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A unique first night of wholesome fun

On New Year's Eve, top LDS musicians share entertainment, testimony with youth

A parade of LDS musical stars in the Tabernacle on Temple Square performed in what may have been the world's most fun event on New Year's Eve that opened with prayer.

Kenneth Cope kicked off the concert, themed "The First Night of the Best Year of Your Life," and was followed by many of the Church's most popular musicians performing a wide range of selections. While the teen-dominated audience cheered and laughed as Ryan Shupe and the Rubber Band sang about "corndogs," it also calmed into reverent reflection during songs such as Hilary Weeks' "He Hears Me," about prayer.

Energetic pianist Jon Schmidt, who showed off some tricky keyboard techniques, told the attentive crowd, "I'm so grateful to belong to a Church that is comfortable with fun."

David Warner, director of music and cultural arts for the Church, said, "This event was planned under the direction of our Church leaders. They love the youth, and they have a deep desire for the youth of the Church to have fun together."

The Utah Salt Lake City Area presidency has been keenly interested in meeting the needs of youth, as this concert did. Area Authority Seventy and Utah Salt Lake City Area Youth Task Force Committee chairman, Elder Jeffrey C. Swinton, said, "It is thrilling to see thousands of youth in this valley touched by talent wrapped in testimony. This was far more significant than a one-time New Year's Eve event. It gives me hope that celebrities worthy of emulation can be substituted into the circle of influence of our youth."

The Utah North and Utah South Area presidencies also helped to plan and provided support for New Year's Eve activities in their areas.

Billed as a "New Year's Eve extravaganza for youth," the concert happened while dazzling, colorful lights flashed across a modernistic stage backed incongruously by the world-renowned organ pipes in a building more familiar as a general conference venue and home of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

In other words, it was just what the Church was aiming for when it planned the concert as a wholesome alternative for young members eager to celebrate a new year. The festivities ended just early enough that those attending could get outside to cheer together at midnight.

Reflecting on the tremendous success of the event, Brother Warner said, "Because the concert was held in the Tabernacle, people asked us, 'What would Brigham Young think of this event?' I imagine that he would be grateful we are reaching out to the marvelous youth of the Church."

Brother Warner mentioned the wholesome recreational activities that have been part of the Church's history. "After a hard day's work in the Nauvoo temple, the saints danced together," he said. "On the trail West, they circled the wagons and kicked up their heels. . . . And so, on New Year's Eve 2003, we followed in the footsteps of the early saints. We circled the wagons. We rolled up the rugs. We sang and clapped and laughed together. We bore testimonies one moment and tapped our toes the next. The message was clear: As Latter-day Saints, we know how to have fun."

"The gospel doesn't have to be boring," said Annette Williams, after the concert. The high school junior from the Haight Bench Ward, Kaysville Utah Haight Creek Stake, was happy she made it part of her holidays. "It's probably the best time I've had on New Year's Eve," Annette added. "Usually we just sit around and don't know what to do, and I think when you do that you could get into trouble."

Trouble wasn't a problem with those in Tabernacle. They occasionally cheered and waved light sticks at appropriate times, but the behavior never strayed beyond the bounds of propriety.

John Bytheway, a speaker popular among LDS youth, was the master of ceremonies. He often regaled his audience to laughter, but also joined the other performers in sharing testimony. At one point, he reminded listeners that December is not only the time of Christmas and New Year's celebrations, but is also the month of Joseph Smith's birthday. He rattled off a long list of things they would be without if it weren't for Joseph Smith. He said that, among other things, there would be no Book of Mormon, no pioneers, no priesthood, no children singing "I Am a Child of God," no Scouts, no Beehives, no Mia-Maids, no Laurels. Tickling their funny bone about the area's collegiate rivalry, he said, "In fact, there would be no BYU, which would make the Ute fans happy until they realized there would be no U. of U. either."

Then he said, "Think how different your life would be if that 14-year-old boy hadn't said a prayer and brought about the Restoration. . . . I'm so grateful that we're all here tonight because a 14-year-old boy said a prayer. Teenagers, don't ever underestimate the power of your prayers."

At another point, leading the youth to think of the Savior, he told a story about a rock climber's struggle with how to adequately thank his climbing partner for saving his life. "How do you respond to someone who saves your life?" he asked. Then he answered, "You remember him. You always remember him."

Other performers who took their turn on the stage during the fast-paced show were the group "Eclipse," Julie de Azevedo, Nancy Hanson and Peter Breinholt.

"When you talk about what made the concert special, you can't overlook the fact that the headlining performers are all members of the Church trying to live the gospel," Brother Warner said. "That came through. The men are returned missionaries; many are fathers. One is serving as a bishop. The women are all mothers, raising their children in the gospel. And whether their music was religious or meant for wholesome recreation and entertainment, all of it was an expression of faith by faithful Latter-day Saints."

For the finale, all the artists joined on stage to perform a song Brother Cope composed for the event: "The First Night of the Best Year of My Life."

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