All articles are written by YJDP Student Correspondents and edited by mentors from The Washington Post prior to publishing.
Downtown Leesburg isn’t much of a downtown – more historical than trendy, residents know it as a place to work, not play. Primarily two-story brick buildings, the area spans several blocks, bordered by North Street, with the Loudoun County Circuit Court building, and South Street. Most traffic goes straight through and the town shuts down with its stores at five o’clock. But once a month, the solemn buildings light up afterhours as the Town of Leesburg and the Loudoun Arts Council welcome performers, artists, and tourists to a celebration known as First Friday.
Sonabank best demonstrates this metamorphosis. Its stoic marble walls and a shiny steel vault clash with the Dixieland band playing next to them; yet, as in many other aspects of First Friday, the seemingly incompatible elements appear natural. The Dixieland band, known as Jefferson Street Strutters, do their best to live up to the motto “We play happy music.”
“You feel good when you play this kind of music, and it transmits into the people, into the audience.” Said Steve Luchter, the band’s spokesperson and clarinet player, “The audience kind of stays for a few minutes and then goes around, which is part of what first Friday is all about, which is fine with us as long as there’s an audience.”
The options are numerous; if visitors aren’t in the mood for booming jazz, they could listen to Trinity Strings perform soothing classical pieces in the waiting area of a local restaurant, Dani DeGooyer play a bluegrass cover of Daft Punk’s hit “Get Lucky” surrounded by shelves of antiques, or college student Jamie Eventide sing and strum guitar in a gift shop while utilizing an instrument of his own composition: a suitcase.
Regardless of what tourists choose, they will be aiding local businesses while they do it.
“First Fridays are a real helpful thing for us. We tend to get quite a few people coming through; usually it’s one of our better sales days of the week, if not the month,” saidOwen Robinson, owner of Books and Other Found Things, “It’s probably comparable to two or three regular business days.”
Music is only one focus; apart from dining options and art exhibits, many businesses offer unique experiences. And like all facets of First Friday, these events thrive on an atmosphere of contrast: around the corner from tea tastings in the historical Loudoun Museum, Joy Andreasen leads a Shamanic drum circle. Even businesses without art will offer snacks.
“It’s good to be open and meet people… There’s kind of a sense of community.” Stephanie Stockman of Atoka Properties said. “It’s definitely different than the work day. It’s a much different atmosphere. Everyone’s just trying to have a good time.”
Although often crowded, First Friday maintains the intimate feel of a small town, according to first-time attendee Grace Obermann. And between the special events, spirited atmosphere, and amiability, First Friday appeals to even those typically uninterested in heading downtown.
“A lot of people don’t come to the historic downtown unless there’s something like this that draws them down, and so it’s good for all of us.” Robinson said. “I would have [First Friday] happen every Friday if I had my choice.”