First Fridays on the Delaware returns to Bristol Borough beginning May 3
By Samantha Bambino
Thousands will mill about on Mill Street in just a few days when First Fridays on the Delaware returns to Bristol Borough. Now in its fifth consecutive year, the event, which takes place May-September from 5 to 8 p.m., offers a variety of family-friendly activities, entertainment, vendors, food and unique themes.
Ahead of this season’s kickoff on May 3, The Times caught up with Shea Cialella, administrative coordinator of the Bristol Borough Business Association and the brains behind First Fridays, who reflected on last year’s success and shared a glimpse of what attendees can expect in 2019, including returning activities and all-new twists.
For Cialella, whose main priority during each First Friday is to ensure everything goes off without a hitch, the festival’s impact is rarely evident until after the fact.
“It’s always crazy because at the event, I think that it’s not as busy as I want it to be,” she said, adding how it rained prior to nearly every First Friday in 2018. “And then later, when I go back and I see all the pictures that people took, I see the street and it’s packed. I call the photographer and say, ‘Is that really on Mill Street? Was that really at this event?’”
But Cialella is informed every time that none of the pictures were photoshopped. There were, in fact, wall-to-wall people, all vying to experience what has quickly become a Bristol tradition.
To keep guests on their toes, Cialella is bringing in a fresh batch of entertainers, who were booked by volunteer music coordinator Debbie Lebo. Performers at the Bristol Lions Park gazebo include Neshaminy High School’s Nothing But A Nightmare (which was previously featured in The Times) in May, A Cappella Pops in June, Soul Port in July, Sister Blue in August, and Back Porch Jugband in September.
First Fridays attendees can expect three new and enhanced themed events, which children and adults alike are encouraged to dress up for. May and September do not have themes, so the first will take place in June. This will be a Mardi Gras celebration featuring a handful of Mummers, a crafting station where kids can make their own masks, and a choreography workshop hosted by Stepping Stone Dance Studio, which will instruct participants in the art of the “Mummer Strut.”
As always, the following month will be Christmas in July, with appearances by Santa, Buddy the Elf and, new this year, a lifesize human snow globe.
“I’ve never seen one in person before. I’m so excited. I’m trying to bring things that I would want to do,” said Cialella, who hinted that she’s brainstorming how to make “real” snow.
In August, guests can break out their favorite Flyers, Phillies, Eagles and Sixers T-shirts and jerseys during Philly Sports Fan, which will include miniature games along the street. According to Cialella, several current and/or former professional players will be in attendance, though she is still working out final scheduling details.
During each First Friday, families can enjoy activities such as face painting, caricatures, henna tattoos, hula hooping, balloon sculptures, magical acts, and shopping. Meet-and-greets will be available with Sing Along Princess Parties, founded by local resident Breanna Pursell, whom Cialella described as a “success story.”
“When I hooked up with some of these people that I work with now, they were just beginning and we were just beginning First Fridays. Now, Breanna, for instance, this is her full-time job. She has hired people,” said Cialella, adding how Pursell performed at every First Friday pro bono. “It skyrocketed for her. To her credit, she was out doing her thing, but I know that First Fridays attributed a lot to that success because she was plainly visible.”
Making a highly-demanded return is the shirt shooter, which was crafted by Cialella’s son last year for a school project on force of motion. The shooter flung T-shirts emblazoned with the logos of several local businesses into a crowd huddled at the Wharf, and was a massive hit.
“The shirts went so high and so far,” Cialella said. “I don’t know what was more fun, flinging the shirts or watching the kids fight for them. They didn’t even care what shirt it was, they didn’t know what size it was, what color it was.”
Also making a return is the annual community art project, which this year is a painted rock mandala. Each month, kids will paint a specific row of rocks, which will eventually be laid out and organized to form a design.
Of course, attendees are invited to either check out the restaurants in the vicinity for a sit-down meal, or grab a quick snack from specialty food vendors and eat outside.
“I’m just really grateful to all of the businesses and volunteers who have helped with this event from the beginning. Whether they’re still with us or not, everybody played their part and it’s a great community event,” Cialella said. “Word is definitely spreading.” ••
If you go…
Bristol Borough First Fridays on the Delaware takes place May 3, June 7, July 5, Aug. 2 and Sept. 6 from 5 to 8 p.m. along the four blocks of Mill Street and first block of Radcliffe Street. The events are held rain or shine. Event-goers can park in the free lot behind Mill Street or at 1414 Radcliffe St. (in the Lenox parking lot across from Cesare’s Restaurant) with free shuttle service by the Bristol Borough School District to and from the festival area.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at email@example.com