Oakland First Fridays

By Jun S.  Published Aug 26th, 2016

© 2016 Jun S. All rights reserved.

On each first Friday of the month from 6:00 - 9:00PM, Oakland’s KONO district transforms into a lively and all-inclusive space for individuals from all walks in life, showcasing local artists, art collectives, dancers, performers, live musicians, spoken-word beat poets, DJs, and Off-the-Grid food trucks lining the streets along Telegraph Avenue from West Grand and 27th Street. Thousands of people gather from throughout the Bay Area to partake in its immersive art, culinary delights, and energetic atmosphere, all while supporting the local community.

Live musical performances featured throughout First Friday's event space.

Young woman rollerskating in a skate circle.

MJ's Brass Boppers perform throughout the bay, a local favorite.

Located just steps away from the iconic Fox Theater and a breadcrumb trail of top-notch local bars, streets are bursting with energy with live performances, street artists, artisan crafts, fortune tellers, magicians, rollerskaters, drumming circles, dance battles, beat poets, and occasionally some free swag. With--not one-- but two stages bring the spotlight on both emerging performers as well as native Oaklanders who’ve made it to the big times, such as the Fantastic Negrito. Along the streets, you'll find more live performances by local staples to the Oakland community, such as MJ’s Swingin’ Brass Boppers and live performances by the John Brothers Piano Company.

Das Bus parked near the entrance for good ol' fashioned photo booth experience.

Beeryland teeming with life as local fortune teller entertains visitors outside.

A dripping display of tri-tip on the open grill of Big Serg BBQ.

Food, of course, is just as much of a part of the First Friday experience as much as the art and live shows. Off-the-Grid food trucks and local vendors of gourmet food set up shop as visitors pour in to experience a variety of cultural cuisines, from home-made pupusas to a seemingly endless supply of skewered meat, are available to all palettes to satisfy the most ravenous of appetites. Our personal favorite is Big Serg BBQ, where an enormous open display of barbecue meats lure you in for some free samples and a full helping of tri-tip. The event also hosts a beer garden for the 21+ crowd, which occasionally transforms into its parody “Sake Garden”, and maintains a relaxing atmosphere to help digest the pounds of festival grub you’d just eaten.

Local goods across all East Bay communities gather here to share a cultural experience.

Handmade artisan crafts are a big part of First Friday's street vendors.

Local artists showcase Oakland culture through their many art pieces available for sale, each one-of-a-kind.

Of course, we can’t forget the importance of the artistic talent that is the heart and soul of this event. What began as a community project by the Oakland Asian Cultural Center (OACC), First Fridays quickly became one of the most notable monthly events among the East Bay that celebrates diversity, community, and the creative energy that has inspired Oakland for generations. In addition to Oakland Art Murmur, where nearly 30 art galleries are open to the public while presenting opportunities to help sustain Oakland’s unique artist community on a grand scale. The broad range of artistic talent throughout its exhibits are featured by paintings, sculptures, poetry, fashion, music, and interactive installations. Galleries will occasionally offer workshops where visitors can discover their own creative potential. Many of these activities are offered for free, so we encourage showing your support for these artists by donating or purchasing some of their goods.

Entrance to cool art at Less Space, one of many art galleries open to the public during First Friday.

Oakland's FM Art Gallery features shows and displays of local artists from a variety of mediums.

Melvin the Sad...(ish) Robot, Kickstarter project in support of Joshua Margolis' book publication.

Among the art galleries, Oakland has the highest percentage of artists-per-capita within its residency.

Notably, First Fridays have become a vital addition to Oakland’s local economy, turning many mom-and-pop shops and food establishments within its vicinity into booming businesses-- and most importantly, it provides a platform for emerging artists and local businesses to gain support as well as be a part of a celebration of Oakland culture. It also serves as a venue for small organizations such as Hip Hop for Change and other Oakland non-profits in spreading awareness in struggles across the nation for whole communities and disadvantaged youth to gain visibility in addressing major issues such as racial inequality, gentrification, homelessness, and expanding resources in educating youth.

Live performance and dance battles hosted by the lovely Daniella Davine.

Hip Hop for Change seeking to empower the community through music and political activism for the public.

At first glance, First Fridays appear to be just a haven for live entertainment, dance battles, and gourmet food-- and there’s plenty of it-- but First Fridays play a special role in the community by encouraging visitors to give back for the fun experience this event has to offer. $5 donations are often suggested when participating (and they’re all tax-deductible!) As all urban community events go, they face the double-edged sword that is improving the local economy, as well as potentially encouraging gentrification by those who might miss the message.

Keep It Real providing guides to citizens and their rights to protect against unjust encounters with law enforcement.

Each First Friday, like Oakland itself, is one-of-a-kind. So, if you love Oakland as much as we do, we encourage all participants to give back and keep these gatherings of artists and the community alive for many Fridays to come.

Local street art adorn Telegraph Ave. and provide a perfect space for local events like First Friday.

Bay Area Derby Girls spreading positive energy on rollerskates.

An outdoor performance by the John Brothers Piano Company.

All photos by © 2016 Jun S. All rights reserved.