February’s ‘First Friday’ honors Black History Month

Priscila Chavez,

On the first Friday of every month, the City of Oakland blocks off West Grand Ave. down to Telegraph Ave. from 5 p.m to 9 p.m to host its monthly “First Fridays.” First Fridays is a community run event that includes local artists, vendors, music and food. The year long celebration attracts about 30,000 people a month.

February’s event occurred on Feb. 2 and paid homage to Black History Month by featuring several Black artists, musicians and vendors. As soon as I stepped on to the tail end of West Grand Ave., I immediately felt the energy of the crowd.

The streets were flooded with people from all walks of life. There were kids and parents riding bikes past the vendors, couples and their dogs waiting in line for BBQ. You could not see past the horizon for the people ahead. The recent improvement in weather really seemed to draw the community outdoors.

Many of the vendors were selling art pieces that were heavily laden with political opinion. They had pieces ranging from a painting of football player, Colin Kaepernick, kneeling with the words “Land of the Free?” written across his face to shirts that read, “Undocumented and Unafraid.”

There also were several apparel vendors that were selling items of clothing with various Oakland landmarks and Oakland branding. There were even several stands that carried baby onesies that read “Made in Oakland.”

As I walked past the first couple of vendor stands, I started to notice various crowds forming on side streets. It didn’t take long to realize that these crowds were in fact mini parties.

First Fridays hosts several side stages with featured artists. This months’ artists included DJ Elembe, DJ Drow Flow, DJ Wiley E, Turf INC., Soul Beatz and bands Elegant Trash and Robot Nature.

With each performance that I passed, there must have been a crowd of at least 50 people at each stop. These crowds were not only spectators, but most of them were dancing or singing along with the acts giving the streets of Oakland such a party feel.

Despite the fact that each artist attracted a decently sized crowd with their performances, the real crowd gatherers were the food vendors.  Each food truck or stand had lines that were packed with people and extended down to the end of the street.

People were waiting at least 20 minutes to order their food and another 20 to get it. And that was at the less impacted locations.

This month’s food lineup offered an assortment of tastes and flavors. This included local food trucks such as La Catrina, Cee’s Fried Chicken, The Tatery, Pupusa Cojote, 3 Greeks, Tacos Martha, Naan-Stop Curry, Javi’s Cooking, Tamales Acapulco and that is just about half of the food vendors that participated this month.

I was bombarded with more options that I could even begin to comprehend, between a bowl of loaded tater tots and fresh-off-the-grill BBQ, I just couldn’t choose. I ended up going for some mini pies from Charlie Frank’s Pies.

Charlie Frank’s Pies was offering samples of their pies. Once I tried their peach and coconut sweet potato pies, I was hooked and purchased one of each.

The best part of First Fridays had to be watching all of the people coming together in one place. There were patrons that showed up with bubble machines making friends, and others equipped with old school boomboxes creating mini-dance parties as they strolled along.

Oakland’s First Fridays is a local tradition that should be experienced at least once if you’re in the area. Each month’s event offers something slightly different, keeping the experience new and special everytime. The next event is coming up on March 2, and will no doubt offer just as much fun as the last.