This year, Feb. 13 marks Fat Tuesday, the first official day of Mardi Gras. The SouthSide Arts District and Lehigh Valley Underground started their celebrations early with a Mardi Gras-themed First Friday event on Feb. 2.
Fifteen venues and seven performers took part in the Mardi Crawl offerings. Gerard Longo, the curator of the Lehigh Valley Underground concert series, said restaurants, bars and art galleries donated their time and space, as well as food and drinks, to help bring members of the community together.
“Each event takes about a month to plan and prepare the theme,” said Missy Hartney, the SouthSide Arts District manager. “First Friday is a fun evening. It’s all about sampling the music and art.”
Kate Armbruster, the coordinator for SouthSide Arts District, said some of the stores and restaurants introduced specials throughout the day. The A-list Salon offered deals on both in-house and take home treatment services, while Roasted featured new food items, including King’s Cake-themed ring donuts, a custard filled paczki-like doughnut and a themed pancake stack.
Longo said other venues showcased music and art during evening events. Jay T performed at Color Me Mine, where visitors could partake in a Masquerade mask craft activity; acoustic solo artist Brittany Ramaglia performed at Domaci Home Décor & Gifts; and Fox Optical & Gallery hosted an event showcasing the work of local artists.
Armbruster said other restaurants and bars, such as Greek Meat Guy and SouthSide 313 Bar & Grille, concocted special drinks for the occasion, including Greek sangria, themed Jell-O shots and the New Orleans drink special, the King’s Cup.
Lehigh Valley Underground, headed by Longo, handpicked the seven artists who performed at six venues during the Mardi Crawl event.
Longo said local artists such as psychedelic funk artist Hairy Dudini, local rock artist Brian Kibler, folk-rock band Mo7s and singer/songwriter Ralph Pagano performed at venues across South Bethlehem.
“We try to give First Friday events a real local flavor,” Longo said. “The vast majority are local artists, but we’re not opposed to pulling artists from outside areas.”
Hartney said the Mardi Crawl theme did well in South Bethlehem. The crawl provided a fun way to stay indoors, enjoy some live music and collect Mardi Gras beads during the cold winter months.
First Friday events have been held in South Bethlehem for decades, Armbruster said, but the SouthSide Arts District has hosted the event for the past two years.
Armbruster said First Fridays were started as a way of celebrating the South Side’s culture, specifically arts and music. Some monthly events include themed bar crawls, while other events are community staples that occur annually, including the Spring on the South Side festival and the Chili Cook-off in April.
All First Friday events, however, are meant to appeal to the whole family.
“First Friday is a whole day event,” Armbruster said. “First Friday’s are meant to integrate the current community of South Side and be open to different ideas and different inspirations. I expect First Fridays to change and evolve. There’s a lot of potential for the event to grow.”