Friday After 5 started small

Friday After 5 starts its 23rd season on the Owensboro riverfront on Friday.

These days, it runs for 16 weeks with seven entertainment venues.

And this year, they’re adding free movies at the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum.

Each summer, Friday After 5 draws about 50,000 people — many of them from out of town — to downtown.

It’s a major entertainment force these days.

But it started small.

When Downtown Owensboro Inc. launched the series on July 11, 1997, it was called “Fridays After 5.”

The “s” was dropped from “Fridays” a couple of years later.

That first year, the entertainment was confined to what’s now the Atmos Energy Courtyard at the RiverPark Center.

And there was a tiny street fair from the Farmers Market at First (now Veterans Boulevard) and Daviess streets.

Arnold Chin, one of the biggest local bands of the ’70s and ’80s, launched the 10-week series of free concerts.

And it was actually scheduled to start at 5 p.m.

Today, things don’t really get going until about 6:30 p.m.

John Froehlich, who was then executive director of Downtown Owensboro Inc., said the event was designed to bring people back downtown for entertainment.

Everything ended by 8 p.m. — so the crowds could go to dinner or other nightspots afterward.

That first concert didn’t just fill the tiny courtyard, that was designed to seat 125.

There were people sitting on the wall, standing outside trying to see over the wall and just standing in the street listening.

They said 200 people had managed to crowd into the courtyard that night and another 90 or so were outside.

“We’re absolutely thrilled,” said Nick Hetman, chairman of the first Friday After 5. “We didn’t expect this many people the first week. This is just great.”

That was how it began.

But it grew into what it is today because of a couple of generations of volunteers who worked long hours to make Friday After 5 successful.

When you see them down there this summer, it wouldn’t hurt to say “thanks.”

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