Vineyard Haven Hosts New Year Festival

By C.K. WOLFSON

Perhaps nature was conspiring against Island holiday celebrations by subjecting First Day activities in Vineyard Haven Wednesday to the same chilly rain that dampened the Christmas weekend in Edgartown. Town streets were almost deserted, stores darkened and colors faded to gray.

But nature was no match for the laughing, energetic children who were entertained at the town's churches and gathering places. It was a day that owed its brightness to the smiles of Island children and their parents.

Inside the Unitarian Universalist Society on Main street, a red-nosed, frizzy-haired Coco the Clown (musician Corinne de Langavant) performed. At noon, Mark Lovewell, one of the Vineyard's favorite troubadours, presented a children's concert.

At the Tisbury police and ambulance facility, event coordinator Jeff Pratt spread a large, blue plastic tarp over the floor in preparation for the Crazy Hat Workshop which was being held there before the parade.

"It takes two or three months of planning," explained the Tisbury Ambulance Association's Mr. Pratt, citing the responsibilities of securing the various locations, scheduling events, booking performers and making arrangements for fireworks, volunteers and publicity. "It's a big commitment.

Still, he added, he'll be back to do it again next year. He considers the weekend event helpful in raising community interest and possibly generating some funds and new volunteers interested in becoming emergency medical technicians.

Between making phone calls and preparations he said, "It's an absolutely fun, family weekend."

Verifying Mr. Pratt's claim were the shrieks and laughter coming from the Martha's Vineyard Hebrew Center, where the antics of The Great Benafuchi (Henry M. Morse) kept a standing-room crowd of about 50 parents and children in rapt delight. The Bridgewater-based entertainer maintained a continuous, back-and-forth exchange with the audience - teasing, cajoling and enticing the audience while he juggled and performed magic, musical tricks and acrobatics.

In a booming voice and thick accent put on for his act, the Boston native kept a steady pace of grin-and-groan jokes and recruited audience members to participate.

Five-year-old Lila and Sydney, almost 3, attended with their parents, Max and Michelle Jasny. Lila announced it was all "really fun," while her sister, in a full-length party dress, twirled happily around the room.

Sisters Joan Sullivan of Florida and Lisa Erbin of Northborough and their families, who were visiting Mike and Marsha Sullivan of Oak Bluffs, were among those laughing recruits who helped hold a tightrope while the Great Benafuchi demonstrated his balancing skills.

It was the second time in two days that regional high school teacher Dan Sharkovitz and his son Christopher, 5, saw the show. "We saw him last night and came back for more," Mr. Sharkovitz said. "What I liked about it was that he ends each show with a brief talk about human relationships, how material possessions are not really what matters."

While Christopher wiggled against him, Mr. Sharkovitz explained, "What matters us family and friends. Because of that it really was a wonderful way to bring in the new year."

In contrast to the happy commotion of The Great Benafuchi, Carol Loud, a teaching assistant at the Island Children's school, offered children an exercise in calm reflection and quiet movement. As part of her original Star Light, Star Bright program, she dimmed the lights, lit a candle, gently played her glockenspiel, and, using a silk parachute which covered the floor, invited children to think of their wishes for the new year.

"What would you wish for for yourself, for your family, for the world," she asked in a soft voice. "I hope you have a wish, but if you don't, that's okay too."

One at a time the children slowly walked to the center where they laid down to form a star. The parents then helped turn the parachute on which their children laid one complete revolution, symbolizing the year's passing.

In the drizzle outside, Fred Fisher of Nip ‘N' Tuck Farm and his childhood friend, stonemason Gary Stead, once again provided horse-drawn wagon rides from the center of Vineyard Haven to Tisbury Marketplace and back. Although the streets seemed empty, the eight-by-16-foot wagon managed to fill quickly with appreciative families.

Donald Mills of West Tisbury was there with daughter Kendra, 6, an experienced horseback rider who enjoyed sharing bits of information. Jaime and Derek Wood of Vineyard Haven came with daughter Ashley, 4, who narrated the sights from where she sat on her father's lap.

Mr. Fisher provided rides throughout the holiday season under the sponsorship of the Tisbury Business Association (TBA) - a Last Night, First Day sponsor along with the Tisbury Ambulance Association and the Martha's Vineyard Chamber of Commerce.

"A lot of people just like to listen to the sound of the hoofs," he said. "Some older people like to see go going by."

He admitted the construction in town added an extra challenge, although the horses were so well suited to their task, it all went smoothly.

Led by Coco the Clown and The Great Benafuchi, walking on stilts, the Crazy Hat Parade made a noisy entrance to the Steamship Authority parking lot. While rain pelted the hats decorated in foil, balloons, paper flowers, flags, feathers, people were treated to refreshments donated by Fresh Samantha and Island Food Products. As the few, hardy contestants waited, Tom Trotter was for the second consecutive year awarded first place for the tall, colorful, paper plumage that topped his straw hat. His prize was a two-night stay at Boston's Park Plaza Hotel.

TBA president Jeff Kristal later said the whole celebration was a success, with each event well attended.

"We have to build on this event and try and draw people into town," he said. "Our goal is to have the event so well attended that businesses feel it benefits them to remain open."

This was only the second year, Mr. Kristal reminded, since the event has gone from an Islandwide happening to the exclusive province of Tisbury.

"We also had people coming up to us saying how much they enjoyed it and asking to get involved next year."