Friday After 5 kicks off tonight

Friday After 5 kicks off its 23rd season on Friday, May 17, with music on four stages and a free movie at the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum.

There’s a Corvette cruise-in, too.

And this year, the Holiday Inn Owensboro Riverfront will open its new Riverfront Stage on its lawn near the river at 7 p.m. with Riverfront Live! featuring the Andy Brasher Band.

It’s not part of Friday After 5.

But it’s right next door and people won’t know the difference.

“The more the merrier,” Kirk Kirkpatrick, Friday After 5 board member, said this week. “We would invite them to come under our banner if they want to. Some of the restaurants also have music on Friday nights. Bringing people downtown is the whole name of the game.”

With the free 16-week downtown music festival only two years away from the quarter-century mark, Kirkpatrick said, “I don’t think anybody ever thought that it would last this long. Back then (1997 when the festival began), the RiverPark Center was seen as kind of a stuffy place with Broadway shows and all. But events like this helped people discover the RiverPark Center.”

Meredith Keller, this year’s Friday After 5 chairwoman, wasn’t here for the festival’s early years.

But she’s been a regular for the past 14 years.

“I’m from Lexington,” she said, “but I’ve lived here since 2005. I’ve been going to Friday After 5 since I was in college. The thing I like most is, every five steps you take, you run into someone else you know.”

Keller said, “We’re expecting this year to be bigger than ever. We’ve increased our presence on social media. We have people from Louisville, Lexington and on up in Indiana who come to Owensboro to spend the weekend because of Friday After 5. That’s good for the whole community.”

Each year, an estimated 50,000 people stroll the riverfront, listening to music and visiting family and friends.

“I recently hosted a group of Huntingburg, Indiana,” Kirkpatrick said. “They have a downtown park and they’re looking at doing something like this. They were overwhelmed with what we have. They want to come over and see it in action.”

He said, “I told them we have a 20-year head start. We started small. We’ve made our mistakes. The restaurants initially thought if we had food, it would hurt their business. But now, we have food trucks and you can’t get in a restaurant on Friday night. We tried Saturday after 5. But that didn’t work. It just doesn’t work on Saturday for some reason.”

The festival’s budget has grown from $2,000 that first year to $220,000 this year, Kirkpatrick said.

“You can’t do it without sponsors,” he said. “This year, two of our sponsors are from Evansville. It’s become a regional event.”

Kirkpatrick said, “When I used to walk around and take pictures, about one of every six people was from outside Owensboro. The downtown hotels say they average five to seven rooms each from Friday After 5.”

He said the free entertainment is more important than people realize.

“A woman came up to me once and said this is her family’s vacation,” Kirkpatrick said. “She said they couldn’t even afford to go to Holiday World. She thanked us for sponsoring something free. We forget about that.”

He said, “I enjoy seeing people talking to each other and not looking at their phones.”

This year, the festival will have four nights of Southern gospel music in the RiverPark Center’s Cannon Hall and three Christian music shows.

“Our first Christian music show last year drew one of our biggest crowds in Cannon Hall,” Kirkpatrick said. “It was packed.”

“Glenn’s Movie Night at the Museum” will present five free family-friendly movies at the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum, starting this week with “Grease” at 7 p.m.

“People are excited about the free movies,” Keller said. “Even when it rains, you can go in there.”

This week’s lineup features From Paris playing pop and classic rock on the BB&T Plaza at 6:30 p.m; Hayley Payne playing acoustic country music in the Atmos Energy Courtyard at 7 p.m.; Owensboro Dance Theatre & Johnson’s Dance Studio on the Overlook Stage at 7 p.m. and the 202nd Army Band playing on the Kentucky Legend Pier at 8 p.m.

The GRADSA StarSquad and Newton Parrish Bucket Drummers will kick off the festival at 6 p.m. in BB&T Plaza.

Keith Lawrence, 270-691-7301, [email protected].