Note: The March event will be held March 12 due to predicted less than ideal weather on the 5th…
There’s no stopping Ron Chane. Just try to put the brakes on and he’ll tell you, braking isn’t an option.
It’s that way for his businesses — Studio Chane, Swell-O-Phonic, Wilai and Slavebird – and for his pet projects, too.
One such undertaking is a new event, a spin-off of fondren after 5, Chane has dubbed, “Fondren’s First Thursdays.”
The 44 year-old South Jackson native took on the stagnant after 5 in late 2013 as creative director and built, with backing from Fondren Renaissance Foundation (FRF) what has arguably become one of Jackson’s favorite events.
Aiming to make the night less stressful on the back end, Chane announced the new event last month and talked exclusively with Find It In Fondrenâ„¢ to share what’s working, what wasn’t and what’s to come for 2015.
Fondren After 5 was an established brand under the umbrella of FRF, the non-profit group that began the event many years ago. Why was it time to take it in a different direction?
Logistics: that had a lot to do with it. It was a dreamy idea to get ‘after 5’ early last year, spark it up for 90 days and hand it back over. Upon firm realization that that was not the best way to grow the event it became, I thought, ‘I’ve gotta stay with it.’ Looking back at last year, it made more sense to go out on my own, with my own structure, to give me freedom. It also gives me full control and range over the budget. I’m really trying to free myself up and get to the point, three or four down the road, that this event is self-sustaining, running without me being here. For the sake of my businesses, I need to be able to step out and pay to put people into positions to do what needs to be done.
2014 was a lot of work and stress on you. Why not simply walk away? Quitting was not an option. That’s the best way to say it. The reality of dropping it and walking away hit my mind daily. But that wasn’t an option. Plus, I believe we have built up a community dependance on this event, with artists, musicians, merchants, the crowds — an admittedly dead event brought back to life — so it didn’t make sense to put it back in that basket.
It’s been you running the event since this time last year, so what’s different — besides the name? That really will develop over time. It’s not a brand new structure because the bones I made last year actually worked. A lot of little things like street closures…you learn along the way to refine. The one thing I want to change is losing the 5pm-10pm part of the deal. I’m wanting to extend it to the day. That won’t happen right away but by the end of the year, I hope it has. An event like this can only grow so large in an area of this size. Spreading it into the day gives more opportunities to spread out the energy. It’s like the whole idea of going to the fair. You think, ‘I don’t want to go Friday night because it’s crazy, but I’ll go at 2pm Friday and eat and ride the rides.’ It’s the same mentality.
I’ve wondered, ‘What can you do to get them here to lunch?’ I’m looking at the hospitals like UMMC, the state’s largest employer… looking for an angle to work with them, to beat the crowds. The vendors, the music and the additional action will still be the charm of the nighttime event.
I’ve heard you use the phrase “kids-dogs-families…” what does that mean for First Thursdays?
For events like this, families are considered the glue. So kids-dogs-families: Dogs give a community aspect and it’s somewhat of an outreach, too, for dog adoption agencies because they are all over this event. They need this platform, and success would be to see a dog get fostered or adopted.
Kids determines who comes out. If there’s no stake in the event for kids, do you feel like coming and dragging them around? With kids, it’s something to enjoy, something for them to look forward to and then, you’re more motivated.
We’ve begun a relationship with St. Richard Catholic School and they are wholeheartedly wanting to get involved for the whole year. I’m not sure their exact phrasing of it, but basically, this will be part of their community curriculum to teach kids, a place where they can see art, theater, music — a family event without craziness. They’ll perform at every First Thursday and help us be taken more serious on that side. So don’t rush home, feed the kids a peanut butter and jelly and feed the dogs; bring the kids and eat here and let the dogs get dog treats here. Let your kids enjoy a performance by other kids and get inspired by people their own age.
Also, we’re going to slightly dial down the music volume and hopefully that increases the foot flow. For several months, to make a statement, we had to dial it up. One month, I booked 30 bands and had 38 show up. I’ve had to refine it and work with what we knew worked last year. I’m looking for all types of music and, the good thing is, we’ve got more people coming to us. I’m not a huge country or gospel fan, but I want those types of music in here. This is not custom tailored to me, but I’m thinking outside the box to hit a more representative crowd.
If we don’t push “kids-dogs-families,” I see this waning off and I want the crowd to build. At certain points last year, it was thought we had between 3,500 to 5,000 people each month. If that was the case, I hope to increase this year’s traffic by 15-20%.
When you hit December 3 (the final “First Thursday” of 2015) and you lay your head down to go to sleep that night, what do you hope the year has been? I hope more people are more excited about Jackson. This event is all about Fondren, but it’s Belhaven, Midtown and Downtown — and this is us giving back to them. And you know, it can be a hard sell. You see same the ten o’clock news with boil water notices, crimes, potholes and all that negative stuff. But that happens in your neighborhood, too. So maybe this is the one night you can come here and get away from it — whatever ‘it’ is. It’s a perfect night of neutrality — no headlines of crime, not a political forum, no religious hassle. It’s you saying, ‘Hey, I’m plugging in, enjoying the resources here, the oasis that exists without all the stresses of life.’ Fondren is Jackson’s hub, a natural resource for everything. You couldn’t get a better melting pot than this. So on December 3, I hope the people are saying, ‘I really look forward to another year because I came to expect it and need it.’
Fondren’s First Thursday launches March
5 12 and will be held each month except July in 2015. Learn more at fft.city. Chane, adds, “We would like thank the Fondren Renaissance Foundation for their support to this great event over the years.”
Fondren Renaissance Foundation Executive Director Jim Wilkirson said today, “Presented and 100% financially funded by FRF, the 2014 Fondren After 5 series had a dramatic and positive influence on the landscape of Fondren under Chane’s creative direction. As with FRF’s mission ‘…. to empower people, organizations, and neighborhoods to contribute to the economic growth, stability and quality of life in Fondren,’ we strongly support the continuing efforts of this newly formed entity created expressly to promote a monthly “after five” event for the common good of Fondren.”