LINCOLN SQUARE — The streets of the Upper West Side's Lincoln Square were packed Monday night as warmer temperatures, live music, performers and heaps of food drew large crowds to this year's Winter's Eve festival.
The festival, in its 14th year and hosted by the Lincoln Square BID, was headlined by folk singer Arlo Guthrie — a last minute stand-in for Broadway star Brian Stokes Mitchell, who had a scheduling conflict.
Families and neighbors packed Dante Park and Lincoln Square Plaza to watch Guthrie perform holiday songs like "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" and "White Christmas."
"I hope everybody will sing along — that's what this folk music is all about," urged Guthrie, who was surrounded by his kids and grandkids onstage, who he said are also musicians.
Guthrie helped countdown the lighting of a 25-foot tall holiday tree and seemed completely at ease on stage. He wore fuzzy snow boots and jeans and let his long white hair fall around his shoulders.
"Let's just have fun...we need more of that," he said before starting his father Woody's most famous song, "This Land is Your Land."
People moved from Columbus Circle to West 68th Street along Broadway during the night, stopping at dozens of stalls for small bites from local restaurants, or taking in an array of performers, including a troupe on stilts.
The BID estimates that 20,000 people turned out for the festival, a spokeswoman said.
At Lincoln Square plaza, the High and Mighty Brass Band invoked Michael Jackson's "Thriller," the Apple Store hosted a cabaret of songs from Broadway's "Cinderella," and Bed Bath & Beyond's lobby made room for the chorus from Holy Trinity Lutheran Church.
"This is bacchanalia," said Eric Concord, 50, who was visiting from Washington state.
Concord said the performers on stilts from the Alice Farley Dance Theater were a highlight.
"It's a perfect blend of joy and holiday spirit and New York spirit," said Concord, who was back in New York City after 20 years away.
Families had the chance to watch ice sculptures being made, visit with Santa and sing Christmas carols.
But "it's hard to maneuver with kids," admitted Britney Caceres, who had her 4-year-old Ezra with her as well as two younger children.
For Ezra's part, he loved the meercats he saw bounding through the crowds on stilts.
"He was really excited about trying out octopus," his mother said of the eats on offer, as the family had small plates from local Spanish restaurant Andanada.
Alice, 23, who did not want to give her last name, said she and her friend would try several different types of food — even if it meant standing in long lines.
This year, as with last year, P.J. Clarke's had the longest line for its sliders. Alice thought she might brave the queue but was happy she already made it through the line for Ed's Chowder House.
"It's very organized and very cohesive," she said.
And "there are less baby strollers than last year," making the sidewalks easier to get through, she added.
Toward the end of the evening, attendees who'd had their fill of food were treated to another roving band — the Hungry Marchband, fully costumed in sparkly outfits — while bands at stages across the neighborhood played on and dance parties got under way.