The music, the art — and the crowds — returned to the streets of San Pedro on a warm summer night, Aug. 5, to celebrate the monthly “First Thursday,” an event that’s been dark ever since the pandemic struck in March 2020.
A recent uptick in coronavirus numbers because of the new delta variant that’s raising concerns may have held down the crowds a bit, organizers said. But the mood was upbeat, attendees said.
“It was really a good feeling,” said Yolanda Regalado, who owns Sirens Java and Tea. “Maybe because I haven’t seen it in a while.”
Masks were required for indoor settings and a vaccination clinic hosted by Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn, who represents and lives in the port town, drew 14 takers.
For many, the ambiance, sights and sounds were a welcome break from the long pandemic slog.
On Thursday, the sidewalks teemed with pedestrians, some walking their dogs.
“People!” was Linda Grimes’s response to the scene as folks strolled the historic shopping district and danced to the music in the plaza at Sixth and Mesa streets.
Grimes, managing director of the San Pedro Waterfront Arts District, was among those who worked over the course of the event’s shutdown period to redesign the nearly quarter of a century-old event, which began as one of many similar festivals to bring residents back into old downtowns that struggled through the trend of large malls. Now, online shopping poses another challenge to mom-and-pop merchants who sell special wares out of historic buildings.
The 24-year-old event in San Pedro, dubbed the ArtWalk, focuses especially on the influx of art studios and galleries that have moved into the area over the past 20 years.
Thursday’s event relaunch featured new outdoor dining platforms — built to help foster business during the pandemic — along with a more organized layout that kept food trucks together along the perimeter of the festival district.
“I drove down Sixth Street and it was packed,” Regalado said. “I think the game changers were the parakeets (for outdoor dining).”
The live music featured the U.S. 99 Band and the live performance debut of “San Pedro Strong,” penned by songwriter Ken Creighton, who worked with the Grand Vision Foundation and other local artists. The song was unveiled online in March 2021 but Thursday was the first time it was performed live.
The composition grew out of an earlier piece Creighton, a Connecticut native, had written in tribute to his new hometown after he moved there six years ago with his wife, Kathy, a San Pedro native. They’d raised their family in Kansas, but she persuaded him to come to San Pedro.
“I look out my window and see the ocean, the palm trees,” he said. “San Pedro calls out to have something written about it.”
Creighton collaborated on the arrangement with professional singer Windy Barnes Farrell to give a lively pace to the song, which was created as an anthem of encouragement and tribute during the pandemic.
“There were a couple versions,” Creighton said. “It took us awhile to get it right.”
At its first online broadcast — a Zoom event hosted by the Grand Vision Foundation this spring — COVID-19 numbers were dropping and expectations were growing that the pandemic would soon come to an end. The advent of the delta variant, Creighton said, “sadly” has given the piece renewed relevance. It can be found on YouTube by searching for “San Pedro Strong.”
First Thursday also featured a tribute to Pat Carroll, who died June 31, 2020, at 81 years old. Coronavirus restrictions prevented a public memorial from happening at the time.
Carroll, known as “Pedro-Pat” and a passionate supporter of the arts, also was a board member of the Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council. She was involved in multiple causes and led numerous guided art walks for First Thursdays through the years. The gathering in her honor at Sirens Java and Tea drew about 50 people, Regalado said.
“She was so down to earth,” Regalado said. “When I first came to town, she was very supportive and would sit down to have coffee with me.”
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