Taylor LaValley, middle, played a mix of acoustic originals and covers in front of Irises Cafe and Wine Bar on Saturday during the inaugural First Weekend in Plattsburgh. Ralph Senecal, who often takes the stage with LaValley at open mic nights at the Monopole, accompanied her on the djembe.
PLATTSBURGH—On Saturday, Plattsburgh’s inaugural First Weekend transformed downtown into a different kind of place.
It was the kind of place where musicians set up in front of businesses, happily belting out melodies to the delight of people passing by.
It was a place where children played in the streets, steering miniature police cars and farm tractors between orange traffic cones.
It was a place where people sat outside, conversing amongst each other while enjoying a late lunch.
The effort to hold First Weekends downtown came as a collaboration between several non-profit groups and volunteers, including Vision 2 Action, Adirondack Young Professionals, North Country Cultural Center for the Arts and ROTA Gallery, who agreed it was time for Plattsburgh to make a change.
“If we can keep the same momentum for the next one that we had for this one, it’s going to be a great summer for Plattsburgh,” said Champlain Wine Company owner Dr. Colin Read, one of the event’s organizers and chair of the SUNY Plattsburgh Department of Finance and Economics.
First Weekends will take place on the first Friday and Saturday of every month through September, with the next one slated for July 5 and 6.
Each First Weekend will begin downtown with various activities held on Friday night and will continue with an afternoon full of events the following Saturday.
Last Saturday, City Hall Place was blocked off to traffic from Bridge Street to City Hall, which provided space for the kid-friendly activities and street performers.
“The vision is to have musicians performing every 20 feet downtown,” said Lowell Wurster, member of local band Lucid and one of the event’s organizers. “Music is one thing you don’t need money to do.”
Wurster jammed on the street with some of his bandmates and his sister, Catie, and father, George.
The ensemble had a stand-up bass, accordion, conga drums, acoustic guitar and harmonica, and were set up right on the double yellow line that bisects City Hall Place by Trinity Park.
When Tim McCormick, a board member of the Adirondack Young Professionals, asked Wurster if Lucid would perform at the summer’s last First Weekend in September, Wurster said he loved the concept and wanted to get more involved.
He began going to First Weekend meetings, and would now like to use his connections with Lucid to draw bigger acts to the event.
“Some of my favorite memories as a kid are of people doing this, just getting together to play music,” Wurster said. “We need people to come out to support this, to show people that we want it.”
His sister, Catie, who also performed with Punkahontas early Saturday afternoon, agreed that the event was good for downtown, but said she’d like to see more cohesion in the planning of future First Weekends.
“This is a nice concept, I just wish people could get together a little better,” Catie said. “There’s just a lot of people with a lot of different ideas.”
It’s true that getting all of the interested parties on the same page was a challenge for the event’s many organizers, but those organizers largely agreed that, despite the hurdles, they were pleased with the turnout, and grateful for the work of the volunteers and businesses who made it all happen.
“It’s a sense of community. None of these people are getting paid, everybody just did it out of the goodness of their hearts to support the community,” said Leigh Simonette, Civic Committee Co-chair and member of the Adirondack Young Professionals board of directors.
There was a catch, though—the streets were made pedestrian-only due to the Biggest Loser Run/Walk, which happened to take place the same weekend as the inaugural First Weekend.
“When we were sitting out in front of one of the restaurants we heard some comments about how great it was that the road was closed,” said Tim Simonette, a member of the Adirondack Young Professionals. “It’s great to hear that positive feedback. People do like the road closed.”
Several organizers and participants said they fear that First Weekends will be shackled if the city’s Common Council denies a request to shut down the streets for forthcoming First Weekends.
“I think it would be hard to do this without closing the streets down, because it would be too hard to be watching out for traffic,” said Jo Vaccaro, board member of the Champlain Valley Transportation Museum. “It’s nice that people can enjoy wandering around without having to worry about crossing the road. It creates a nice, safe space for families to bring their children.”
Vaccaro was in charge of the CVTM’s Kids Station, which gave kids a chance to drive five miniature pedal-powered vehicles down the middle of City Hall Place.
Kids could also build their own “Munchie Motor” out of apples, toothpicks, string cheese, grapes and mini marshmallows.
“This really shows the different things Plattsburgh has to offer,” said Tim McCormick, event organizer and board member of the Adirondack Young Professionals. “We are going to the next Common Council meeting to ask them to close the road for the next event, and we’re asking everyone who enjoyed this to join us. If we can show them that this is what the citizens want, then they’ll be more likely to do it than if it’s just one or two people asking for it.”