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First Thursdays draw creatives and crowds to South Congress

Michael Barnes
mbarnes@statesman.com

A place where the strange regularly meets the familiar. That's a universal characteristic of urban landscapes.

It's also a way to view First Thursdays on South Congress Avenue, which has introduced the familiar to the strange on a monthly basis for almost a decade.

Old Austin smacks into New Austin. Sidewalk capitalism rubs elbows with bricks-and-mortar commerce. Street performers — who dot South Congress from Riverside Drive to Live Oak Street, but mostly halfway between — enact the most ancient folk rites, or brave the latest pop fads.

Some pundits predicted that First Thursday on SoCo would run its course. Especially after various other Austin districts enacted monthly street fairs.

Didn't happen. Rain or shine, hot or cold, hordes of people still park half a mile away from the action in order to consume trailer food, dicker for trinkets, kiss adoptable pets or just promenade from one end to the other, as if South Congress were a traditional town square in some distant land.

Tourists love it. Newcomers move here because of it. Old-timers bemoan the traffic, parking and litter woes. Some locals have actually moved to other districts because of the irritations associated with the monthly tide of revelers.

But if you love being around people and don't mind a long, slow stroll, you can't resist it. First Thursday has become as much an authentic Austin experience as Barton Springs, the Capitol or a Longhorns football game.

And, oh ... watch out for zombies.

More monthly events

First Thursday isn't limited to South Congress. The West End Gallery District (West Fifth and Sixth streets between Lamar and Mopac boulevads) also hosts a First Thursday, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Six regularly participating galleries: Art on 5th, L. Nowlin Gallery, Wally Workman Gallery, Steven L. Clark Gallery, Russell Collection and Haven Gallery.

And First Thursday is not the only monthly event in Austin. Here are some more :

Third Thursday at the Blanton. Admission to the art museum is always free on Thursdays, and the third Thursday includes special activities, including yoga. This month includes an extended happy hour in the Blanton Cafe with food and drink specials, and a screening of "Searching for the Impossible: The Flying Project." 5 to 9 p.m. Aug. 18. blantonmuseum.org .

Austin Museum of Art Family Saturday. Family-friendly event from noon to 4 p.m. the second Saturday of each month. www.amoa.org .

Community Yoga First Sunday. Businesses offer their spaces for donation-based yoga classes. Various times and locations Sunday. First Sunday of every month. community-yoga.org/ firstsundaysched.html .

East End Fourth Fridays. Celebrating music and culture. This month's theme is "last bash for kids." With kids bands the Aviators and the Peterson Brothers, followed by headliners the East Side Blues Syndicate. $5, free for kids 12 and younger. Gates at 7 p.m. Aug. 26. Kenny Dorham's Backyard, 1106 E. 11th St. www.diversearts.org .

Little Lounge Lizards. 1 to 4 p.m. the first Saturday of the month (this week's event has a back-to-school theme). Dance party for kids and their families. $9-$10.50. Qua, 213 W. Fourth St. 291-0714, www.littleloungelizards.com .

I Art Congress. Monthly themed open house every second Thursday. Taking a break until September. Various locations. www.iartcongress.com .

Happy Bee. The Literacy Coalition of Central Texas hosts this monthly spelling bee. $7 to enter. 5:30 p.m. First Tuesday of every month. The Belmont, 305 W. Sixth St. 320-4505, www.willread.org .

Wimberley Market Day. 7 a.m. first Saturday of each month. Shop arts and crafts, jewelry, collectibles and more while listening to live music. Lions Field, RM 2325, Wimberley. 512-847-2201, www.shopmarketdays.com .