Comedian Wightout performs without microphone
In Late February, the office of the Mayor and the Oakland First Fridays Community Media Team announced a series of changes to the monthly street fair.
Among the publicized changes: A new ending time of 9 p.m., a shorter footprint from 27th Street to West Grand (not down to 17th street as in past months), performance stages gathered around specific themes and a reduction in venues serving alcohol. This all comes on the heels of the shooting death of 18-year-old Oakland resident
Kiante Campbell during February's First Friday event.
The new changes led to a more peaceable kingdom within the First Friday footprint. During the early evening, more families and children were witnessed than in recent months. Several vendors also described the crowd as more laid back.
Didese Simpson who sells art and T-shirts said: "It's more mellow. Normally it would be more crowded, but with the increase staff it's more strict … rules are more enforced.
"I don't see a lot of 18-24 year olds," Simpson added. "In previous months I saw a lot of them."
Reggae played on the street as folks wandered in and out of galleries. Crowds didn't seem to build to typical warm weather levels until about 7:30 p.m.
South of the official First Friday, crowds wandered about, some settling on bars and restaurants, some continuing to walk. More young adults were spotted in the vicinity of the Fox Theater than in the areas north of Grand. With the street open to cars and without the usual collection of food vendors at Telegraph and 21st, there was significantly less foot traffic between south and north Uptown. Same as past months, a significant number of classic cars and their admirers were present at Giant Burger, perhaps as a way station between official venues.
The Solutions Salon, a place where "youth talk and adults listen," took place at the Parkway Theater. Approximately 50 attendees came. Youth and their allies represented several schools and youth organizations including Ralph Bunch High School and RJOY and Youth Radio. Adults without youth also attended including some from the Alan Blueford Coalition and Oscar Grant's Uncle, Cephus Johnson.
Participants engaged in a series of "living portraits" where they recreated youth views of First Friday - both what goes well and what frustrates them about the street fair. Then, they adjusted the portraits to show what could change to make First Friday safer for everyone.
"When you get high or drunk you get negative plus violent." - Unidentified Youth
"Instead of holding a joint, he was holding a mike." - Unidentified Youth
"I know people are afraid of First Friday, but one way to keep it safe is just walk through there. You don't have to stay to make it safe." - Mary Stackiewicz, 20
Organizers committed to the youth that this Solutions Salon would continue in future months.
Changes to the festival that were not as publicized were an increase in security and police presence, limitations to the numbers of amplified performances and the presence of camera crews. Several venues that sell alcohol had multiple security guards posted at both entrances and exits. Other security guards patrolled the streets.
Numerous camera crews were spotted throughout the event, which gave the whole scene a different energy. While digital cameras and cell phones are a frequent presence at any event, professional gear is not. At least four were spotted on each block - some TV news crews and some documentary crews - several affiliated with First Friday itself. While no one was spotted mugging for the cameras or avoiding them, per se, the impact on people was palpable. Laughter became awkward and dialogue began to stutter with a quick glance over the shoulder at the camera that just popped in to capture the moment.
The mayor even walked the street, posing for pictures wearing an Oaklandish "Respect Our City" T-shirt. Earlier in the evening, Oaklandish Communications and Outreach manager Natalie Nadimi described the crowds as enthusiastic.
"It's been nice having strangers high-five me," she said.
What's not clear is how many of these changes were a temporary response to one tragic incident, and how many will become permanent fixtures. After all, First Fridays in Oakland was never just one static structure. It was the organic and ever-shifting crowd of attendees: hipsters, college students, artists, art collectors, gentrifiers, long-time residents and town teens. It was both the city's celebrated media darling and an alternative economy that a group of scrappy 20-somethings built with love. What First Friday will become in months to come is anyone's guess.
Full disclosure: This reporter participated in one of the planning meetings for the Solutions Salon and greeted attendees at the door. She was not involved in running the Salon itself.