FULLERTON — It was late Wednesday night and 8-year-old Brittany Taylor and her 11-year-old friend Renee Kingsland were going to get to stay up past midnight as they bid farewell to 1997.
"This is the perfect place for an 8-year-old and an 11-year-old," Kingsland's mother Clarissa said after she and the girls listened to Bubba and the Big Bad Blues performed during Orange County's only "First Night" celebration.
The event, which kicked off about 7:30 p.m. with a welcome speech from the mayor, Don Bankhead, and one loud fireworks blast, spread all over Fullerton's historic downtown. The partyers then took over.
"First Night" originated in Boston, where city officials wanted to broaden public interest in the performing arts while providing a sober yet festive alternative to more traditional drink-and-drink-some-more New Year's Eve parties.
The idea has spread to more than 100 cities throughout the United States and Canada. Fullerton's seventh annual "First Night" was expected to draw 6,000 to 8,000 by the time the clock struck midnight and the elaborate fireworks display began.
"We put it on because it's a great community event in a safe environment for families," said Joe Felz, the city's supervisor of cultural services.
Safety was the No. 1 reason cited by a number of families who attended the celebration.
"It's basically a sober party with all these wonderful cultural activities," said Linda LeDue, 46, of Lake Elsinore. "I love it."
Chuck and Doris Handy whooped it up as they watched a silent film, "The Goat," in the Wilshire Auditorium. "That's cute, real cute," Chuck Handy commented.
The film concluded and comedian Nick Arnette took the stage, cracking jokes about blind dates, shag carpet, loud car stereos and moldy food. "He's pretty funny," said Rebecca Renta, 29, of Fullerton.
She said she attended the event because "it's alcohol free."
"It's just good fun," added Dee McCaleb, 34, of Fullerton.
In the middle of the center, the party-goers put stickers on a car with their New Year's resolutions. They included: "Not to get high," "Get a full scholarship," "Eat more chocolate," "Get a better job," "Not to be a freak," "Get my divorce" and "Put more stickers on cars."
Entertainment also included tours of the Fullerton Museum Center, Mexican folkloric dancers, big bands, jazz bands, rock bands, a petting zoo, pony rides, face-painting, a hypnotist and an orchestra that played classical music on traditional Chinese instruments.
Joe Vinatieri, 13, of Whittier, said he liked the all-female band, Relish, the most.
"They're good," he said. "My dad heard about this party from a business partner, so we're trying it out and we like it."
Other kids were regulars.
Peter Miranda, 15, of Fullerton, said he comes every year. "Yeah!" he said. "This is fun. There ain't nothing else for me to do on New Year's Eve."
Orel Figg, 77, of Anaheim summed up the night with one word: "Beautiful."