While some Gainesville residents spent their last night of 2021 indoors with loved ones, COVID-19 didn’t hold back other residents who were determined to start 2022 with a bang.
Anahied Davenport, 30, and her family spent their first New Year’s Eve in Gainesville at home.
Her 3-year-old daughter is unable to get a vaccine yet, and her husband is waiting for organ transplants. This was the best way to celebrate, she said.
“He’s listed out of Shands for a heart and a liver so we don’t have the luxury of being anything except extraordinarily careful,” Davenport said.
Being from Illinois, fireworks were never a holiday staple for Davenport. However, she still got to see some thanks to her next-door neighbors.
“My next-door neighbor set off many, many fireworks,” Davenport said. “I was a little bit worried initially when I woke up at 2 o’clock.”
Davenport said her family has always been the type to stay in for the holidays.
“Some people are older and tired, some people have kids, some people are waiting on organs in a global pandemic,” Davenport said.
Though many families like Davenport’s stayed inside for New Year’s Eve, Gainesville put on an outdoor celebration.
Nearly 300 attendees and 15 livestream viewers chanted from ten to one as the clock ticked down. White sparklers shot 10 feet high from the foot of the stage as the air filled with bubbles. A band played a cacophony of rhythms and led the crowd in a countdown. The crowd buzzed noisemakers as Gainesville entered 2022 at Bo Diddley Plaza.
The city’s annual two-part New Year’s celebration commenced with a fireworks show at Depot Park and a live concert at Bo Diddley Plaza Friday night.
The City’s Parks, Recreation & Cultural Affairs coordinated the family-friendly, free night of fireworks and live music. The city also live streamed each event on Facebook, allowing participants to enjoy the festivities from home.
City Commissioner David Arreola said he and his girlfriend enjoyed going to the event in person together.
“What I love about it is you get to sort of see just the diversity of people who call Gaineville home,” Arreola said. “All ages and all ethnicities, everyone just enjoying the space and celebrating the new year.”
Sparks in the Park at Depot Park began at 5 p.m. A DJ played music varying from the Beatles to the Black Eyed Peas as families waited for the sunset. The park provided spray painted circles about 6 feet apart on the lawn for each family to set up their blankets and chairs without intruding in other groups’ space and following social distancing guidelines.
At 6:30 p.m., there was an orchestrated firework show, launching each blaze in sync with the music playing, at Depot Park. The crowd watched the dazzling display burst into the night sky from over the main pond, accompanied by songs such as “Born in the USA” by Bruce Springsteen and “Firework” by Katy Perry.
Over 40 viewers were watching on the livestream when families cheered and shouted as the fireworks peaked and ended at 7 p.m.
Families were able to go to the Bo Diddley Plaza for the Downtown Countdown. As part of the plaza’s Free Fridays Concert Series, the city hosted this live concert as a New Year’s Eve special.
Each artist played timeless songs, such as “New York, New York” and “I Can See Clearly Now.” The crowd kept track of the countdown through a digital clock hung above the stage, displaying the time down to the second.
David Ballard, the City of Gainesville’s former event coordinator, organized the Downtown Countdown.
“The entertainers, musicians and the people that I have worked with just made my job easy,” Ballard said. “We have wonderful local musicians in this town and I always said I would hire the best musicians I can find.”
According to Ballard, in years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the crowd would brim the plaza for events like the countdown with thousands of people attending. Attendance this year was low, Ballard said, but many had the option to watch the events at home on the livestream which nearly 20 people were watching consistently through the night.
Jazz singer Decyo McDuffie opened the show with the Larry Newcomb Quartet at 9 p.m.
McDuffie, a 22-year-old entomology graduate student at UF, said he loves how his passion for music allows him to establish a bond with the community.
“To be in a college town, but also be connected at the same time to the actual Gainesville community and the older folks … really makes me feel special that I can bring those two worlds together and do my thing,” McDuffie said.
Couples slow-danced together and children chased each other around the plaza, enjoying the warmhearted atmosphere created by the musicians.
King Eddie and the Pili Pili Band also took the stage to bring the crowd into the new year with reggae classics.
Both bands played at the venue earlier in the year and event organizers thought that combined they would give a great concert that would leave the audience pleased.
The night concluded around 12:30 a.m. by wishing everyone a ‘Happy New Year’ and also congratulating Ballard on his retirement.
“It’s been a great pleasure for me to build that program, Free Fridays, for the last 14 years,” Ballard said. “I could have retired sooner but the timing was right.”
Contact Namari at email@example.com . Follow her on Twitter @namari_l .
Namari Lock is a third-year journalism student, multimedia editor and production staff member for The Alligator. She has previously worked as the opinions editor, graphic designer and as a general assignment reporter for the Metro desk. When she’s not working, she is probably sleeping or binging true crime documentaries.