CLEARWATER — Think New Year's Eve is the most exciting night of the year? Then why not start celebrating early?
Casanova's Blast Friday will light up downtown Clearwater's Cleveland Street District tonight with a concert featuring live music by Marty Balin of Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship fame.
And when the concert ends, the area will light up with the Laser Light Spectacular.
"When we took over production of Blast Friday, we wanted to kick it up a notch and enhance the experience," said Bobby Rossi, chief programming officer for Ruth Eckerd Hall. "We've been doing that by bringing in rock 'n' roll hall of famers, like we will Dec. 30th with Marty Balin and his band. In the coming year we'll continue to bring in national recording artists each month, for free."
Marty Balin, founder and featured vocalist for Jefferson Airplane from 1965 to 1971, played with the group at the Monterey Pop Festival and Woodstock. His story of being knocked unconscious while trying to help fans being beaten by Hell's Angels during the Altamont Speedway Concert in 1969 was captured on film in the Rolling Stones documentary Gimme Shelter.
"We'll have an exciting show planned, as usual," said Balin.
Asked if he'll play old or new music, he replied: "A combo."
Balin's latest release, The Witcher, came out this year. He played Jannus Landing in early October. Besides being an iconic rock star, Balin is also a painter. Before his foray into the music world, Balin attended San Francisco State University, originally pursuing an art degree. He now has an art exhibition on display in St. Augustine.
But it is his music that will rock downtown Clearwater tonight for a free family event and pre-New Year's Eve celebration.
Vendors and local restaurants will be open for business, so there's no fuss about food for the party. Food and drinks, from beer and wine to nonalcoholic beverages, will be available.
"This will be our biggest event to date," said Rossi. "Not only will we have Marty Balin, but it will be the first time there have ever been laser lights downtown. By bringing in trendsetting attractions in a beautiful area with the sun setting behind the stage, we're attracting record-setting crowds each month."
Families with children will find the Tampa Bay Rays offering some type of game with prizes of bobble heads, T-shirts and other Rays items, according to Rossi.
Ruth Eckerd Hall will also give away four pairs of tickets for upcoming winter shows.
After the Laser Light Spectacular, the fun moves inside. For a $5 ticket, partygoers can reserve a seat in the Capitol Theatre for a special 10 p.m. showing of the film Trading Places.
The 1983 film starring Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy is about a highbrow investor and a con artist who find their positions in life reversed due to a $1 bet between two hard-hearted millionaires.
The street fair kicks into gear at 5:30 p.m. with plenty of outdoor dining and the opportunity to see and hear an iconic rock star whose positive lyrics spoke to and for an entire generation.
Balin, who has made Tampa his home for the past several years, is ready.
"It's good to play to a home crowd, and at this time of year, to play in a warm place," he said. "It will be quite exciting. There are seven people in the band, and we're going to play a lot of good music."