Oakland's vibe is alive: Triumphant return for First Fridays

For the first time in 18 months, First Fridays returned to Oakland, bringing art, music and culture back to the open streets. 

Organizers said people love the event because it is "authentically Oakland" and that it's been a long road to get the popular event back to Uptown Oakland. 

The city of Oakland once covered some of the costs associated with the monthly event, but this time around, organizers said they had to raise the funds on their own. 

The event went until 9 p.m. KTVU was at the scene along Telegraph Avenue, where vendors were packing up their wares. There was also a sense of relief that the beloved arts and culture event was back. 

Drummers kept the beat in the Uptown District in the name of unity after the lengthy pandemic hiatus. 

Soul Beatz, an Oakland-based drum circle helped the crowd get back into the groove. "I hope they get the rhythm and the feeling of oneness to us all, because no one of us could do this by ourselves," said Rodney Christian Gilmore.  

First Fridays cover a six-block stretch of Telegraph Avenue and draws a large turnout. 

"We saw some longtime businesses over the last year and a half. You just never know, so I think there's a little bit of concern and we were happy to see that this is coming back today," said Maya Godeau, an Oakland native.

The event promotes artists like one mother daughter duo we spoke with. The mother said it has been a long-time coming. She was glad the event is back because there was talk of its cancellation. 

Koreatown/Northgate Oakland Community Benefit District (KONO), the nonprofit that produces the event, said it has been a challenge to bring First Fridays back. Before COVID times, they said city of Oakland used to pay the cost of police and fire. Now organizers have to find sponsors to cover those expenses.

"We keep it real. It has the Oakland vibe," Shari Godinez, First Fridays executive director, said of the event. 

The live entertainment included a fashion show, and a touch of nostalgia with a classic car show. 

There were only 15 food vendors compared to the 30 involved pre-pandemic. Vendor stands stood five-feet apart for social distancing. Masks were recommended, but not required. 

"It's part of our culture and it's good to be back out here now that things are a little bit safer and plus we're outdoors," said Hiyasmin Dimaranan of Oakland.

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Organizers hope the beat goes on for First Fridays. There is relief that this integral part of Oakland is alive once again. 

"We're all different colors, different ages, different sizes. We come from all over the planet and we get here and boom! We're one," Gilmore said. 

KONO says it costs $45,000 to put on the event. Moving forward they estimate they have enough funds to put on the event for three to four months, but that it also depends on sponsors.