Jan. 3—Where were you when the calendar turned to 2023?
If you were one of a few thousand or so people, you were on the streets of downtown Somerset, ringing in the new year in style at the Light Up 2023 Bash.
The Next Level Band out of Charlotte, NC brought the sounds of party favorites to town right up until the "prop" was dropped — the propeller-shaped logo of the City of Somerset — at the stroke of midnight, with Somerset Mayor Alan Keck popping in the wish the crowd well with only seconds to go.
"When I look around, I think about the local talent, the local artists, the food and the spirit," said Keck on the stage Saturday night. "This is the culmination of a big dream. I like to say that everything is impossible until somebody does it. And they said, 'You can't have a downtown anymore, you won't be able to have a place where people gather. You can't build community anymore. People are so divided.' ... Now, being in our downtown, to see a downtown full of people who love this community, who want to come together, this is really special."
Leslie Ikerd, City of Somerset Director of Tourism, said on Monday that official numbers of people in attendance weren't available at that time, but she was able to give a rough estimate of 2,500, and there were probably more than that.
"We had a great turnout, the weather held off; I think that all the bands did a phenomenal job bringing in the new year and celebrating community," she said. "It just all came together."
The evening started off with an ensemble of talented area musicians in the form of the Somerset Big Band.
"I was really looking forward to having them show off what they do downtown, and I saw many people that I've never seen at one of our festivals (during the Big Band set)," said Ikerd. "That was exciting to me. ... A lot of people didn't know that we had that (here)."
After the Somerset Big Band came local duo Heidi and Ryan with their Appalachian sound, and they were followed up by the Next Level Band.
"Once they started playing at 10 p.m., they never stopped; one song would go into another, and they did that for a solid two hours, and I don't know that I've ever seen that," said Ikerd of the Next Level Band. "They were all so kind and polite, and they posted pictures about Somerset. They wanted to see the town, and we love that. We love being able to show off Somerset to other people."
The Next Level Band came at the recommendation of the similar Company Band, who had performed at the previous two Somerset New Year's celebrations but weren't able to attend this year. And members of the Next Level group were glad they made the trip.
"It's a beautiful city, the hospitality is amazing," said John Floyd, the band leader, manager and bass guitarist, before the band's set full of favorite hits from the likes of Stevie Wonder, Bruno Mars and Earth, Wind & Fire. "Everybody's treated us so good. ... We're going to have a great time tonight. We're going to light this stage up."
His wife, Judy Floyd, the group's administrator, echoed those sentiments, complimenting the staff at the Hampton Inn where the band stayed, to everything Ikerd and the City of Somerset personnel did, calling local hospitality "bar none" for the band.
"We are absolutely ecstatic and honored to be here," she said. "We do a little bit of everything, some R&B, some old classics, Motown, rock & roll, some country. A little bit of everything."
For Ikerd, it was fulfilling to have another successful community event in the city that she serves, making memories for people from all over Pulaski County.
"I had several people reach out (to say) that they loved the music, they loved the event, they've started to make it a part of their traditions for New Year's, coming downtown to celebrate," said Ikerd. "I noticed how many families and young kids (were there) having a great time, just smiles on their faces, and celebrating being with friends and families."