Red Stick revelers get early start on celebration

Downtown Baton Rouge’s new New Year’s Eve event kicked off Tuesday afternoon with singing and dancing and a dramatic retelling of how the city got its name.

A live band and the dropping of a 9-foot stick made of red LED lights were scheduled for later in the evening for those attending the first Red Stick Revelry.

“This is historic,” said Downtown Development District Executive Director Davis Rhorer, who went to North Boulevard’s Town Square to take part in the festivities. “It’s been an incredible year for downtown Baton Rouge, and what a way to end it.”

About 100 people came out at noon to watch the rising of the red stick that will fall at midnight — much like popular New Year’s Eve celebrations across the country, including New York’s crystal ball drop.

With temperatures hovering around 43 degrees Tuesday afternoon, those who made their way downtown were bundled up in coats, hats and scarves.

Many danced to the official Red Stick Revelry theme song recorded by local band Phat Hat. Children painted wooden sticks red and decorated paper fish with sequins and beads to mark the occasion.

Mayor-President Kip Holden, who led revelers in the singing of “Auld Lang Syne,” said he was pleased with the turnout, particularly the number of families who brought children.

“That’s the spirit we were seeking, and it all came together,” he said. “It really bodes well for Baton Rouge.”

Arashay Ratcliff, 5, came to the event with her guardian, Antoinette Robertson. Ratcliff painted her own red stick and decorated a fish while listening to storyteller Robby Wilson explain how Baton Rouge came to be named after a red stick.

The “red stick” name was the description of early French explorers who encountered a red-stained cypress pole marking the territorial boundaries of Indian tribes.

“This is great,” Robertson said of Tuesday’s celebration, adding she was glad Arashay was able to be there to experience the first Red Stick Revelry.

The event, paid entirely through privately donated funds, was expected to cost about $50,000.

Organizers are selling T-shirts and other commemorative items, including downloads of the Red Stick Revelry theme song, to raise money for future years.