From art walk to street festival: A look back at ten years of First Friday

Forging a festival: Sydney Waithe’s “chicken” incident is part of First Friday’s legacy.
R. Marsh Starks

First Friday 10th Anniversary

In March 2006 a wood carver named Sydney Waithe was grilling chicken on his hibachi outside his rental cottage in the Arts District when city marshals showed up and, according to witnesses, told the cantankerous Waithe to “back away from the chicken.”

What led to such an incident at First Friday was, quite simply, growing pains. More specifically, it was a combination of community bickering edging on verbal warfare while organizers tried to gain control of a growing event and participants looked to sideline the new rules. Those participants included the provocative but ever-jovial Mr. Waithe, who would go on to declare himself the “Rodney King of Chicken.” His sin? He was giving away his food, violating event permits.

By then it was clear that Downtown’s monthly festival was the biggest ongoing event of its kind and that attendees were having a ridiculously good time. Behind the scenes, though, the storyline was suited for reality television. Not only were characters battling for autonomy (with or without chicken), a sort of civil war was brewing over what kind of festival First Friday should be.

Arts Factory owner Wes Myles throwing tomatoes at a food truck last month when it got too close to his Bar+Bistro is just par for the course. It turns out that business owners, organizers, artists and the city coming together for the community is no relaxing stroll in the park. Some still long for an art walk rather than a festival, but as First Friday, under new management, celebrates its 10th anniversary this month, it will be clear which idea won out. Those more interested in just art have Preview Thursday, spawned, much like the rest of the area, from First Friday.

Were the tribulations worth it? Hell yes. Without First Friday, there wouldn’t be those new businesses on Main Street or Charleston. Nor would we have so many great memories, like that time when Mayor Oscar Goodman read haiku on a street stage while Ginger Bruner played the tuba behind him, followed by the double-decker poetry bus stopping at different galleries for readings. Then there was the chilly night in December when Todd VonBastiaans created a vintage Nativity scene in the window of Alios on Main Street, complete with a choreographed light show and a Smith’s song remake.

Last year’s Pop-Up Pumpkin Patch highlighted the creativity of local businesses with great community spirit, and recent outdoor performances from The Burning Opera were worth sitting through twice, which many did. Happy Anniversary, First Friday. It’s been a wacky ride. Glad you stuck around.

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Kristen Peterson

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