Rediscover date night

Communities across the region making arts, music and food the weekend highlight

First Friday in Aurora
First Friday in Aurora
Libertyville First Friday
Libertyville First Friday
Fourth Fridays at Starline Gallery in Harvard
Fourth Fridays at Starline Gallery in Harvard

From painters and potters to chefs and shop owners, every town has so much local talent to offer. Rather than let that fall by the wayside, First Fridays and Second Saturdays have been popping up in downtowns across Illinois with the hope of highlighting everything each individual community has to offer.

While there’s no way to pinpoint exactly where and when First Fridays started, the idea supposedly originated as a social networking concept and later blossomed to include arts and culture. While some smaller First Fridays still are focused on social gatherings, others have also expanded and now include Second Saturdays, Second Fridays, Third Thursdays, and basically any other imaginable combination possible to support community.

Designed to showcase local artists, makers and entertainers, First Fridays, Second Saturdays and Third Thursdays also have another benefit: revitalizing downtown areas and bringing local patrons to shops and restaurants in the area. The idea is that the low cost to attend will make it easier for visitors to purchase items, helping money flow back through the downtown area to revitalize the town.

Many Illinois communities have adopted the concept of First Fridays and turned them into their own tradition with their own unique touch and local flair. While a lot of the events are held downtown on Main Streets, other small art galleries have also started to create their own unique days based off of First Fridays.

These events have become hallmarks of many of these communities, a valuable part of life in theses towns, drawing visitors and potential new residents as they increase the exposure of the community and enhance its arts and entertainment calendar.

Here are some to check out this season. Take time to peruse both the scheduled events and wander the area.

AURORA
FIRST FRIDAYS

When the Aurora ArtWalk ended in the fall of 2012, there was a lack of art in the Aurora community, but the want was still there.

That’s when the ArtBar came into play. As a pop-up art showcase at Two Brothers Roundhouse, it gave other art galleries the inspiration to come together and hold art gatherings on the first Friday of the month. Eventually, in September of 2013, it turned into what is now known as Aurora’s First Fridays. It is now one of the most well known First Fridays in the area.

Aurora’s monthly event generally has a theme, with March’s focusing on live music, and April’s named “Renewal, games and youth.” With 20 businesses (give or take) involved every month, offerings range from theater performances and live shows to art shows, karaoke, open mics, pop-up shops and more.

While everything is held in downtown Aurora, there is a free trolley that runs from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. to make sure everyone can attend every event they want and travel with ease.

Aurora’s First Fridays are held from 5 p.m. to midnight. on the first Friday of every month, with the exception of January and July. While it is free to attend, some costs may apply to various events as a part of the day. For further information, visit www.auroradowntown.org.

FOURTH FRIDAYS
AT THE STARLINE GALLERY

Held nine months out of the year at the historic Starline Factory in Harvard, Fourth Fridays is a huge art event with an exhibit, juried photo contest, featured solo exhibit, vendors, open studios, love music and so much more.

With three levels of action and a cash bar for beer, wine and mixed drinks, this event draws between 600 and 1,000 art lovers for every production.

There are more than 90 volunteers that help make the event a reality every month. Every event is different, with new featured artists, rotating musicians and various themes and installations every month.

There is a $10 cover at the door and kids under 17 are free. Fourth Fridays run from 6 to 9 p.m. through October 26 with no event in September. For further information on the event as well as how to enter artwork into the competition, visit nancymerkling.com.

ROCKFORD FIRST FRIDAYS

Drawing inspiration from First Fridays in Richmond, Virginia and Kansas City, Missouri, The Element, an arts advocacy group, launched Rockford’s very own monthly First Fridays.

With music venues, art galleries and shops all teaming up to provide shopping, dinner specials and late-evening entertainment, Rockford’s First Fridays are a one-stop shop for anyone looking to see everything the town has to offer.

The weekly Rockford City Market often coincides with First Fridays, providing shops and other fun activities at the corner of Water and State Street from 3:30-8:30 p.m. Artale and Co. also does First Friday wine tastings that benefit different charities. April’s benefitted the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation while May’s raised money for KFACT.

Don’t forget to swing by the Rockford Discovery Center Museum with the little ones for special First Friday events for the whole family.

More information and a full schedule of events can be found by visiting www.theelementrockford.com.

LIBERTYVILLE FIRST FRIDAYS

Libertyville’s First Fridays are so much more than just an art showcase. With wine tastings, book signings, fortune telling and live music, Main Street in Libertyville is the place to be from 6 to 9 p.m. on the first Friday of every month.

All participating shops give attendees plenty of reasons to come in, with a variety of sales and deals just begging to be taken advantage of. Get buy-one, get-one deals on clearance all day at Forest Bootery along with a specialty drink, 20 percent off all products at the Vito Anthony Salon and even free champagne while you shop at Maison Chic.

The Serendipity Shop will feature live music on First Fridays, while the Improv Playhouse hosts stand-up comedy for $20 at the door ($10 in advance).

Parking is free and located in a covered parking garage at Lake Street and Brainerd Avenue, as well as in the brand new Church Street parking garage behind Mickey Finn’s. For further details on what Libertyville’s First Fridays offer, visit www.mainstreetlibertyville.org.

DIXON SECOND SATURDAYS

What started as a cooperative of local artists and local businesses in Dixon in 2010 turned into Second Saturdays, a monthly cultural event hosted by Dixon Main Street, in 2014.

From 6 to 8 p.m. on the second Saturday of every month, downtown businesses and organizations host musical performances, poetry readings, skits and much more. Special projects, such as Dixon Main Street’s Artcycle project, also get folded into the monthly event.

Trein’s Jewelry, Distinctive Gardens and the Crystal Cork Wine Shoppe were three of the founding organizations, and Books on First also helped cement the day with live music every Saturday.

Retail merchants also offer special deals during the event. Most of the events run from First and Second Streets to Peoria and Galena Avenues.

BATAVIA
SECOND FRIDAYS

Partake in a slew of awesome family-friendly events at downtown Batavia’s Second Fridays from April through October.

The themes for each month coincide with the Water Street Studios’ gallery, which range from Gordon Parker and Kerri Ann Reavis in May to “Art of the Blues” in June. Maps for all of the participating business are also available at the Water Street Studios.

Participating vendors include The Tea Tree, Bar Evolution, Salvage Heart Vintage Wares, the Depot Museum and Rivers Edge, but may vary based on a month-to-month basis.

While attending the event is free, there are plenty of other happenings around town that may incur a fee. Venues with live music generally have a cover, while other art classes, food or book signings also may have a small fee. Many shops also have kid-friendly activities.

All of the events take place from 6. to 9 p.m. around the downtown Batavia area, but organizers recommend bringing a bike or wearing walking shoes to easily commute to all of the activities.

For more information or a map of the events, visit www.downtownbatavia.com or call 630-761-3528.

LAKESIDE ARTS PARK AT THE DOLE FIRST FRIDAY ART SHOW

While it may not have multiple shops involved, the Lakeside Arts Park at the Dole First Friday Art Show has plenty to offer to art lovers.

Held from 5 to 8 p.m. on the first Friday of every month, the art show gives guests the chance to enjoy featured art, meet artists and even purchase original pieces of work. May features art from District 47 and July is showcasing the work of Felissa Onixt, William Stone and resident partner artists. There are no shows from July to September, but they pick back up again in October with the Crystal Lake camera club and Dangerous Lullabies IV.

The event is free, but there is a $5 suggested donation. Further details can be found by visiting www.lakesideartspark.org or by calling 815-455-8000.

SECOND SATURDAYS
AT CANTIGNY

Get a taste of Cantigny founder Colonel Robert McCormick’s life while turning it into an art project at Cantigny’s Second Saturdays.

On the second Saturday of every month from March through December, the McCormick House hosts a drop-in hands-on family program with varying themes that honor the history of the McCormick family.

June’s event is centered around McCormick’s interest in farming and the environment, and participants will be making butter and shown how to card wool, whereas July’s event involves making paper airplanes while learning about McCormick’s landing strip at Cantigny.

Events run from 12 to 3 p.m. and are free with a parking fee. Locations may change throughout the season and crafts vary. A full schedule of events can be found by visiting www.Cantigny.org or by calling 630-667-5161.

Got a little more time on your hands?
Make a day of it, in communities just outside our region:

F1RST FR1DAYS IN
DOWNTOWN BLOOMINGTON

Dive into everything downtown Bloomington has to offer during their monthly F1rst Fr1days showcase.

Participating businesses expand their hours to 8 p.m. for the evening to share visual creations with the purpose of educating the community about art. Inside Out, Main Gallery 404 and the Three Square Studio are just a few of the local art hot spots with featured events.

The self-guided event features local art for sale, and the Downtown Bloomington Association even hires musicians, jugglers and fire blowers in the warmer months. May’s theme is “Spring Into Art” and each month will have a different theme.

Check www.downtownbloomington.org for further information about themes and updates on participating vendors and artists.

PEORIA FIRST FRIDAYS

Artists and galleries in Peoria are opening their doors to art lovers and admirers on the first Friday of every month. Since 2011, Peoria has been hosting the event, which features The Hive, Ear in the Envelope, Wheel Art Pottery Studio and many more.

The event is free, and many of the stops include complimentary drinks and appetizers for guests. Each stop also is responsible for their own entertainment, and guests can often find live music and other performers. There are also plenty of food stops along the way, including Sugar: Wood Fired Bistro and Pizza, One World and Broken Tree Coffee.

For anyone looking to make several stops, the free Enjoy Peoria Bus will be making its rounds from the downtown studios from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Visit www.peoriafirstfriday.com for a map and a list of participating businesses.

MOMENCE FIRST FRIDAYS

Momence may be a town of 3,300 residents, but the tiny town nestled along the Kankakee River is the proud host of First Fridays from May through October. Put together by the Downtown Business Alliance, this show features some of the best artists and other local vendors, and is hosted by Apothecary Arts and Antiques and Simple Creations and Antiques. More details can be found by visiting www.mainstreetmomence.com.