A Celebration of Art, Food, and Community Every First Friday
By Zach Adams-Dominik
“First Friday is something that we can share and take pride in as a community,” says John Mardikian. “It’s a chance for everyone to express themselves and embrace the creativity that Oakland provides.”
Mardikian is the owner of the Telegraph Beer Garden, a local hot spot that participates in First Friday, a sprawling monthly street festival held in Uptown Oakland’s KONO district, between West Grand and 27th Street along Telegraph Avenue. In this city-supported bacchanal, locals, entertainers, vendors, and artists, all come together to create an immersive community experience. Originally orchestrated by Oakland’s Art Murmur as a way to promote a collective of galleries in the Northgate and Temescal neighborhoods, the event’s popularity resulted in its evolution into a monthly celebration of local art, multinational food, and Bay Area eclecticism.
Every month, within hours, a significant portion of Telegraph is transformed into an overpowering melee of noise, bodies, and temporary art installations. A phalanx of food trucks fill the air with the intoxicating aromas of Salvadoran pupusas and Pakistani curries at one end of the street, while a frenetic energy radiating from a rotating set of bands on two stages occupies the other. The entire event is an enthralling assault on the senses.
Further vying for position from an overly-taxed attention span, a veritable kaleidoscope of stalls crowd the sidewalks, offering an atypical assortment of goods.
Looking for a hat made from patterns and materials gathered from a recent trip around Europe? Maybe a handcrafted, airtight, bamboo container? How about jewelry made from an assortment of animal bones? It’s all there. No? What about a job, then? A local marijuana delivery service was hiring people on the spot at the April event.
While a siren’s song of erratic entertainment encompasses the center of the milieu (replete with dancers on roller-skates, a group specializing in popping and locking, and an enthusiastic teenager in a T. Rex costume), the backbone of the festival remains an exposition of local art. Galleries dotting the street hold free exhibitions, and a large percentage of the vendors is comprised of talented painters and graphic designers. The cover artist for this issue of the BCC Voice, Dan Schmatz, is one such illustrator who plies his strangely captivating pieces monthly at the festival.
Not to be missed, the many restaurants and shops located within Uptown’s KONO, district, such as The Good Hop taproom, La’Christa’s Cafe, and the aforementioned Telegraph Beer Garden, keep their doors open late, add to the already dizzying assortment of food offerings, and afford a temporary refuge from the chaotic din of performers and revelers.
With an absent entrance fee and a multitude of experiences to enjoy in a lively, energetic environment, First Friday promises to be a memorable evening for both East Bay natives and newcomers alike. Further information about the festival can be found at http://oaklandfirstfridays.org/ and http://oaklandartmurmur.org/