By Cross Vitale, GMM Reporter

First Fridays is a monthly art crawl held in Columbia’s North Village Arts District on the first Friday of every month from 6 to 9pm. Local businesses and venues open up their doors for a free showcase of local art, music, and other unique performances. It’s a great place to meet local artists and learn about the Columbia art scene. It’s also a great place for students, families, and local hipsters to hangout and catch some free music and artsy entertainment downtown. If you’re looking for something to do on a Friday evening, First Fridays is always a new and exciting experience.

From 5pm to 7pm at the Rose Music Hall, local band, The Fried Crawdaddies, played a free, outdoor concert, which I managed to catch the last ten minutes of. They played a mix of blues and rock to their dancing audience.

After the show, I came across some street performers who performed a variety of acts for all types of crowds. I got to Fretboard Coffee where local musicians sat outside, instruments in hand, relaxing the scene with folk and bluesy vibes. Outside Rock Bottom Comics, I came upon a stand-up comedian and a leprechaun who lightened the air with their jokes and skits.

At the heart of the district was your friendly neighborhood old man who brought unimaginably big bubbles to entertain the kids with his large bubble wand of stick and rope. Each wave of his net became a game for the kids to run and jump with each other, seeing who could pop the bubbles first.

One place I strolled into was Wildy’s World, a mural studio, where patrons got the chance to open up their minds and use their creativity to take part in collaborative murals and taste some locally-grown apples. I met Adam Saunders, the man supplying the apples, who was raising awareness for Build This Town, a campaign for the planned agriculture park here at the Columbia farmer’s market, which is scheduled to break ground this fall.

Later, talking to some of attendees, I gathered that Sauger Braudis Gallery is a crowd favorite and for good reason! The swanky gallery holds two new exhibits every month and you can always expect to see a new appealing variety of pieces.

Orr Street Studios also had a gallery but the best part was the musicians outside. A small band of warm-hearted men played songs outside including a beautiful rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely?”. Nothing felt more cozy and cheery.

As it began to get dark, I unknowingly wandered into a back room and I found myself in a twisting labyrinth of corridors. Each of the countless rooms was filled with different art pieces, jewelry, clothing, and other crafts. Just when I began to think I would never escape the tunnels, I came upon a staircase which led me up to ArtLandish Gallery.

I began to walk along the streets in search of the fire spinners, who have performed at past First Fridays. I saw works displayed by local artists outside of stores on every corner, and a stranger offered me a refreshing slice of watermelon. However, by the time 9 p.m. rolled around, they had yet to make an appearance.

But there’s always next month. That’s the great thing about First Fridays. There’s always going to be new people and things to see at the district, and many visitors return each month because they can’t get away from the artsy spectacle at the outskirts of downtown Columbia.

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