By Ursula Perano | Photography by Remi Escudie
In the heart of downtown Thomasville, Georgia, a once barren piece of land has been transformed into an astounding amphitheater, and now serves as a center for the city’s up-and-coming creative district.
Resembling the Capital City Amphitheater at Cascades Park here in Tallahassee, the structure is a moderately sized half-dome surrounded by stacked layers of lush, open grass seating. Though, unlike Cascades, Thomasville’s amphitheater is not encompassed into a larger recreational area. Instead, it is surrounded by a greater cultural arts scene which has debuted an array of experiences to indulge in. Whether you’re looking for a whole shop dedicated to yarns for knitting, a yoga studio to get a good stretch in, or some local southern cuisine that’ll have you asking for seconds, this little strip of ‘The Peach State’ has plenty to satisfy any artistic cravings you may have.
The City of Thomasville has been quick to bring life to their newly born amphitheater since its opening this past summer, and has begun to use it as a new venue to grow their First Friday events. Again, alike Tallahassee, the downtown area of Thomasville holds a community event on the first Friday of every month during April through November to invite locals and tourists alike to come enjoy the area past its normal working hours. Restaurants stay open later, stores offer extended shopping times, and the streets buzz with friends and families making memories.
The amphitheater has allowed for a vibrant addition to these endeavors, and throughout 2017 it has and will continue to put on a concert series during First Fridays. Featured artists have included the upbeat R&B stylings of the Blues Factor Band, and the Americana tunes of Georgia sisters Beau + Luci. Still to come in October and November attendees can look forward to hearing the high-energy works of the Jamie Eubanks Band, and soulful closing to the series from the Carolina Soul Band. Visitors having been piling up on chairs and blankets to the very back of the lawn to catch a glimpse of these exciting shows. Children have been dancing at the amphitheater’s face, and individuals have been indulging in games of corn hole around the area’s perimeter. With a start at 7:30 P.M., weather permitting, the events make for a relaxed, easy, and family-friendly night out on the town. Also to mention, the concert and its surrounding seating is absolutely free.
At the most recent First Friday on September 1st, Michelle Arwood, owner of Studio 209 which rests adjacent to the amphitheater’s face, said that the structure’s opening has been a phenomenal addition to Thomasville’s treasured downtown area. She sees it as “a way to bring more artists into the district… and a great way to connect the community”, and is looking forward to the future events to come.
Arwood, who’s studio feeds into the city’s greater efforts to make the section between its rail line and Madison Street a center for creativity, also noted that the recent First Fridays at the amphitheater have resulted in a higher turnout than expected. Testifying that it has been a prodigious plus for local businesses. According to her, patrons have been actively populating and purchasing from the small strip stores and restaurants that on most nights would’ve already been closed.
Because of these economic and social benefits, the City of Thomasville has taken additional strides to make its new amphitheater and revitalized First Fridays a hit.
First and foremost, the city offers meter-free parking at all hours, on every street. As a Tallahassian this may sound like some sort of fairy tale. In fact, when we went to Thomasville to report on this story, after parking we got out and asked a local shop owner if there was some obscure place that we were supposed to pay because it simply felt too easy. But alas, we weren’t being tricked. The fairy tale was real. This free parking is in close proximity to the amphitheater and its surrounding attractions, and there is plenty of it available. If you’re not comfortable with parallel parking, then there are several lots you can quickly find that open up their spaces to the public as well.
Then, to make the night an even more laid-back experience, the city lifted certain parameters of their dry-laws in order to allow individuals to publicly drink while still maintaining safety throughout the event. With the purchase of an armband and a labeled City of Thomasville cup, adult drinkers are able to openly carry an alcoholic beverage throughout the downtown area and the amphitheater’s space. The drink does have to be in the purchased cup, and there is a map that outlines where the regular laws are reinstated. These contingencies remain in an effort to prevent outside drinks from coming in, and to ensure that the indulgence in managed and overseen appropriately. However, the cups are large enough, and the allowed area covers everything that would be of interest. Allowing all visitors to have a safe but fun time.
Bonnie Hayes, the tourism director for the City of Thomasville, takes great pride in the work that’s been done to open this amphitheater and is looking forward to facilitating its future. “So many towns are seeing their downtown areas dry up. Thomasville is an anomaly, because our downtown is thriving.” said Hayes, regarding the success of First Fridays at the new structure. “We wanted to find a way to utilize the space [that would bring in] more creative industries and businesses. Maybe retail and restaurants… something exciting.” Leaving locals and visitors with not only a fantastic opportunity for enjoyment now, but something to look forward to in the future.
For any families interested in attending a Thomasville First Friday, the next one will be on October 6th, 2017. Further information can be found on www.thomasvillega.com under the First Fridays tab.