Arts & Culture Commentaries

Why No First Night Midnight Fireworks over Boston Harbor? Not New York Enough

Boston Harbor aglow with New Year’s 2015 Fireworks (Photo by Matt Conti)

Dusty Rhodes, founder and president of event planning company, Conventures Inc., was hired by the City of Boston to put on this year’s First Night. In a Globe puff piece, she talks about their plans for the 2017 New Year’s celebration and why it has been consolidated in Back Bay.

“What Times Square is to New York, we want Copley Square to be to Boston.”

Many waterfront businesses and residents, including those of us here at, have been wondering why there are no fireworks over Boston Harbor for the 2017 First Night celebration. Why replace fireworks that reach multiple neighborhoods to focus just on Back Bay?

Now, Conventures Inc. has fessed up … organizers want a New York, Times Square-style event, tailor made for TV. Copley is smaller than Times Square, but it will have to do. Instead of billboards, projections will be displayed on the surrounding buildings. Instead of a ball drop, there will be pyrotechnics from the roof of the Plaza Hotel (there’s one of those in NYC too).

Apparently, the problem with midnight fireworks over Boston Harbor is that they don’t do fireworks for New Year’s in New York City. I’ve talked to Conventures and multiple city officials who vaguely cite a lack of financial support despite word that the fundraising was actually quite successful for the overall event. It’s true, Conventures is doing First Night pro bono (they mention it in every other sentence). Or, you might say Conventures is making a down payment on future contracts from the City of Boston. They’ve already nailed down the Tall Ships for next year.

In one fell swoop, out the window goes the decades of tradition that made Boston the original First Night, where arts and culture were celebrated across the city and capped off with fireworks over Boston Harbor. The fireworks were enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of visitors as well as residents who live in the city. Watch this year as the TV hosts interview the Copley attendees and count the suburbanites that will have come in to Copley, all decked out in a spectacularly crowded space. The Back Bay event will be instantly labeled a “success” because it will look good on television.

The harbor fireworks have long been a First Night tradition drawing crowds to the waterfront neighborhoods of the North End, Downtown, East Boston and Seaport /  South Boston. After raising money from waterfront businesses under the guise of having harbor fireworks, those funds will now be used for other First Night activities in Back Bay. The harbor fireworks have traditionally been a draw for New Year’s Eve packages at waterfront hotels, restaurants and cruise ships.

Boston was the first city to organize First Night as an alternative way to celebrate New Year’s Eve. This year’s event is a shadow of years past where arts and cultural performances would be featured throughout the city. Patrons would buy a First Night button for entry to view various displays and activities attracting participation by over a thousand artists. In 2006, an estimated one million people attended First Night events citywide including the harbor fireworks.

Although the official First Night organizer is ignoring the waterfront, some local organizations and businesses are carrying the torch. Boston Harbor Now has put forth a New Year’s Eve ice sculpture stroll along the waterfront with participation by Battery Wharf Hotel, Boston Harbor Hotel, Harbor Islands Welcome Center, Boston Public Market, Fan Pier, Envoy Hotel, Seaport Hotel, New England Aquarium, USS Constitution Museum and International Place. Faneuil Hall Marketplace is also having their Blink! Dance Party.

Tell us what you think about the cancellation of the New Year’s Eve fireworks over Boston Harbor in the poll and/or comments below.

41 Replies to “Why No First Night Midnight Fireworks over Boston Harbor? Not New York Enough

  1. This was to be our first First Night. Happily staying at a Seaport Hotel – because – we thought – perfect location for the midnight fireworks. I am still looking forward to my stay there. I will not be going to Copley Square. Our olan is the enjoy the Harbor Areas minus the fireworks.

  2. Conventures Inc made a business decision to support the businesses that support them, Companies from Copley Square wanted the exposure and want to bring customers back to the area.
    Wander if any of the hotels or waterfront developers stepped up to support this long standing Waterfront Event

    1. This is payback from Marty Walsh for the waterfront coffee hour that made him look bad because of the picket signs and protestors about the North End Nursing Home, Lewis Wharf hotel and Harbor Garage.

  3. I would assume that if the waterfront businesses knew about this early enough to plan, they could have easily raised the money. Boston SHould Not try to be Like NY. What makes us great is our uniqueness and that we are a small city right on the waterfront. Hopefully with all the development happening in the Seaport, we will get the fireworks back next year.

    1. It does seem strange that the Waterfront has been excluded from First Night. It would be interesting to have Conventures open their books so we could see where the donations really name from, and whether businesses in the Waterfront and Seaport were contacted.
      I saw them (First Night) begging fof donations on Facebook constantly.
      Hmmmmm ….
      Copley gets BIG exposure during Boston Marathon Weekend.
      This makes me VERY suspicious ?

  4. I’ve been a resident of Boston’s North End for a long time and the First Night harbor fireworks were always a priority for me. They capped off Boston’s First Night beautifully; they were a tradition for me and for many people for years. If I wanted more of a “Times Square” celebration on New Year’s Eve I’d go to Times Square. Boston’s First Night should be kept unique and specific to our wonderful city, and include the harbor fireworks.

    1. I agree with you completely. Why would Boston, the originator of First Night Celebration, have any desire to copy NYC?
      Each is unique in its own way.
      This is a cop-out.

  5. SO disappointed that harbor fireworks are going to Copley! The fireworks helped spread folks all over Boston instead of crowding into one spot! I think we should rally together to get them back where they belong for next NYE!!!

  6. I look into my crystal ball and I see the Globe reporting that one million people enjoyed the Copley Square fireworks. It’s always one million. And no one at the Globe considers that one million people would be the equivalent of 15 Gillette stadiums-full, or one and one-times the entire population of Boston. Con artistry at work.

  7. Maybe the the Save the Nursing Home people should unite with No Hotel people and they should unite with the Anti Bike Lane people who all should collude with the Young Professionals are the Scum of the Earth people, and they can all fight to bring the fireworks back to the waterfront.

  8. Copley Square is the new Times Square.

    Downtown if filled with Manhattan sized skyscrapers.

    City Hall Plaza is now Rockefeller Plaza, skating rink and all.

    There’s a Eataly at the Pru.

    Welcome to the Rotten Apple!

  9. Dusty Rhoades does not care about anything except Dusty Rhoades and Conventures. Marty Walsh wants Boston to be NYC north with 600 ft tall buildings and a mini times square and Rock Center and 4 AM bar closings. Boston is not and never will be Manhattan and never should be.

  10. If the Boston Harbor Assn (BHA) could create a fabulous DUELING fireworks display Labor Day 2015, what’s to stop the cruise lines, businesses along the harbor and residents to join forces for New Year’s Eve 2017 fireworks on the harbor?

    We’ve certainly got the community spirit to pull this off and the reorganized BHA, which is called Boston Now, is bigger than ever.

    Suggested New Year’s Resolution: Make Fireworks on the Harbor 12/31/17 a reality!!

    1. That’s a great idea! I support doing something! We are being ignored by the city yet this is where it all started!

      1. Thanks John that’s typical of your local support. You and so many North End , Waterfront Business owners always step up to the plate regardless of the numerous requests. I personally, think there’s room for both types of celebration. The Copley Business owners deserve the opportunity to provide a New Years celebration for their patrons and tourists. There is no shortage of participants for either location.and could alleviate some of the traffic congestion.2017 is a year of change making both
        locations a reality should be the goal going forward.Choice is a good thing.

  11. I’m stunned. I was born and raised in the Boston area. The New Year’s Eve fireworks, along with the Fourth of July fireworks, were always a must for me…… much so, that I now make a trip back up every couple of years just for the fireworks. Boston is not New York. Why would it want to be New York? It has it’s own personality and a history of events that make us who we are. I am sincerely hoping that someone (or multiple businesses) will come to their senses and understand that this is a mistake. I, for one, will no longer be making trips back to Boston for First Night until the fireworks return.

  12. Speaking as a long-time Back Bay resident, I think the fireworks belong in the harbor, where they are wanted by locals and visitors alike and where they add something special, traditional, and beautiful to New Year’s Eve. We have plenty going on around my neighborhood without them, and the added security they will require.

  13. I’m curious to know how much does it cost for the annual firework show? And more importantly, how much of is paid by Boston citizens via taxes. Are we saving the city money by not displaying fireworks (because it’s not just about the fireworks, there’s probably a ton of other service providers, ie: enforcements, we also have to pay for when displaying fireworks)? And if we are saving money for the city, where does that money go?

  14. “What Times Square is to New York, we want Copley Square to be to Boston”

    So they want Copley to be a place locals, and tourists who have been here more than once, try to avoid at all costs?

    I left Boston for Christmas with NYE plans up in the air. Needless to say, definitely be coming back to town for this garbage.

  15. I have lived on the waterfront for 17 years and it has become a tradition to enjoy friends with champagne toasts at midnight with a grand fireworks display and ricotta pie…..a tradition I shall miss….it will not be the same as our harbor will sit quiet to welcome the New Year …it will be a deafening reminder of our disappointing loss!

  16. I think the costs of security played a big part in the decision to limit the crowds to Copley Square. Police, fire and EMT details have to be on site at all times for crowd control and to guard against terrorism. Having events spread out all over the city is simply not possible in the post 9/11 world.

    1. Really? Are you not paying attention to Berlin, Nice, the Marathon? A big crowded square with thousands of people sounds like the perfect terrorism target for a bomb or rigged truck. There is no way I would even go close to Copley on New Year’s. We don’t need more Patriots Day movies.

      It is actually much safer to have things spread out which is why the fireworks on the waterfront were great — besides the fact that it was enjoyed by so many more people than just copley.

      1. If the cost of security was the issue, why hasn’t that been reported? I agree with Sandra. On the harbor people watch fireworks from East Boston to the NE to Seaport. Thousands if people. It’s about somehow turning Boston into New York.
        And why were fireworks on the harbor canceled with no involvement of NE and Waterfront people??
        Thanks, Matt, for giving us this wonderful platform to join together on the issues that we’re all concerned about! Happy New Year!

  17. The Mayor couldn’t care less about his constituents in the North End or the Waterfront. Look what happened to Commercial Street. It’s become even more dangerous!! He had the nerve to promote the tree lighting ceremony at the common when he was officiating the one at Faneuil Hall marketplace. The tree at the Common is such a joke compared to the beautiful exquisite tree at the marketplace. Shame on Dusty for her decision. The businesses on the waterfront and in the north end that contributed funds for NYE should ask to have their money refunded since she decided to keep it all in the Back Bay. Boston is different from NYC because we have ALWAYS had fireworks on NYE. Why would we want to be like some other city? I would love to know who greased her hands this year. Something smells awfully fishy here. What is wrong with her? Boston is steeped in traditions and she is ruining NYE for our visitors and residents who have always enjoyed the fireworks on NYE. Perhaps the City Council should investigate this matter.

  18. heartbreaking. we have gone to boston just about every year to the waterfront and stayed all along that area to watch the midnight fireworks. who the heck goes to copley? we went once and it was so boring. i hope these fireworks come back next year. why take away things that people love?

  19. Sad to hear I decided to change plans this year from NY to Boston something I often do. This year was Boston. Reserved a nice place by the Harbor with the family with a window view. Very disappointed at no Firworks. I wish it was more well known. I feel as though I have been robbed. Well I guess I will save a little more money an pick another venue or go to Providence.

  20. We really missed the fireworks at midnight. It is an integrated mportant part of new year celebrations! I lived in Manhattan for many years and we missed the fireworks there too. We did see part of a firework at 7 pm in the common and my kids stayed up (with great difficulty) for the midnight fireworks but there was none … Hope it will be back to ring in 2018.

  21. The lack of fireworks at the Harbor at midnight was most unfortunately, not the only major problem with this year’s Boston
    First Night celebration. Compared to years’ past, there was virtually nothing happening in the Copley Square area at night…(just ice
    sculptures and some lackluster bands). In years past there were INCREDIBLE arts events happening all night at venues
    including churches and other places all around Copley Square. It was a night to look forward to, with LOTS OF CHOICES –
    so many, that it made the cost of the button well worth it. With so little to do last night, I just took photos of the ice sculptures and headed back home…It was a major disappointment. It appears that now the arts events were mostly in the afternoon (and mainly geared to kids? Nothing wrong with that…but the adults deserve something too…).

    Boston is unique and it’d be better if local people with a sense of our history were once again in charge of this event!! We do NOT
    need to compare ourselves to NY. We’ve offerred cultural events on First Night (from ballet to ethic dance and various musical
    that were most likely far different, and expansive compared to what is offerred in NYC on 12/31). And the fireworks at the Harbor at midnight were always the perfect cap-off to a very enriching and worthwhile night.

    Please bring back the kind of First Night that Boston has up until recently always had! It turns out that last night most likely Worcester had a decent event with many arts offerrings like Boston used to have. (I didn’t make it there but now wish that I had). If a smaller city like Worcester can pull that off, there should be no reason why Boston cannot…The main positive of last night is that it was free but it’s questionable if the PM events after 8 PM were even worth attending..With all due respect, I do not think that Conventures should have any part in this event in the future.

  22. We can fix this… The last minute defunding of the 2017 Boston Harbor New Year fireworks left local residents and neighborhood groups with little time to organize. Thousands of people and their annual New Year tradition focused on the Boston Harbor fireworks were negatively impacted. The Sculpture Stroll was a great idea. The well carved lighthouse at the Harbor Islands Visitor Center could have been improved with a light and the fabulous octopus and fish sculpture at the Aquarium would have been dazzling with back lighting. Families, visitors and neighbors were seeking out the various sculpture locations and making the best of not having the missing main fireworks event.
    We have a year to plan and fund 2018 Boston Harbor New Year fireworks with community music and arts events along the waterfront. Locals and visitors wandered along the underutilized Rose Kennedy Greenway this year with little offered as attractions. What a missed opportunity. Let’s use the best of what Boston offers, a walkable city with hundreds of places to stop and learn some history, get a bit to eat or stay over for a special start to a new year. Let’s give our local musicians and artists a chance to participate by starting a new annual waterfront and fireworks event next year.

  23. I don’t think there have ever been as many COMMENTS on a post as for this one, am I right, Matt? …Deservedly so, if true.

    This was a terrible decision by Conventures!…

    (*Just heard that a bride who’d scheduled her very expensive wedding for 12/31/16 at a waterfront hotel was….well you can guess!…
    and I’m certain that there were many, many others in a similar situation – who had no idea when they arranged their event that things would change so dramatically for NYE 2016 on the waterfront areas on both sides of the harbor.)

  24. WBZ credited the fireworks as “sponsored by Mayor Walsh and the Mugar Foundation.” Meanwhile, here is my commentary:
    Journalese of the Day: Accepting organizers’ numbers.

    A Law of Journalese requires reporters and editors to accept without question organizers’ numbers of people attending an event. This is especially so when the reporters and editors have boosted the event in news stories and editorials. And this is compulsory if the newspaper or TV or radio station are sponsors. I forecast that Boston’s First Night celebration would be reported as attracting one million people, as are most local events, such as the 4th of July Boston Pops concerts, or a Duck Boat parade after the Red Sox win a World Series. No reporter has ever figured the impossibility of one million people packing downtown Boston. I predicted the usual one million would be reported for First Night activities. But there was cold rain, few events and no traditional fireworks over Boston Harbor. So I was wrong. The Boston Globe on Jan. 1, 2017, reported that the organizers, Conventures Inc. (nudge, nudge, wink, wink, get those first three letters) estimated 300,000 would attend. Well, 300,000 is almost half the population of Boston, and if you want to see that many people at one place imagine five Gillette Stadiums packed for a Patriots game. We can wait for the million for the Duck Boat parade when the Patriots win this year’s Super Bowl.

  25. The company who is running first night is killing this event, It was a dismay empty affair. I have gone to First night for over 20 years, this one was pathetic…from the parade to the ice sculptures to the limited fireworks…. I hope the City of Boston FIRES this crappy company and find some other company to PROPERLY take on fist night. Here is a tip to the ignorant fools at Conventures Inc… WE ARE NOT NEW YORK!!!!!! WE ARE BOSTON. We are proud to celebrate in our own original way, fireworks included!
    I can only hope the City fires these idiots, because they are killing Boston’s unique style of first night…these is no art or variety of music, only crazy techo music playing with 2 stages in Copley….what going on at the stages? Cameras with people talking. What the hell!??!? There is no culture and anything interesting, this was the first time I wished I was somewhere else, somewhere far away…. because first night was boring, and I am left wondering who is getting a kickback to keep Conventures Inc as the “planners” for Boston. They know nothing about Boston, they are out of touch, and not listening to what the people of Boston are saying. The only way this company can hold this position is if it is a “friend” of someone in the city hall! No one can be this bad at their job, and keep it! If this happens again, I will never go back to Boston first night again, I can go somewhere the event organizers know how to plan a fun event, and keep in touch with the people! Boston no longer reflects the people, it has no reflection of Boston’s uniquely original flavor which made it so wonderful to be a part of in the first place. It makes me very sad.

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