Entertainment in AZ

First Friday on Roosevelt Row

I’m aware there are differences between Charleston and Phoenix. It’s not just that Charleston is a peninsula and that Phoenix is a desert. It’s something else, and I will use First Friday on Roosevelt Row as my example.

First Friday on Broad is a Charleston tradition, and when I lived there, I adored it. (See blog entry HERE.) It’s a gallery walk, and it happens the first Friday of every month. Poor folk (like me) can wander through well-lit galleries, draped in paintings and photos I will never afford, and be fed decadent food and wine until we want to explode. A happy death, though, considering no one ever complained about a dark chocolate/champagne overdose. And it’s beautiful. Broad Street was one of my favorite streets in Charleston, with its antique architecture, evenly spaced palmetto trees, and pink lighting at sunset. Gorgeous.

Then, last Friday, I had the chance to check out PHX’s version of first Friday—First Friday on Roosevelt Row. Again, this event happens on the first Friday of the month. It’s a gallery walk … sort of. I mean, I was in galleries. Several of them. And there was wine. And it was crowded. And … well, that’s where the similarities cease. What I’m trying to say is that First Friday on Broad and First Friday on Roosevelt Row have very little in common, and yet, I love them both.

The difference is in what a friend called the “rawness” of First Friday in Phoenix. As opposed to the quaint, quiet beauty of downtown Charleston, First Friday in Phoenix is a freak show, with art squeezed between the fire-jugglers, guys on curbs playing drums, and anti-scientologist gangs. Here, First Friday kicks off after dark, where the ghouls (and talented artists) can hide behind canvases and fry bread vendors. It’s a place where I found Transfix—a thoroughly disturbing art exhibit that made me want to run screaming to mummy.

Transfix is a performance group. They’re those people you see on street corners in New York, dressed all in white and posing as statues. The idea is to erase identity until we’re all equal—all art. This is fine on a corner in New York, because you can avoid them. You could not avoid these people Friday night. We walked amongst them, glancing at the haunting images by Chris Loomis—a brilliant photog who opted to shoot the Transfix creepoids (I mean that in a good way) in the desert. It was beautiful stuff that Jake wants in our house, to which I respond, “Okay, but I might have nightmares …”

<<An addendum on this exhibit from Rachel Bowditch: "My theatre company Vessel has been performing the site-specific work Transfix for 14 years – hence the retrospective (see more of my work at www.rachelbowditch.com and www.vesselproject.org). Chris is one of the MANY photographers who have captured Transfix through photographs. I have been performing and documenting Transfix since 1996 (starting in New York City).”>>

My buddy was right—First Friday on Roosevelt Row was RAW. It endeared the city to me, because it’s not always pretty at night. It’s dirty and dark, full of spiders and scorpions. (And Emo kids on skateboards.) And I will never, ever miss a chance to go back and do it all again.

Jake's favorite from the Transfix show, by Chris Loomis.

5 thoughts on “First Friday on Roosevelt Row

  1. Nice entry – it’s cool to get your perspective as someone catching First Friday in downtown Phoenix for the first time.

    It’s definitely come a long way since Artlink (http://artlinkphoenix.org) first started organizing them. It’s grown way beyond just art in galleries (for better and for worse, in some ways).

    A lot of folks concentrate only on Roosevelt Row on First Friday, but I would recommend checking out the spaces on Grand Avenue and in the Melrose area (7th Ave between Indian School and Camelback). They’re a lot more laid back than Roosevelt Row, but the work there is no less awesome.

    Heritage Square (7th Street south of Van Buren, across from the Children’s Museum; also, the Children’s Museum is free on First Friday!) also has some First Friday activity with a band stage set up there.

    In contrast to First Friday and more like the ones in Charleston, Third Friday is gaining momentum nowadays. You can take a little more time enjoying the art without feeling rushed and a lot of galleries actually have their art openings on Third Friday.

    Along those lines, it’s important to remember that while a lot of the hubbub of First Friday (vendors, crazy crowds, etc.) isn’t always around downtown Phoenix, most of the venues, galleries, shops, bars, and coffee shops definitely are and that it’s a good idea to check them out the rest of the month, too.

  2. I had never been to any kind of First Friday before I came to Phoenix, so I definitely know what you mean when you say it’s raw. The first time I went I was shocked, but in a good way. I felt compelled to comment on this blog because I’ve been looking into what makes First Fridays so successful here (It’s the largest art walk in the U.S.) and most of the artists will tell you that the low brow art scene, while very much in-your-face, is exactly what brings so much attention to the area. The crowded streets and loud music make it a big deal. A lot of people say First Fridays gets old quickly, but that’s only true if you stop searching for new things. The amateur artists are what make it so great.

    1. Thanks for stopping by my BLOG! How long have you been in the PHX area? Any suggestions on excellent, local talent?

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