The first few minutes of the pilot of the TV series “Portlandia” include a song and dance number where comedian Fred Armisen proudly proclaims, “The dream of the 90s is alive in Portland!”
But I’m not here to talk to you about Portland.
While the dream of the 90s may be alive in Portland, it is most definitely alive in the Crossroads District. The first Friday of every month, a variety of Kansas Citians venture down to the Crossroads to look at art, eat out of food trucks and experience Kansas City.
The first thing you’ll notice about First Fridays, other than the lack of parking spaces, is the atmosphere. The stench of clove cigarettes, black coffee and hot wings pervades the air. Everywhere you go you’re surrounded by music, whether it be the grungy reggae of local band Arm the Poor, or a scraggly man playing “Viva la Vida” on the violin.
After arriving at First Fridays, I was in search of three things: music, food, and art. I set out on my quest to find good music and my search led me to 2010 Gallery. Like every other building at the Crossroads, it was old and dilapidated and full of charm. Upon walking into the building, there was a thumping beat. I walked for several minutes before finding a steel door, behind which was Arm the Poor.
I’ll just tell you upfront, I dig Arm the Poor. Everything about them was loud and obnoxious and I loved it. The most interesting part about Arm the Poor is that situated between four bearded 30-somethings, a girl no older than 13 was playing the saxophone. Not just playing it, but rocking it. The contrast was fantastic.
My search for food was not as fruitful as I expected. Other than several slightly boring food trucks, one selling coffee cake and the other Mediterranean food, the only interesting food vendor was selling pies and cookies out of a bicycle basket.
In front of Blue Gallery Contemporary Art, was a hippie with a bike. Her cheerful demeanor and sweet smile almost sold me on an apple pie, but $10 for an eight-inch pie was out of my price range. However, her sales pitch clearly worked on the parents of many little kids, because I spotted about twenty toddlers munching on rainbow cookies.
First Fridays revolves around art, so I expected most of it to be pretty high quality. I perused through seven galleries, and was slightly disappointed. Some of the galleries were better than others, while some were lacking. After the first few galleries, the art started blending together. Okay, I get it, you like acrylics and funky textures.
Some galleries, however, were unique. Hammerpress, previously a salon and now a full-time store sold vintage cards and stationary. Todd Weiner Gallery displayed art that was made exclusively out of wood and bronze. Lastly, Weinberger Fine Art exhibited a large variety of artwork, including scrap metal sculptures, repurposed instruments and mannequin torsos. Of every gallery I visited, these few definitely had the unique feel First Fridays tries to convey.
While the music, food and art are all great reasons to visit First Fridays, what they contribute to is the best reason to go: the atmosphere.
Everything about First Fridays is unique. Every person there is wonderfully different; you can spot middle-aged soccer moms, trendy teenagers, elderly folks, men in orange hazard suits, free spirits in fairy costumes, hippies, vegans and hipsters toting toddlers sporting TOMS. Nobody judges you at the Crossroads, and everybody is welcoming. Everybody is there for the experience. Everybody is there to support the juggling busker or the struggling artist. The youth and spirit of Kansas City is at First Fridays.
So if you’re free on the first Friday of the month, head down to the Crossroads. If not for the art, go for the experience. Get to know your city and the people who live here, because they’re truly fantastic.