To me, this year's Solstice was a flop. While it's still somewhat fresh in my mind, I would like to say why.
(A few of these thoughts are ones I shared with others and found basic agreement. The rest were not discussed and may be entirely idiosyncratic.)
At the design level, it was almost exactly the same as last year. I think two songs changed in the choral parts, two speeches definitely were dropped (my I Have Seen The Tops of Clouds and Brienne's Invincible Summer from last year), and I think one was added (something from the Sequences I already forget, delivered as a dialogue). That left >80% unchanged. Perhaps the organizers thought it was in a good state and didn't need any big tweaks to the arc or main beats; if so I very much disagree.
Also at the prep level, it was significantly smaller than last year, admission was limited to smaller even than 2015 at Humanist Hall, and yet was not at Humanist Hall. Leaving Humanist Hall meant giving up the candle ritual, which I still consider the most important expression of the arc of Solstice. We outgrew it in 2016, and so we regrettably had to move. With the event limited by new rules of the 2016 space to be half the size of 2015, there was no longer a positive to balance that negative.
In terms of the execution, I think the speeches delivered were less polished and less emotional this year. I'd prefer not to go into detail as several people I call friends were on stage over the course of the night.
Further diluting the weight and emotional impact of the speeches was the applause. Every transition in the emotional beats of the arc, speech to song or song to speech, was disrupted by a round of applause. When the dominant theme is solemn, this felt extremely disrespectful, as blatantly inappropriate as a polka during Yom Kippur services or clapping along to the beat of Handel's Messiah. (This doesn't apply to the sing-alongs. My dislike for the clapping there is entirely personal distaste; it offends my inner drummer.)
While I'm mentioning the songs: They were good last year and were good this year. Though I can't claim to be at all objective on that front, my closest friends are all in the choir. IMO, Lean On Me in particular improved this year, but I couldn't put my finger on what I thought was better.
On 'Mixed Success' notes:
The half-Tarot card scheme. This was a neat idea, but Tarot was a poor choice, since most of the room had no idea what they had or were looking for. Also, something like 10% of the room had no matches by the end of the night. Me included, which was especially weird considering that I spent 15 minutes while people were eating at the beginning, and basically the whole intermission, bringing my laptop around to identify cards for people and help them find their match. I can't comment on how well it worked when it worked at all. and so I won't.
Kids at Solstice. There were definitely more of them and most of them were well-behaved and quiet, and temporarily removed by their parents when they weren't. Thank you, conscientious parents; you probably had a 20% worse Solstice so the rest of the room could have a 50% better one.
Unfortunately this was not enough; some number of kids ran up and down the catwalks upstairs and interjected loud laughter a number of times throughout the night, disrupting the emotional weight of the event further. I think from the sound it was the same kid doing the running repeatedly, and the laughter was at least 90% produced by one voice. So to whoever was responsible for those kids: You should know better. You wouldn't let them do this at the theater, or a religious ceremony, or during the vows at a wedding. If you bring your kids, it's your responsibility to ensure they don't mess things up for everyone else. If you can't guarantee that, it's your responsibility to take them home. You're especially hurting other parents and prospective parents whose well-behaved or well-controlled kids would not disrupt future events, but will have to be banned anyway to keep yours out.
So to recap:
- Missing a core part of the ritual arc for the second year running.
- Speeches were lower-quality versions of the previous iteration.
- Applause and misbehaving children interrupted to rob the speeches and songs of their emotional weight.