Every year, as the holidays whiz by and December dwindles down to nothing, that big, nagging question arises without fail, like the tried old lyric from Frank Loesser's classic song: What the heck are you doing New Year's Eve?
For the late-planners out there who would rather avoid the buttoned-up dinner out, ball drop, home-by-12:30 a.m. routine, we've compiled a list of unusual, offbeat and otherwise nontraditional activities that you can sign up for at the last minute. Because let's face it: a rock show, comedy routine or art exhibition is a lot more exciting than chillin' at home with Dick Clark and a bowl of popcorn. And whether you're looking to maintain your street cred or simply break out of your stale traditions, a little deviation from the norm is always in order.
Here's a few boundary-breaking events and suggestions that might just take the lameness out of your New Year's celebration:
*So you've tired of the teeming crowds that swarm downtown Buffalo during the city's annual First Night celebration, but still have a lingering desire to watch that glittery ball descend from its perch atop the Electric Tower?
Search no further than the Western New York Book Arts Center, where (once you get over the sticker price of $75 per person, or $125 per couple), you get yourself an open bar, plenty of food, an art exhibition and and a head-on view of the midnight ball-drop from the cozy confines of the center's two activity-packed floors.
Not to mention the crowd, which -- far from the typical array of crashing, penguin-suited bores that populate more staid celebrations -- will be full of artists, poets, raconteurs and musicians for whom New Year's Eve is more of an opportunity for artistic camaraderie than forced festivity.
Work by some 30 local artists will be on view (and for sale during a silent auction), including pieces by A.J. Fries, Ben Perrone, Christopher Fritton, Larry Griffis, Book Arts Center co-founder Richard Kegler and many others.
For more info on the shindig, call 348-1430 or visit www.wnybookarts.org.
-- Colin Dabkowski
*In Buffalo, improv comedy has become a kind of end-of-the-year tradition. Buffalo's popular comedy troupe, Eclectic Improv, has been performing post-Christmas shows for the past six years or so in Shea's Smith Theater. This time around, their performance, which gets under way at 8 tonight, just so happens to fall on the biggest party night of the year.
The time-tested troupe, made up of local funnymen Don Gervasi, Todd Benzin, Peter Cumbo, John Kreuzer and Michael Hake, will present an evening of unpredictable improv, taking suggestions from audience members and riffing on them -- much in the style of "Whose Line Is It Anyway?"
Gervasi said the show will be wrapped up by 10 to allow plenty of time for more traditionally inclined New Year's revelers to fill their glasses and prepare for the celebratory stroke of midnight. Tickets are $15, with more information at www.eclecticimprov.com.
But the Eclectic company isn't the only troupe getting on the New Year's Eve action. ComedySportz, a local chapter of a national group from which which the Eclectic Company split off some years ago, will host its own show in the ComedySportz Arena (the old Cabaret in the Square Theatre, 4476 Main St., Snyder). ComedySportz, as the name implies, is set up like an athletic competition, with a red and blue team facing off against one another, a referee awarding points to either side, and the audience frantically calling out suggestions.
Tickets are $5 to $10 and more information is available at www.buffalocsz.com.
*I know, I know, it's all such a hassle to hit the bricks on New Year's Eve, line up the sitter, deal with the cold weather, and trick one of your posse into volunteering for Designated Driver duty. The beer's cheaper at home anyway, right?
True, but why be lame? Start the year off by taking some decisive action, and head to the Tralf Music Hall (622 Main St.) for the Sound In Motion NYE shindig. Rather than getting all "Auld Lang Synne" and maudlin on y'all, the assembled -- Peanut Brittle Satellite, Lazlo Hollyfeld, Rhubarb and a surprise (or surprised?) DJ will collectively cover Beck's early masterpiece, "Odelay." In addition, all three bands -- who together represent some of the coolest music being made in Buffalo these days -- will debut some brand new sounds. There will be a balloon drop and a free champagne toast, to boot. All for a measly $10! For info: www.tralfmusichall.co.m
-- Jeff Miers
*Nietzsche's (248 Allen St.) has spent several decades by now fulfilling its mandate as the music venue that never sleeps, with live sounds filling the docket just about every single night of the year, so it's not surprising that New Year's Eve is no exception.
In addition to the Nietzsche's New Year's staples -- free hats and noisemakers and a champagne toast, and who know what else might happen? -- there will be a steady flow of live acts performing on both stages, beginning at 10 p.m. and concluding a few hours into 2011. You'll see Universe Shark, Family Dinner, Family Funktion & the Sitar Jams, Alassane Sarr's Mini-Mix, Blood Thirsty Vegans and Shapes of States.
*Here's an event that presupposed the inevitable whining regarding the wind-chill factor. the Hard Rock Cafe (333 Prospect St. in Niagara Falls), is presenting its New Year's Eve Guitar Drop beginning at 8 p.m. Here's the clincher -- they've got heated tents! Oh, and Smashmouth is playing, too.
The event takes place adjacent to the club, outdoors on Old Falls Street, where there will be concessions, vendors and fireworks filling the space between sets from Son of the Sun, DoDriver, the Rockaz and headliner Smashmouth. Star 102.5 FM DJ Rob Lucas and Mary Beth Wrobel of WGRZ-TV will emcee, and the ringing in of 2011 will be marked by the ceremonial dropping of a 10-foot illuminated Gibson guitar, from atop a specially built 120-foot structure erected on Old Falls Street. The guitar was painted by none other than Western New York master drummer and artist Rob Lynch, which makes it even cooler. Additional information and VIP ticketing is available via 282-0007.
*For the young urban hipster or hipsterette who shudders at the thought of spending yet another chilly Dec. 31 in the thumping bars of Allentown or the Elmwood Village, a little dose of retro partying might be in order.
If you feel like reveling in the no-frills New Year's traditions of years past, there might be no better place than the George F. Lamm American Legion Post (962 Wherle Drive, Williamsville), where a modest celebration gets under way at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10.
According to the post's party chairman John Gilboy, the annual celebration -- which has been drawing an average crowd of about 110 people for longer than he can remember -- will feature a the four-piece band Buffalo Good Times ("They'll blow you out of the place," Gilboy said), snacks, a cash bar and a champagne toast at midnight, followed by coffee and danish.
"What else can I give you for 10 bucks?" Gilboy said, with a laugh.
It's a good question -- and for those looking to break out of their stale New Year's traditions, not a bad deal either. For more information, call 633-9242.
*Honorable mention: The Transmission Dance Party at Mohawk Place, beginning at 10 p.m., will only cost you $5.
A bit more upscale, but still Bohemian enough to allow for the maintaining of your hipster cred is the Masquerade Ball being held at the Connecticut Street Armory beginning at 9:30 p.m. There will be DJs, complimentary masks at the door, top shelf booze and bottled beer, food -- the whole deal. The ticket will cost you $60, but you can start the new year feeling good about that money going to benefit Hospice of Buffalo. Check www.buffaloafterdark.org for tickets and additional info.