Around F.C., Arts & Entertainment, News

Big Turnout Expected in F.C. Again For ‘Watch Night’ on New Year’s Eve

Monday Night’s Fest To Ring in at Indoor & Outdoor Venues

Volunteer coordinator Barb Cram has been fielding a familiar question recently. Is Watch Night happening again this New Year’s Eve? Maybe it’s disbelief that prompts the questioning from those astonished that again businesses and citizens have come together to put on the massive all-volunteer gala. Maybe it’s sheer excitement that has those looking for family fun in downtown Falls Church begging the question. The answer is this, says Cram: Watch Night, now in its 15th year, is coming to The Little City.

And so, this coming Monday night, on Dec. 31, revelers will find their way to downtown Falls Church to enjoy a free evening of live music, inflatable play-places, and entertainment for all ages at venues across The Little City, all culminating with a countdown into the New Year and the fall of the historic star.

The locus of the celebration is at the intersection of Washington and Broad streets. There, a main stage will host local musical acts, starting at 7:30 p.m. with a set by the pop-punk band Hello Headlights, which hails from J.E.B. Stuart High School. Lu and the Blues Crew will follow at 8:45 p.m., playing the blues to its party potential and bringing together George Mason High School students with the band’s recent alums for the reunion performance. The cover band Soul Gravity, a local favorite, will take the stage at 10 p.m. and keep the celebration going right up to the drop of the star and the beginning of a New Year at midnight.

The main stage may be the center of attention, but a few steps in any direction will lead Watch Night attendees to a host of different activities: The Grand Fun Alley of giant inflatable amusements for the kids down Broad Street, a jump and jiving evening of swing music courtesy of the Northern Lights Dance Orchestra at Falls Church Presbyterian Church, free studio time at Clay Café Studios, a puppet show at the Falls Church Weight Watchers, acoustic music by Judo Chop and a scavenger hunt at Family Medicine of Falls Church and Falls Church Foot and Ankle Center, warm drinks courtesy of a few area businesses, and the list goes on.

“It’s fun; it’s a fun family evening,” Cram told the News-Press. And it’s free. Cram takes particular joy in seeing the faces of Watch Night newcomers who are amazed by all that Watch Night offers at no cost.

“This is what our City is like,” Cram said. “People care.”

That caring can be seen in the generosity of volunteers and businesses who give of their time and resources to ensure that each year, for the past 15 years, the City of Falls Church has its Watch Night.

The Unity Club’s involvement with Watch Night began about eight years ago, when the City and Cram were seeking more space to facilitate the grand Broad Street affair. Karl Hoffman is in his fourth year as executive director of the Unity Club, which hosts 12-step anonymous recovery meetings. Volunteers first used the Unity Club’s parking lot for staging things like booths, Hoffman said, and later the club itself was opened up to volunteers as a place for them to warm up and do some Watch Night preparation in indoor comfort.

The Unity Club becomes a hub of activity about two days out from the big night, as volunteers string outdoor trees with festive lights and blow up more than 1,000 balloons each year for the New Year’s Eve festivities. Several volunteers are tasked with blowing them up over a two-day period, either with helium tanks, hand pumps, or just their own breath.

Among the many volunteers who make Watch Night possible, Hoffman says he can count on more than a dozen Unity Club affiliates – both club volunteers and those who attend programs – to help out for Watch Night, and anyone asked to help out will pitch in.

Click for full size map.

“The biggest part of any 12-step program is giving back and doing service,” Hoffman said. Come Watch Night, the club becomes a place where volunteers can escape the cold and get some coffee or take a break and later in the evening, the club puts on its own Watch Night programming, opening up its biggest meeting space for a free dance open to the public.

A few blocks up Broad Street, at the Falls Church Presbyterian Church, there’s a fair bit of boogieing going on as well, thanks to a few musical acts and the church community that opens its doors for an indoor musical venue.

Michael Volpe, a church elder and deacon, has been with Watch Night since its inception and has seen the church become a hot spot for New Year’s Eve dancing since the church opened its spacious Fellowship Hall. Those who stop by the church on Watch Night can not only see the Northern Lights Dance Orchestra, but also old-time multi-instrumentalist Cowboy Hay – a wonder on the spoons, according to Cram. A caricaturist, face painters, and balloon entertainment for the kids brings a crowd young and old to the church.

At another church just down the street, The Falls Church, those looking for live music in indoor comfort can see Falls Church roots performer Andrew Acosta, and they can also tour the historic church.

“It’s a wonderful community event,” Volpe said, and it’s not just for the Falls Church community. Volpe has known of attendees from Arlington and Fairfax counties, and some from farther away, who are drawn to the Falls Church festivities. (And a shuttle running all night from the East Falls Church Metro station to various sites of Watch Night attractions helps bring them all in).

Volpe draws upon the assistance of volunteers from both the church and the Village Preservation and Improvement Society – another hat he wears, as president of VPIS – and says that involvement in the event gives both groups greater exposure.

Hoffman too feels that the good deed of volunteering has its rewards. He says that the Unity Club’s Watch Night participation has helped to change the City’s perception of the club.

“The club is absolutely packed, people are coming up to get out of the cold weather and dancing and having a cup of coffee,” Hoffman said. “And all the inquisitive people who really don’t know what the Unity Club is, they come up and see that wow, we’re not such bad people after all.”

Cram says that Watch Night has its own momentum, in part because of the volunteers who make it possible and the way that they back the mission of putting on a big, family-friendly event in downtown Falls Church. While weather may threaten, never has the event been cancelled thanks to the many venues that host Watch Night events, though clear skies and reasonably chilly weather are predicted for this year’s fete.

While 15 years is a significant milestone for the grassroots endeavor, no special anniversary acknowledgement has yet been planned.

“Just getting this thing pulled together is special enough,” Cram said with a laugh.

Though not affiliated with the Watch Night effort, per se, festive Near Year’s Eve parties in downtown Falls Church are also planned for The State Theatre, where The Legwarmers are slated to perform, and at ArtSpace Falls Church on S. Maple Avenue, where Jackwagon will perform with Carolyn Cole. Many of Falls Church’s restaurants will be open, some of which have special menus to close 2012 on a tasty note.

For more information on Watch Night, visit