Lori McKinney

Lori McKinney, event organizer for the Downtown Countdown, prepares for the upcoming virtual broadcast.

PRINCETON — While there will be no in-person Downtown Countdown celebration to ring in the new year on Mercer Street tonight, organizers have put in the hard work for community members to enjoy the celebration from the comfort and safety of their homes.

“For the past seven years, The Downtown Countdown has provided an exciting, family-friendly New Year’s Eve experience in The Mercer Street Grassroots District, complete with six stages of performances, ice sculptors, fire dancing, kids’ activities and a ball drop and fireworks at the stroke of midnight,” said event organizer Lori McKinney.

This year, the tradition will carry on, reimagined as a virtual broadcast and celebration, streaming live online. Downtown Countdown, Virtual Edition will stream live on Facebook and Youtube from 8:30 p.m. to midnight on New Year’s Eve, and will feature many of the same elements as the live festival that viewers can enjoy from the comfort of their living room, McKinney said.

“It is kind of like a television special. It is a lot like watching Times Square except it features your hometown,” McKinney said. “One of my favorite features is the ice carver, Frost Lion Ice. He is actually a W.Va. native. He did a whole epic masterpiece, so we will be checking in with him throughout the night. It is the same type of performance line up that we would have live, we just did it as a broadcast.”

Also featured in the broadcast are performances by The Carpenter Ants, French handpan player Jeremy Nattaugh, Headspin Fire and Hoop Troupe, Option 22, Je’dah Madison, Derian Mills, Tim & Maggie, Robert Klander, Grace Campbell and Kayla Lynn.

There will be special guests and surprises all throughout the evening, with appearances by Dreama Denver of Little Buddy Radio, Doc Atwell of Star-95, the mayor and staff members of The City of Princeton, Commissioner Greg Puckett and many more. The program leads into the big ball drop countdown and a replay of fireworks displays from Downtown Countdowns past.

Segments throughout the broadcast will check in with downtown Princeton businesses to reflect on 2020 and discuss what’s to come in the new year. Businesses featured will be, Bucha Brewhouse & Bistro, Hammer & Stain, Sophisticated Hound Brewing Company, The Hatter’s Bookshop, Blue Ridge Bee Company, Stages Music School, Artistic Adventures, Appalachian Coffeehouse, The RiffRaff and more.

“It will be interviews, really reflections from the year, and our hopes for the New Year,” McKinney said. “Sort of little spotlight features.”

Another part of the broadcast will celebrate the history of Princeton’s New Year’s Eve ball, designed in 2013 by artist Stefani Slaughter-Burchfield and created with a group of volunteers from the local group JumpStart for the inaugural celebration, to 2017, when the ball received a makeover to allow for long term sustainability courtesy of New River Community and Technical College and several volunteers.

“The reason that we are doing this event and that we have done all of our events this way is that we want to keep our community connected and carry on these traditions safely,” McKinney said. “Please enjoy this program from the comfort of your living room, because the safety of our community is of utmost importance.”

McKinney also said that for those who may not want to stay up late on New Year’s Eve, the program will be available to watch after it is streamed live.

“It’s important to us to carry on these special traditions and keep our community connected,” McKinney stated. “We love co-creating The Downtown Countdown with our community; it’s become one of our favorite events of the year with an incredible energy, and we are happy to bring the spirit of this event into everyone’s living room to spread some joy, laughter and cheer, as well as some hope and light-hearted spirit for the new year.”

The broadcast is produced and presented by the creative team at The RiffRaff Arts Collective and LLyniuM entertainment, McKinney said. Princeton Fire Department honored the tradition by providing a special 2021 ball drop. The program is sponsored by Community Connections, 1-800-Help4WV, The Suicide Prevention Coalition, Richard Goldstein-Attorney at Law and Seaver Funeral Service.

In Bluefield, there will be no Lemon Drop celebration in the downtown this year, according to city officials. 

The annual Holiday of Lights display, which opened on Thanksgiving in Lotito Park, has been extended from Dec. 31 to Jan. 3, 2021. 

— Contact Emily Rice at erice@bdtonline.com

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