By Ken Wilson –
The Dave Matthews Band played it. So did Corey Harris, and so did Sons of Bill. The hometown crowd heard these future stars, and heard them for free, at Fridays After Five, the April to September concert series set to begin its 30th season. Fridays from April 14 to September 8, the weekend officially begins at 5:30 in the Sprint Pavilion at the east end of Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall, with great bands, great weather (fingers crossed), and food and drink concessions benefitting a variety of hometown non-profits.
Cynthia Viejo, Associate Broker with Nest Realty, has been a Fridays After Five fan since the very first year, when it was held at the other end of the Mall, near where the Omni is now. Downtown is “the heart of Charlottesville,” Viejo says. “Fridays After Five is a great opportunity for people to be there in the midst of it all, enjoying camaraderie, being with people from the community, and just having fun.”
Cynthia remembers catching Dave Matthews at Fridays. That was in 1992, when it had moved to the other end of the Mall—but the other end of the Mall was still a grassy bowl. Blues and reggae star Corey Harris, a Grammy winner and probably the only MacArthur Fellow to play Fridays, played it there. The Pavilion opened in 2005, and Sons of Bill played it there three years in a row (2006-8).
“Every year our goal is to feature as many of the local artists as we can,” says Spring Pavilion Manager Kirby Hutto. “We’re always looking for the new artists that seem to have a little bit of a buzz around them. Sometimes acts will have played in the opening slot and we see their profile continues to grow, and we’re able to bring them back as a headliner.
“Sometimes somebody just kind of bursts on the scene and really seems to have found their following right off the bat. But we’re always looking to mix it up. We try to get as diverse of a musical style as we can, so we may have one or two that fall into the category of oldies acts or cover bands but then we’ll have just as many that are doing new, original music. We hope that having them on the Friday stage and being able to play in front of a large crowd in a large venue can give a boost to their efforts when they’re playing the clubs around town.”
First time headliners in 2017 include Red and the Romantics, The Barons, The Judy Chops, and Nora Jane Struthers, all Virginia born, bred or based.
While Hutto’s always looking for fresh talent, longtime crowd favorites like Grateful Dead cover band Alligator, headlining this May 12, get invited back frequently. “We love to have them on the stage because they always draw such tremendous crowds for us.”
The crowds really are impressive. As long as the weather’s nice, “the first ones out of the gate every spring are just huge,” Hutto says. “We will get upwards of five to six thousand people. Come summer, much of the crowd shows up later, but even on a hot, muggy night, it’s three to four thousand strong.”
That’s a boon to the area’s many merchants and restaurateurs. “We always try to be done at a reasonable hour (8:30-8:40 p.m.) so our patrons can go down the Mall and patronize all the restaurants and bars,” Hutto says. “We try to spread the wealth while we’re down here. Restaurant owners this time of year, any time I walk down the Mall they’re asking me, ‘When does Fridays After Five start; why can’t you start it tonight?’ It really signals the beginning of their busy season, particularly for the folks that have the outdoor cafes.”
Local non-profits, who take turns staffing the concessions booths, benefit as well. “We’ve got roles that we staff with the volunteers that require as few as four and up to as many as sixteen people a week,” Kirby says. “So basically we’re paying back the non-profit based on the number of volunteer hours they provide. Generally it ranges anywhere from $100-110 to $450-500. It’s all based on the number of folks that they’ve provided us.”
Here is the remaining lineup for the first half of the 2017 Fridays After Five, Bud Light Concert Series. Concerts last from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.
April 28 – The Barons (Raw, Catchy Rock N Roll), with Post Sixty Five
May 5 – Kendall Street Company (Rock, Folk, Jazz Jams), with Maxx 51
May 12 – Alligator (Classic Grateful Dead), with Marshall Artz
May 19 – Groove Train (Virginia’s Premier Disco Experience), with Choose Your Own Adventure
May 26 – In Full (Jazz, Funk, Pop Hits), with The Velvet People Collective
June 2 – Jon Spear Band (Nothing But The Blues), with Fulltone To The Max
June 9 – Abbey Road (Nothing But The Beatles), with Mojo Pie
June 16 – The Judy Chops (Original Mountain Swing), with Bobby Midnight Band
June 23 – Nora Jane Struthers (Unapologetic Roots Music), with TBA
June 30 – Roosevelt Dime(Bluegrass, Blues, R&B), with The 5 and Dimers