of members of the up and coming generation were bouncing their way into 2014.
They were in bounce houses, bounce castles, bounce zoos and bounce slides.
Bounce dinosaurs, obstacle courses, mazes and rides.
Swarms of children, with smiling parents and grandparents looking on, were burning off their last bursts of energy of 2013 Tuesday evening in the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center, where the family-friendly New Year’s extravaganza known as First Night Buffalo was celebrating its 25th year.
“When they leave, they’re exhausted,” said Liz Johnson of Buffalo, who was enjoying the event with her husband, Daniel, and their two sons, ages 6 and 8.
This was the family’s third year at First Night.
“They were really looking forward to it,” the boys’ mom said, and Justin, the 6-year-old, agreed.
“We want to come EVERY day,” he explained.
Dad Daniel didn’t mind the crowds in the lines, either.
“Watching the kids have fun is the best part,” he said as they waited in line for the Berry-Go-Round.
Kids having fun has come to be the theme of First Night, which has undergone a few changes since Buffalo’s first first night in 1989. That event and celebrations through the 1990s were held at multiple venues along Main Street, with more “grown-up” entertainment. You could have heard the Goo Goo Dolls perform at Main Place Mall in 1989, danced to big band music on the mosaic tile of Ellicott Square, or watched cartoons at Shea’s Performing Arts Center. Crowds of more than 20,000 packing the street were the norm.
Tuesday night, no one seemed to mind that the magic shows, dance performers and many refreshment stations were contained in the comfortably warm if cavernous convention center. It made it easier to applaud for acts like magician Peter Boie, who managed to entrance his large audience even in the vast banquet room on the main floor, and pogo stick master Steven Bennett of Albany.
Steven, who started trying pogo stick stunts when he was 8 and now, at 16 is on the Xpogo Stunt Team, gave the First Night audience some fun thrills and a brief chill during his first performance of the night. Flying high on his air-compression high-performance pogo stick, Steven spun in the air, flipped his stick and impressed a lot of kids who are probably going to ask for pogo sticks on their next birthdays. But on his final stunt, a full forward flip, something slipped and Steven landed ... not on his feet. There went the chance for those birthday presents, you could imagine some parents thinking.
Happily, Steven bounced back and just a half-hour later, he went through his routine and nailed the flip. (His own mother stopped worrying a while ago, he said afterward.)
There were plenty of other things to see and do that were less heart-stopping. Kids stared skyward at the stilted tall men who were strolling the floor, and posed for pictures with favorite cartoon characters. For some reason, Bob the Builder’s appearance caused quite a few kids to start singing his song – “Bob the Builder, can we fix it? Bob the Builder, yes we can!”
They understood and accepted him, and Clifford the Big Red Dog, and even a Wild Thing from “Where the Wild Things Are” with more ease than a pretty mime statue dressed in pink whose robotic movements freaked out a couple little girls, much to their delight.
“She’s real!” squeaked 5-year-old Elizabeth Heerdt.
“Yeah!” agreed her friend Kelsie Kirkpatrick, almost 4, who wanted to touch the mime’s hand, but not alone. “Could you go with me?” she asked her friend, looking for support.
Nearby, Kelsie’s father Dave Kirkpatrick of Lockport lamented that the battery in his camera had died while the girls tried to figure out what made the “doll” come alive, and what made her stop.
In between the rides, there was an abundance of lively entertainment, with a multicultural stage hosting Irish, Polish, Latin Soul and African-American performers. The Hispanic Heritage Center brought Three Kings to mingle with the crowd in anticipation of the Jan. 6 celebration of Three Kings Day, and June Taylor came from Canada to see family and friends perform traditional Native American songs and dances.
Organizers did not have a final count of tickets sold Tuesday night, but the crowd looked as if it would be close to their expectation of about 5,000. The lines for the “bigger kid” activities like the rock-climbing wall and laser tag room were stretching from here to next year by 8 p.m., and tiring parents filled most of the chairs for the main shows.
The food also was a big hit, from the fancy offerings of turkey and roast beef at the carving station to pizza and popcorn.
And, as a testament to the hardy souls who take their families out on a New Year’s Eve in Buffalo when the temperature is 13 and the wind makes it feel like 0, the line for the ice cream stand was the longest of all.