Martin Luther performing at Top Ten Social's Block Party: A Gritty First Friday. Caption by Michael Orange.
Oakland has seen deep transformations occur in the past year, from
the political to the artistic. As Oakland has responded to the call
for social justice, it also has responded to the call for respect of
local and independent venues and artists.
One of the city's now premiere events, First Fridays, provides a space for artist and music connoisseurs to schmooze, view art, enjoy performances, eat delicious food and to see and be seen. On the First Friday of every month, Downtown Oakland transforms into an indoor and outdoor gala with various art galleries, cafes, DJ’s, live performances and food trucks to peruse.
Beginning the night at the Joyce Gordon Gallery’s Transfiguration opening, I strolled through the small gallery enjoying wine, art and art interpretation conversations with other wide-eyed art enthusiasts. Among the sculptures and paintings by artists’ Gerald Griffin, Chukes and Monjett, I was most awestruck by a painting named “Bag Lady,” by artist Gerald Griffin. This piece is of a classy black woman walking down a city street with a fur around her shoulders and shopping bags around her wrist … then in the distance, there appears to be a bag lady of another sort. As 7 p.m. rolled around, the artists gave short talks about their inspirations, passions and greater insights into their pieces. In all cultures, it was stressed, art is what gives us life. It is food for the soul.
up Broadway, the sidewalk was brimming with all walks of life.
Looking into shop windows, most conveyed the same scene: dozens of
on-lookers and patrons filling venues to standing room only
capacities. As I walked near the Awaken Café I heard a live hard
rock band blaring music through the open windows and doorways and
peeked inside briefly to get a First Fridays artist walk guide. They
seemed out, so I picked up a Saturday Stroll guide instead.
In the night air, there was a general feeling of safety that I might not have felt at the same hour on any other night. A few blocks down the street on Telegraph Avenue, members of the Berkeley Free Clinic set up a table in front of their mobile medical clinic, conveniently parked in front of the new adult sex shop, FeelMore510, giving away free condoms and offering free HIV tests.
The first of the outdoor music festivities was Top Ten Social’s Block Party: A Gritty First Friday. Soulful house music played from the brilliant mind of DJ Aybee and soon Bay Area veteran Martin Luther performed on street level with a mic and no stage to a crowd of dozens, singing new versions of his best classics and getting massive crowd participation to his rendition of “Sitting on the dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding. A few blocks down at the Love Vibes Block Party, I caught the set of new Bay Area band Ama Evolution. With four extremely talented members, including a vocalist, they pumped out their own unique and masterful version of rock and funk with flare. “If you weighed your heart against a feather ...” vocalist Nadiyah Lewis sang, what would it weigh? Don’t let them take your heart from you, she pleaded with the audience. Compared to groups The Roots and In Living Color, Ama Evolution is definitely new talent to keep your eye on.
From Mexican to Middle Eastern, food trucks were lined down the middle of Telegraph Avenue with lines as long as 20 people deep. At a Mexican food truck, someone who had just stood in line told me that it would probably take an hour and fifteen minutes to order and receive food.
Before the night was through, I managed to peek my head into a few other galleries before leaving to find a more accessible food choice. All told, my First First Fridays was a soulful and enriching experience and I plan return and to watch it, as well as Oakland, transform.