The Cultural Trust's press conference for the annual New Year's Eve celebration was the first I've attended (this year, anyway) to feature giant dancing penguin puppets.
There were two on the sidewalk at Liberty Avenue, and three more inside the building at 805 Liberty, The latter were swaying to the Caribbean Vibes steel-drum band, the musicians dressed in tropical shirts and playing seasonal fare like "Under the Boardwalk."
The dancing was a little distracting, but it should be said that after the press conference, the indoor penguins did cease bopping and stood respectfully to listen when Cello Fury played a number to close things out.
As to First Night itself, after eight years running it, the Trust and its partners have the formula down. To paraphrase poet Samuel Hazo, First Night is "always differently the same."
It's still a bunch of events (150 or so) in 40 or more Downtown locations -- some outdoors but most indoors. It still costs $8 for a button that gets you into most events ($10 at the door). And it's still mostly live performance -- music, dance, a little comedy -- and hands-on art projects. Parades, fireworks, etc.
Judging by the thousands who fill the streets each year, it's a formula that works.
While even many of the performers will be familiar from years past, there's some news among the headliners. The big-stage bill-toppers are crowd-pleasing veteran funk 'n' soul outfit Tower of Power, whom I recall making people very happy some years ago at the Three Rivers Arts Fest. They go on at 10:45 p.m. at the Highmark Stage.
Other highlights include the Chicago-based stage troupe The NeoFuturists, who perform "30 plays in 60 minutes" in a show at the O'Reilly called Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind.
Meanwhile, local lads and lasses Squonk Opera do three sets at the Byham; saxophonist Tia Fuller (known for her work with Beyoncé) plays two sets of jazz at the Trust Arts Education Center; dance troupe The Pillow Project and Zafira Bellydance perform at 119 Sixth St.; and Pittsburgh-based theatrical guru Dan Kamin is at the August Wilson Center with something called A Cheap Evening of Expensive Theater.
There will also be attempts to tie in the Jan. 1 NHL Winter Classic, the Heinz Field hockey matchup between the Pens and the Capitals.
The full schedule is at firstnightpgh.org.