Every time she turned her head, Gracyn Brandon saw a familiar face scoot by on a recent Sunday night in Five Points.
On an outdoor stage nearby, a homegrown band played the soundtrack for a good time. Kids tossed cornhole bags, dogs stole some sloppy kisses, and cold beer made everyone friends.
“I feel like it’s the typical Columbia kind of experience,” 24-year-old Brandon said. “If you grew up in this area, you see everyone you know at these sort of small things. It’s so great.”
Since making the move to Sunday nights from Thursdays this season, the Five After Five monthly concert series in the commercial village has jolted downtown Columbia to life as the weekend winds down.
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“There’s just a lot of things going on on Thursdays,” said Amy Beth Franks, director of the Five Points Association of businesses. “There’s no reason to compete. We should be celebrating everything our city has to offer and give people something to do on Sunday afternoon.”
Five After Five brings a family-style element to a district known for boutique shopping in the daytime and raucous partying by night.
The first Sunday night of the month, April through August, it’s a different kind of get-down by the Five Points fountain.
It’s a low-key bash, the way a backyard barbecue with your coolest neighbors might be. Except instead of your charcoal grill and Solo cups, there are food trucks and bars. Instead of your iTunes playlist, it’s up-and-coming bands from the region and longtime local favorites setting the mood. And instead of a few dozen friends, it’s a few hundred people who, like you, are just looking for a good time on a summer Sunday evening.
There’s a close-knit, laid-back, come-as-you-are vibe – the embodiment of the village spirit of Five Points.
“It’s just been a steady and a constant,” said 32-year-old Chris Barton, a tie-dyed shirt and bandana-wearing friend of Brandon’s who has been showing up at the concerts for years. He sees a lot of the same folks there month after month. “People-watching is fun. Drunks fall down. Kids and dogs are cute. That’s it.”
The concert series got its start 19 years ago “when there was nothing to do on a Thursday in Columbia,” said Amy Beth Franks, director of the Five Points Association of businesses. Its goal always has been “to get people to come down to Five Points, enjoy happy hour, listen to music, hang out with friends and go into some of our brick-and-mortar restaurants to have dinner,” she said.
We should be celebrating everything our city has to offer and give people something to do on Sunday afternoon.
Amy Beth Franks
It became a Sunday event for the first time this year, largely due to the recent influx of weeknight activity all over the downtown, Franks said.
Plus, parking is free all day Sundays, making it easier for folks to come and stay a while.
At only midway through the season, Franks couldn’t say yet what the attendance impact has been with the move to Sundays. But “very few people have said they miss Thursday,” she said.
Names like the Zac Brown Band have played the Five After Five stage before going on to make it big over the years. Barton has seen acts such as Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band and Zach Deputy make their way from Five After Five to national festival lineups.
Some years back, the event’s popularity had started to peter out a bit, said Tim Smith, owner of Papa Jazz Record Shoppe on Greene Street and president of the Five Points Association board. That’s when the association decided to scale back the number of Five After Five concerts per season and instead invest more money in each one, bringing bands with better recognition and stronger followings.
“That seemed to make almost an immediate impact,” Smith said. “The last four or five years, every year has gotten a little better.”
Five After Five was one of the first events Ryan McEwen attended when he moved to Columbia about a decade ago. He and his 8-year-old son, Collin – who’s been coming to the concerts since he was in the womb – were among the more than 500 people who came last Sunday to hear The Herbie Jeffcoat Projekt, Atlas Road Crew and DJ Bois Obscur.
Friends called to McEwen from all directions as he walked through the crowd. That’s part of what keeps him coming back, he said – “Because of the fellowship.”
The switch to Sundays has helped set a more family-friendly scene.
It’s nostalgia. You can come back to where you used to party, and you see having fun in a whole new light.
On a trip to Columbia last weekend from their home in Turbeville, Wayne and Bette Parker and their 8-year-old daughter, Liza Grace, were taking a Sunday drive through town when they saw food trucks parked near the Five Points fountain and decided to join the party.
They played an endless game of cornhole with Liza Grace and her two new friends, Emma and Miles, and looked forward to coming back next month with their golden retriever puppy, Frank, in tow.
“It’s refreshing to know that it’s not just clubbing and barhopping” in Five Points, said Bette Parker, a University of South Carolina alumna. “It’s nostalgia. You can come back to where you used to party, and you see having fun in a whole new light.”
Introducing and reintroducing people to the neighborhood has, all along, been the goal of Five After Five, Franks and Scott said.
“I think everybody has fun memories attached to Five Points, and I love to bring people back down that maybe haven’t been in a while,” Franks said. “There are so many faces to Five Points. ... Our daytime life is different than our happy hour is very different than our nightlife. ... (They all work together) to keep Five Points fun and funky.”
Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.
If you go
The remaining Five After Five dates are July 2 and August 6.
The events are free. Concerts and activities are held near the Five Points fountain at the corner of Greene and Harden streets from 5-9 p.m.