In honor of First Friday Las Vegas’ 12th anniversary in October, the art and culture festival will celebrate mythology, time and the number 12 in shows curated by Las Vegas cultural icon Brian Paco Alvarez.

The First Friday Las Vegas arts festival is scheduled from 5 to 11 p.m. Sept. 5 at venues throughout the 18b Arts District in downtown Las Vegas, near the intersection of Charleston Boulevard and Main Street.

Admission is free, and free parking with shuttle service is available at the Clark County Government Center, 500 S. Grand Central Parkway. Live entertainment, artists’ booths, food vendors and more are planned.

The outdoor event averages 20,000 patrons each month, but October is typically one of the busiest months. The event features several special areas, including a KidZone, Green Street, which focuses on environmentally friendly products and practices, The Hub Stage and Shuffle Zone, which showcases a variety of artists.

The organizers have announced several special events and programs launching in October, including partnering with the Las Vegas PhotoCollective to have a different guest photographer capture interesting images and the creative essence of the event.

The partnership is scheduled for a year and is set to culminate in gathering the work as one complete collection of imagery representing First Friday. To be considered as a guest photographer, send submissions to

For information on shuttle services, artists, music and more, visit


Preview Thursday from 6 to 9 p.m. Oct. 4 offers a more low-key event, before streets are closed and booths are set up.

The preview presents an opportunity to see many of the galleries and shows before the crowds on Friday.

Galleries planning to participate in October’s First Friday include:

— The Jerry Misko Gallery in The Arts Factory, 107 E. Charleston Blvd., is set to show works by Misko. Visit

— Jana’s Red Room in The Arts Factory, 107 E. Charleston Blvd., is scheduled to show small works by local artists. Gallery owner Jana Lynch also curated a new show of works by emerging and established local artists at Art Bar + Bistro. Visit or call 702-454-3709.

— R Space in The Arts Factory, 107 E. Charleston Blvd., is set to show work by gallery members. Visit or call 858-733-2135.

— Sin City Gallery in The Arts Factory, 107 E. Charleston Blvd., is set to show photography by Will Roger Peterson. Visit or call 702-608-2461.

— The Trifecta Gallery in The Arts Factory, 107 E. Charleston Blvd., is set to show “JETTISON” by Sam Davis in the main gallery and “ILL Humored” by Anna Tillett in the Attachment Room. Visit or call 702-845-7907.

— Peace N Art Studio in The Arts Factory, 107 E. Charleston Blvd., is set to show “We Are All Simpson 32,” a collection of new works by Alexander Huerta.

— Eden Art Studio and Gallery, a new gallery in the central upstairs space in The Arts Factory, 107 E. Charleston Blvd., is set to show “Selfie Show” featuring Justin Lepper’s new collection of paintings and an inside look to his personal art therapy work/pieces representing his archetypal “Selfies.”

— Reclaimed Art Suppliez and Community Art Exchange, 1114 S. Casino Center Blvd., is set to feature live art demonstrations and work by local artists. Visit or call 702-241-8926.

— Artifice, 1025 S. First St., is set to have “Atlas Emerged,” an installation by Brock Nordstrom, the winner of the “Wonderland” call for artists in August. The video installation represents Nordstorm’s view of the Las Vegas arts scene, including where he feels things stand today and what the future may hold, and tells the story of coming full circle, new beginnings and the magic this city can create. Visit or call 702-489-6339.

Las Vegas Review Journal



It’s always amazing how many points-of-view there are about Las Vegas. Tourists will visit for “what happens here, stays here” (think sex, drugs and debauchery). Of the natives born and raised here, some love the city, and some are not so fond of it.

Others make a point to let you know right away they’re from somewhere else, even if they were raised here. No matter what category you fall into, ask yourself the first thing that comes to mind when you think “Las Vegas.”

Was the answer art? Was it “Giant Praying Mantis?” How about “Yay, yay, yay, fun family day” or “lots of creativity in unexpected places and lots of joyful weirdness?”

Chances are the answer is no, but we recently tweeted this question to the community: “What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of First Friday?” The answer overwhelmingly reflected the above.

The truth is, no matter how you identify yourself, First Friday is adopting a new category: Inclusive. Our numbers prove that inclusivity and Las Vegas really get along — well! In the last two years, First Friday has grown to 25,000 attendees, from 8,000.

So what is the allure and who are these people seeking inclusivity in Las Vegas of all places? They are people who don’t need validation from others and return this in kind. They are people willing to embrace a new view of Las Vegas. People who want to see the facade come down and get ready to build from the grit.

First Friday attendees are people who believe reality is created out of magic and that without magic we have nothing. No electricity, no precious air conditioning, not even fire.

Read More
Las Vegas Sun – Click Here

By Charles Ressler
Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013 | 2:54 p.m.


REQUEST FOR PROPOSAL- First Friday Las Vegas

Issuing group: First Friday Las Vegas, LLC (hereinafter “FFLV”).

Project: for August First Friday Las Vegas event entitled “Wonderland” (hereinafter “Event”)…. exploring scope, fantasy, surrealism. All things which inspire awe and wonder.

Description: FFLV is calling artists (groups & individuals), performers & sound artists (hereinafter “Proposers”) to help bring “Wonderland” to life this August.

We are looking for whimsical, magical, & wondrous installations that nod to surrealism (reference Salvador Dali, Rene Magrite, Joan Miro, Grave, Man Ray, Henri Rousseu, Frida Kahlo, Mark Ryden, David Stoupakis, Lewis Carroll)

All submissions must be about wonder in its many forms. A nod to Alice in Wonderland is NOT a requirement (but is welcome).

The Event is attended by people of all ages and proposals should keep this in mind.

Deadline for Submission: Thursday, July 10th, 2014
Selections made, submitters informed no later than: Monday, July 14th, 2014 via email and their designated preferred method of communication.
Deadline for final specifications, plans, requirements, etc. will be Friday, July 25th, 2014. Note, FFLV reserves the right to relocate, modify, or adjust the final installment should event circumstances require. Every effort will be made to maintain the artistic values and integrity of the installation.
Approved submissions must be executed, built, delivered, and installed by 3:30 PM Friday, August 1st and must have the ability to be broken down and removed by no later than 8AM the following morning, Saturday August 2nd.

Submissions should generally fit onto a 20’x20’ paved space on Casino Center Drive.

Submissions must include:
-Proposer’s full Name of main contact and a secondary contact
-Contacts’ Phone Numbers
-Contacts’ E-mails
-Preferred method of communication
-Full written description of your concept accompanied by sketches, illustrations, dimensions, description of materials, ALL operating requirements including power specifications, etc should be included. The more descriptive your submission, the better. (FFLV will provide a reasonable amount of power on site.)

Submissions to be submitted to FFLV:
In person at the First Friday offices above The Beat coffee shop at 520 Freemont St. Las Vegas, 89101;
By mail at 520 E. Fremont St., Las Vegas, 89101;
or electronically to FFLV at with a file size limit of approximately 7MB.

Proposer must certify that the work you are submitting is original or a work that may be derivative from work in the public domain or is allowed under US Copyright law (refer to the Unites States Patent & Trademark Office for more information); if performing, that you have or have obtained the legal right to perform your work.

If selected, your work will be displayed in a public art festival…and although attendees are generally respectful of works, participants assume all risks for their projects. FFLV will not provide protection, insurance or guarantee against damage or destruction, nor any indemnification for you, or your collaborators. By activating at the festival, proposer agrees to indemnify and hold FFLV and its agents harmless against any and all claims, demands, damages, liabilities and costs incurred at the festival, which directly or indirectly result from, or arise in connection with the project or proposer’s intentional or negligent acts related to activities at the festival, including the building and managing of Proposer’s project.

Ownership of work: Submitter will retain ownership of any work displayed or performed at First Friday under the terms of this RFP. By participating in the Event you acknowledge and agree to grant FFLV the right to record, film, photograph, or capture your likeness and images of your project in any media now available or hereinafter developed and to distribute, broadcast, use, or otherwise globally to disseminate, in perpetuity, such media without any further approval from you or any further payment to you. This grant to FFLV includes, but is not limited to, the right to edit such media, use the media alone or together with other information, and the right to allow others to use or disseminate the media.

Award: First Friday Las Vegas, LLC will judge all the works awarding one Grand Prize of a $10,000 commission for a subsequent work or performance to be completed which will become the property of FFLV and will be displayed at another FFLV event. Theme, parameters, and completion deadline for this subsequent commissioned work to be mutually agreed upon. Proposer understands that the selection process and decision of FFLV as to the winner is final and at their sole and absolute discretion. This award will be made and the winner informed no later than Friday, August 8th, 2014.


Cults play
Indie-pop duo Cults play Container Park June 20 as part of Downtown Project’s summer programming. (Photo by Geoff Carter)

First Fridays’ evolution from the little arts festival that could to Zappos-backed civic touchstone is an understandable progression. An earnest arts community hits a financial rough spot, and a white knight sees value, rides in to save the day, and in the process broadens the scope of the event to make it a little more mainstream. Story old as time, right?

When Sheryl Crow headlined First Friday on April 4, though, it pushed the event into unexpected territory. Here was a national-level headliner playing an event that, just a couple of years ago, was a relatively laid-back street fair.

The difference-maker in that case was Container Park, which had opened four months earlier. Suddenly, there was a venue where these acts made sense, and an entity, Downtown Project, with the will to make it happen.

For all the expansion that’s happened Downtown and the already plentiful music venues there—Beauty Bar, LVCS, the old Bunkhouse, Triple B—we’re on the verge of a Downtown music explosion. The common refrain is that Downtown is “the next Austin.” But what does that mean, and when will it happen?

If Sheryl Crow was the first shot across the bow, it’s only because Fremont Country Club ran into a bump after opening in February 2013. Because of the nature of their tavern limited license, the venue—owned by Triple B owners “Big Daddy” Carlos Adley and his wife, Ava Berman—weren’t approved for 18-and-over shows. Something Adley says forced him to pass on booking numerous national acts.

In April, the Las Vegas City Council gave special dispensation for Fremont Country Club to host 18-plus shows, something Adley says will allow the club to operate regularly, instead of its past sporadic bookings.

“We don’t want to alienate that 18-and-over demographic. They’re vital in the overall big picture,” he says. “We’re reaching out to bring in fresh meat. The way you do that is by creating more world-class venues that bands that come Downtown have an option to play. In the past there’s been one or two locations Downtown, and that’s it. So you limit your clientele. With the selection of these locations, this will open the horizons in every aspect.”

Adley expects to start announcing national-level bands—primarily rock, country and alternative—in July, with the first show about a month later.

But Fremont Country Club is just one piece of the puzzle. Downtown Project’s booking maestro Mike Henry—who came to the organization after 25 years in, where else: Austin—has his fingers in a number of pies in the area.

The focus on programming at Container Park is on indie rock with local and up-and-coming touring bands and the occasional ticketed show with national-level acts. Cults is up next on June 20, and the park will be doing two more this summer.

“Container Park is finding its niche,” Henry says. “I don’t think we’re ever going to see Mogwai at Container Park. It’s a place of discovery. As a programmer it’s really interesting. It’s a sandbox to play in.”

Downtown Project is also involved in the former Azul, which in its new incarnation as Place on 7th will be mostly an events space that does occasional shows, like The Foreign Exchange on July 14. Not to mention the performance-oriented Inspire Theater and Scullery in the Ogden, which will take on more jazzy, arty fare. Henry hints at even a couple of other unnamed venues yet to come.

The other big gun in Downtown Project’s arsenal is Bunkhouse, the old-school haven for local bands that’s expected to finally reopen in the fall.

“I don’t think Bunkhouse will change that much from what it was before. There will be touring bands that come in, as it was before, but its heart and soul is local music,” Henry says.

Adjacent to Bunkhouse will be Wheel House, the last in the wave of new venues. (Wheel House is a collaboration between Downtown Project and Commonwealth/Park on Fremont co-owners Ryan Doherty and Justin Weniger, owners of WENDOH Media.) When March rolls around, Wheel House will have country nights every Thursday and focus on national and local rock acts for the rest of its schedule.

If there’s an Austinization process, it’s that so many venues will offer variety as each settles into a niche. Even the old warhorses, such as LVCS, already pursue programming largely defined by metal and rockabilly. It will be up to programmers to figure out what works in a suddenly competitive ecosystem.

But Henry isn’t worried about Downtown music eating its own—yet: “The fear would be that you’re overbuilding too fast. All of a sudden there are too many venues and the audience—which is an evolving, emerging scene—can’t support it. I don’t think we’re there. What I see out there is a good mix. We’re not going to be cannibalizing. Then the fear becomes once you’ve got something going on, people come in and try to jump on it. I think it’s exciting. It’s going to be unrecognizable in a year.”


The First Friday Five: Joey Vanas, Steve Hill, Tony Hsieh, Fred Mossler, and Andrew Donner

In early September, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh was overseeing his company’s impending move from Henderson to Downtown with the help of a circle of trusted associates. By the end of the month, he was an arts producer. Hsieh, together with his marketing advisor Joey Vanas, Zappos executives Fred Mossler and Steve Hill, and developer Andrew Donner acquired the rights to the First Friday Las Vegas trademark and formed First Friday Las Vegas, LLC, the newly built engine for the nine-year-old arts event that paved the way for Downtown’s urban renaissance. The next chapter in the city’s cultural evolution was about to begin.

“All of us started getting involved in Downtown roughly a little less than a year ago,” Hsieh says. “We always wanted to bring more art, more live music, more of an entrepreneurial feel, more of a tech scene, and so on. Then we heard First Friday was going on hiatus for several months, and that’s when Joey and I started talking about what we could do to make sure it doesn’t just die out.”

Hsieh brought the proposition to the others, with an initial estimate of a half-million dollars to operate First Friday for the next year. “For us, it’s always been more of a passion project,” Hsieh says. “Not only did we want to keep it going, but we wanted to expand it and take it to the next level.”

First Friday also proved an excellent expression for the Zappos decree of fostering creativity in everyday life.

“There are 29 other days in the month,” Vanas says. “So whether it’s small mixers, panel discussions, talks with visiting artists, or more gallery openings or functions within the galleries, how do we take this scene going on here and expose more people to it throughout the month, with First Friday being the big marquee event?”

Downtown’s Draw
Vanas, like many current Downtown denizens, had quickly been drawn to First Friday when he’d arrived in Vegas from Miami in 2004 (he started working for Hsieh back in 2006). “That’s how I discovered Downtown,” he says, “and I think First Friday is how a lot of people have discovered Downtown.”

Despite its popularity, First Friday was in crisis by the end of summer. Funding problems led to an announcement by Whirlygig, the nonprofit that has supervised the First Friday Casino Center street party since its October 2002 inception, that First Friday would be shut down for the slow summer months of August and September

Then Zappos entered the picture. Hsieh was already in the habit of taking business acquaintances on the town for First Friday, sending them home with changed perceptions about what Vegas is—and what it could be. Zappos was first approached about becoming an event sponsor, but the possibility of ownership quickly rose. The prospect fit with the visions Hsieh and his associates—four of whom now live in Downtown’s The Ogden high-rise—had for the future of their adopted city. Their collective experience in marketing, brand building, networking, and promotions could enable First Friday to evolve, and possibly attract art tourism as well as businesses that would otherwise be hesitant to relocate (as Zappos did) to a town reputed to be void of the kind of cultural offerings that make a city livable to many.

The First Friday Five immediately set about doing what they could for the October relaunch, expanding much-needed free parking to include the Stratosphere and City Hall facility. Both locations are now part of the shuttle loop that reaches the Clark County Government Center and Fremont East District, where Emergency Arts serves as a satellite hub. First Friday has also grown: In addition to the original area, which we all know and love, bands now occupy the blocked-off stretch of Fremont between the Strip and Sixth Street every First Friday, and the number of mobile food trucks has increased, as well. A third section, planned for spring, offers high-end art and separate performance options, live jazz among them.

More proactive efforts aimed at attracting a more sophisticated buyer audience seem assured after the hiring of Michele Quinn and Nicole Moffatt of CityCenter’s Centerpiece Gallery as curators of First Friday’s outdoor exhibit spaces. Whirlygig’s board president, Cindy Funkhouser, is encouraged that First Friday will continue to contribute to the social fabric of Las Vegas. “Their goal seems to be to have a real sense of community among the arts community, which is great because we are very small,” she says. “We need to stick together.”


There’s a reason the greatest men in history weren’t known for their piloting of golf carts. It’s hard to exude Napoleonic or even Reaganomic leadership when your war steed is an E-Z Go RXV. Alive today, Alexander the Great would probably drive a Ford Explorer or some bitchin’ old Chevy. But puttering around Casino Center, wearing a floppy white gardening hat and mismatching socks, Joey Vanas is leading a battalion of smiling event staffers to the July First Friday. And he’ll probably lead them to loads more after that.

A year before you started reading this story, Tony Hsieh sat Joey down and asked him to run an event that would make absolutely no money and stay in the red longer than you’d expect would be acceptable for someone with “owns” and “is a millionaire” on his resume. And that’s exactly what Joey told him. “It’s a financial disaster with no business model whatsoever,” Joey said. “It’s going to cost us more money and there’s no revenue streams to speak of to keep up with that.” Tony asked again. Two weeks went by.

During that time, Joey went to his first Burning Man. “They create the most incredible art and most incredible city on Earth for one week, then completely break it down, and it disappears without a trace,” he said. “I had this vision of capturing some of that magic and ethos and bringing it downtown.” When he came back from Black Rock Desert, Joey, Andrew Donner of Resort Gaming Group, and Zappos crew Hsieh, Steve Hill and Fred Mossler bought the First Friday trademark from Whirlygig Inc.

The day of the July 2012 First Friday, there’s a 34-foot Airstream production trailer sitting on Casino Center and Colorado. Shortly after I arrive in front of it, Joey pulls up on that golf cart. He’s tall. Not NBA championship ring tall, but he ducks getting into the trailer more than anyone else. His hair is buzzed and his smile is enormous. He wears cargo shorts, a T-shirt and beat-up sneakers. He says it’s not because of the weather. This is just his wardrobe — he hates suits. And he’s quiet. Not just for someone who runs a big community-building event; he’d be quiet for a fourth-grader. More than once over the next month, I’ll have to push my recorder closer to him. His eyes don’t widen when he talks about something passionately, which is still easily mistaken for nonchalance. Nestled in the guts of the Airstream are Joey’s model/associate girlfriend, Joey’s bookkeeping sister and a PBS film crew, which just got back from a golf cart tour of the blocks commandeered by First Friday. They try to cool off in the corner. Joey taps along to music on his phone. Everyone but Joey’s girlfriend has sweat stains. The air-conditioning hasn’t kicked on yet. It’s 106 degrees in that Airstream. This is the first time they’ve had a trailer to run festival operations.

Simultaneously coming to the end of a bread stick, an e-mail and a Black Keys song, Joey pops up and back into his golf cart. It’s time to make sure all the vendors have ice. And the artists have signed in. And the Freedom Wall is ready. Whizzing around the grounds, Joey stops at every booth. He greets the food and drink vendors by their first names. He makes sure the 40-foot Freedom Wall has all the art supplies available for visitors to make their own mark, whether it be drawings, quotes, the names of family members who died in wars. He gabs in that jovial but hushed voice with artists who’ve signed in. Maybe one third are running late. Which is normal.

Two hours after Joey’s girlfriend isn’t sweating in the trailer, the blocks surrounding Casino Center will fill with thousands of people. At least 50 art vendors will occupy white tents up and down the streets. The brick-and-mortar galleries will be lit up and ready to hawk their wares, extending up the block all the way to the Arts Factory. People will do yoga on astroturf. Third Street will become a nearly impregnable, hip-to-hip throng of everything from Summerlin strollers to Northtown sneakers, despite this being the widest street and thus the reason it’s also the food-truck food court. Music will play on outdoor stages on blocked-off streets from the district to East Fremont. The kid zone will feature fledgling rock stars from the School of Rock. The Freedom Wall will have around a thousand unique signatures. And it will be one of the best First Fridays Joey has seen.

“They’re definitely creating more of a flow and engagement; they’re using the space better,” says Marian Goodell, director of communications for Burning Man and a pre- and post-ownership change First Friday attendee. “Community group activities are extremely Burning Man-like, and I’m starting to see bits of that coming along.”

Since October of last year, any decision made to adjust or improve the First Friday organism has been made by Joey. When pressed, he rifles off at least a three-breath list of issues. When we speak on July 15, he’s trying to find a mass-quantity sand vendor and neighborhood land owners who will let him build a beach on their lot for August. He’s constantly reworking the parking setup, because it’s constantly terrible. He talks about it for five minutes, not unlike describing the most boring Sim City game ever. Two weeks after that, he’ll decide he never wants to talk about parking again. There are more important things to think about than how to fit the more stubborn visitors into the blocks surrounding Casino Center. His day-to-day involves sponsor meetings, accruing new plots of land, handling the website. Talking to people like me so people like you experience his efforts. But on a macro level, Joey’s trying to preserve First Friday as a lucrative evening for the downtown creative class — and to make it stand as carbohydrates for a city accused of cultural emaciation. “A lot of businesses have been depending on this event for nine years to keep the lights on,” he says. “Some of these people tell us they make as much that day as they do all month.”

In the 10 years before buying into First Friday, Joey’s experience wasn’t necessarily what you’d expect. He wasn’t a city planner. He wasn’t known for his artsy block-party planning. He worked for a marketing firm. He worked in nightclubs. He dated George Clooney’s ex girlfriend (if you subscribe to that kind of Hollywood hoopla). But the actual title on a business card was irrelevant. His business was connecting with people. “I think I’ve had a very good concept of that from a young age,” he says. “When I was at the marketing company in Miami, a lot of it was based around event activations and entertainment stuff. That just means ‘what people like.’ You tailor it and make it memorable, whether it’s a product or a festival. It’s about how you connect that brand to them in a memorable way.”

But after being part of Miami’s Fontainebleu resort opening, Joey hit a wall. “I thought, what am I doing with my time? And who gives a shit?” So he quit. And from there, anything that put food on the table gained a new prerequisite: He had to want to do it for free. He helped start a yoga clothing company, bouncing him between home in Miami and doing product launches in Las Vegas. And the launch events were great. So great that, after moving to Vegas the first time, in 2004, his events caught Hsieh’s attention. But at that point, he was mostly living in Miami.

Hsieh asked Joey to move to Vegas — and live with him. “He said stick around, you can stay here, you don’t have to pay anything,” Joey says. “We’re going to need you for a lot of things going on.”

So he did, and they did. Joey put together the marketing for Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness book release and its 23-city book tour, spending an intimate amount of time with his would-be business partner. “Joey has always been passionate, reliable and attentive to detail — a tough combination to find,” Hsieh says. “When he commits to doing something he puts his entire heart into it.”

Joey started doing more projects for Zappos. More launches. A marathon. In fact, at the time this article is published, he won’t be able to name anything he’s working on that isn’t Zappos-related — though in the past he produced the Punk Rock Bowling weekend and set up the Flightlinez ziplines. But Joey got as close to being a Zappos employee as you can get without a Zappos W-2 form. “Once you get an inside view of this company and these people it’s the most amazing company on Earth,” he says. “We’ve got this Tony character who’s a pretty special human being who has the awareness to say we don’t need to be in the middle of this, we can help facilitate this and help connect people.”

At this point I need to level with you. Of the 9,000 words of transcript from the times I met Joey, maybe a third of those tout the glory and the brilliance and the humanity of Zappos. Let’s call these the Kool-Aid answers. Tony does this for downtown. Tony does that for tech startups. Glug, glug, glug. He admits to being a disciple of the Temple of Tony. And that seems to be part of what spooks the townspeople.

Researching this assignment, I couldn’t find a single gallery owner willing to speak on-record about what they think of the new First Friday team. One spoke about being wary of the amount of money going into First Friday without an immediately apparent return, though she didn’t have any concrete evidence to imply a hidden agenda or foul play. Another spoke in boilerplate about how it’s good for downtown and she doesn’t really know Joey but she’s sure he’s a great guy and wait I don’t think I want this coming back to me and I don’t think I should say anything and sorry click. I understood the fear. If they get any bad blood with this team, they could be politely ostracized. It’s not like many other millionaires are running around throwing money at their community. And, from their perspective, they don’t have any assurance that money won’t dry up.

They both have a point. The investment amount of the First Friday LLC is often quoted in millions. And the return on that investment is practically nil. But Joey says that doesn’t matter. It’s about building a community. Sure, that translates into more businesses in which Hsieh is invested and could possibly see return on — though they’re outweighed by probability of failure.

I have a hard time picking out the differences between slick-tongued marketing speak and earnest faith. He could just be the voice box for a group trying to buddy up to downtown and take it over. Hsiehville, to use a word Joey heard once. But then I met him one more time.

Joey is one of the few name-recognized members of the Zappos close affiliates who doesn’t live in The Ogden. Last December, he bought a house downtown, where I met him a week before writing these words. It isn’t a modest rambler. It’s a compound. Big sheets of window peer into a huge front yard, fenced in wrought-iron that’s topped in gold fleur di lis. It looks like it could’ve been a safe house. I ask Joey who owned it before he did.

He says Bob Stupak. I say that’s so freaking cool.

It’s floor-to-ceiling completely unnecessary and impractical architecture. A full bar with the brass foot rest and cigarette burns in the dark wood from Stupak/Wynn all-night downtown planning meetings. As he describes the lighting fixtures and the conversations held beneath them, Joey lights up with every piece of punctuation. He doesn’t say it outright, but it’s what he’s thinking: That’s what he’s doing. He’s helping shape downtown, Stupak to Hsieh’s Wynn.

This is the hold-it moment. At the end of the day, Joey Vanas isn’t a member of government. He isn’t a czar. And no matter what the murmurs are over plastic cups of wine in any number of gallery hallways, he will not make or break downtown. Joey Vanas is a man who runs an arts festival. Throughout the course of the month, he’ll try to make that clear. “It’s not going to rebuild downtown,” he says. “It’s just going to be a spark and a catalyst to get the right critical mass of people down here to take the ball and run with it.”

In Bob Stupak’s old living room, Joey’s sister plays with his nephew, Gus. They speak Spanglish. Joey’s brother-in-law walks in. His mother and father aren’t there, but that’s atypical.

We walk outside, past the pool to the place Joey sleeps, when he sleeps. It’s a studio casita, with just enough room for a bed, a desk, a bathroom and a kitchen. Warmed up from the bright plans for his Stupak original, he speaks openly. He describes leaving home in Florida at 18, four years after his sister did the same thing. How, before he asked her and her husband to move to Vegas to be nearby, he only saw her twice a year for 18 years. Later, he’d tell his parents to move in, too. He hated that they were working through old age instead of retiring and spending time with their grandson and children. “I told them move out here and we’ll figure it out,” Joey says. “But you aren’t going to work. You’re going to spend time with your family. I think it’s awesome to have my parents here.

“That was the impetus for buying the house, too,” he says. “I was trying to get them to move out here, so I wanted a place to move my whole family to. I wanted to make it something we have in the family forever. If something doesn’t work out, we can just come back here.”

The Kool-Aid answers still lurk in his replies, but they don’t feel like they’re written down somewhere. He addresses the artists from earlier, the ones who worry about First Friday LLC’s intentions. “It’s not just the artists — it’s the city at large,” he says. “People are always put off or slightly afraid of things they don’t understand. This is our home. We love it here, and we want to make it a better place, where ideas can flourish and there’s an infrastructure, a belief system that you can come and do anything. We want to attract more amazing and inspiring and passionate people to live here.”

Within 36 hours of this story landing on your newsstand, Joey will be back in that golf cart. He’ll make sure the ice is stocked. He’ll make sure the artists have checked in. He’ll greet the food and drink vendors by their first names. I could have written any other date that coincided with First Friday in the last year, and the next three sentences would’ve stayed the same, and they probably will a month later, when First Friday turns 10. With every month, First Friday expands and more people attend. More ideas are expressed and implemented. More boundaries are pushed. “The Burning Man model won’t work here,” he says. “But it’s that mentality that if people cooperate and work together it’s limitless. They’ll realize that there aren’t as many barriers as you may think. And that’s the Burning Man secret sauce that we want to re-create. Anything is possible if you work together.”


First Friday

Downtown puts its best foot forward for the First Friday of every month.

It’s First Friday and time for downtown Las Vegas to abound with innovative artist exhibits, live entertainment, vendors and other unique attractions . With so much to offer, the monthly event draws people from all walks of life. It sounds like your everyday street fair, but people behind First Friday have a greater goal in mind than just entertainment.

First Friday is a community building event. As Joey Vanas, the managing partner of First Friday Las Vegas describes it, First Friday is “a celebration of the best Las Vegas has to offer.”

The event also features a side of the city that people typically don’t expect to see. No one comes to Vegas for the arts scene, but First Friday is working to change that.

Once again this month, the event is incorporating a Burning Man element. This month it’s an exhibit called Burn Wall Street, an art project that will be installed as an Honorarium Art Project this year at Burning Man. Burn Wall Street was created by Otto Von Danger, a disabled veteran who has designed and built large-scale art for more than 12 years. Von Danger’s concept behind Burn Wall Street, is to start a discussion between people regardless of their political standpoints. The project is fiscally sponsored by Veterans for Peace, a 501c3 non-profit.

At the exhibit you can pay $5 to literally Shoot the Bull with five paintball gun shots as he moves between derivatives to options. The exhibit is set up in two box trucks. The other truck will be the Burn Wall Street Brokerage Office where you can see a three-dimensional display of the project and learn more about Burning Man.

Other highlights of this month’s event

Fremont East

  • The Gazillionaire from “Absinthe” at Caesars Palace will debut his new show, “Empire,” in Get Back Alley. The show is opening in New York, but this performance will give audiences a free sneak peek of the new revue. Show times for the debut are at 8 and 9 p.m.

Arts District

  • Science Lab from 6 – 9 p.m. at 1213 Casino Center Blvd. Here kids of all ages can explore interactive and educational exhibits.
  • Trash into Art at 1114 Casino Center Blvd. First Friday has teamed up with to create a 15-foot tall Trojan unicorn sculpture named Una. The sculpture is made out of recycled materials.
  • Kids Zone at 1213 Casino Center Blvd. This feature includes live entertainment, an exotic petting zoo and free carnival games.
  • Car show on 3rd Street.

If you’ve never been to or heard of First Friday, you may still be wondering what this event is all about. Here’s everything you need to know.

What is it?Part art and music festival, part street fair, First Friday is a community building event that happens on the first Friday of every month. This event is a place for people to come together and see what locals have to offer. It’s also a chance for people to experience the burgeoning metropolitan environment continuing to evolve in downtown Vegas. More than anything, the monthly event offers something different than what people expect to find in Vegas. New events are added to First Friday each month, making every event unique and exciting.

Where is it? First Friday takes place in downtown Vegas including the areas known as the Fremont East and Arts District. The majority of the art exhibits and galleries are located in the Arts District. Fremont East is home to kitschy bars and other venues that host events for First Friday. The Fremont Street Experience also hosts special events in honor of First Friday.

Fremont East – Fremont East was created as an entertainment district in 2002. It’s located adjacent to the Fremont Street Experience. For those bad with directions, just look up when you get to the end of the Fremont Street Experience opposite the Plaza. There’s a neon sign that arches over the street signifying where the Fremont East District starts. This area is home to various bars, clubs, restaurants and cafes. Some of the venues in this area include: The Griffin, Don’t Tell Mama,  Insert Coins, Beauty Bar, the Get Back Alley and Downtown Cocktail Room.

Arts District – This area is located just south of downtown Vegas and Charleston Boulevard. The Arts District encompasses the area bound by Commerce Street, Hoover Avenue, Fourth Street and Las Vegas Boulevard (at Charleston) and Colorado Avenue. The area was once known as “18b” for the 18 blocks it encompasses. It has since expanded beyond that with the growing arts scene in that area. In the Arts District you’ll find funky art galleries, restaurants and unique shops. For First Friday the area comes alive with working art exhibits, live performances and other interactive attractions.

Fremont Street Experience – Located under a canopy of lights towering 90 feet above the ground, the Fremont Street Experience is the main attraction in downtown. The canopy features more than 12 million LED modules and a 555,000-watt sound system. Together they create a light show that operates at different times during the evening. The canopy acts as a unifying barrier for all the hotels surrounding it. It’s also home to several stages that feature free live entertainment. It’s always a popular hot spot for tourists and locals, but come First Friday the area really comes to life with additional live entertainment offerings.

When is it?

First Friday takes place on the first Friday of every month from 6 to 11 p.m.

How do I get around?

The best way to experience everything First Friday has to offer is to take advantage of the free shuttles. There are multiple parking areas where you can park and then hop on the shuttle for transportation throughout the evening. The shuttles run from 5:30 to 11:30 p.m.

Shuttle Routes
Fremont Route (three stops): Get Back Alley First Friday entrance (corner of 6th Street and Fremont Street), Golden Nugget (lobby doors just north of the Rush Tower valet) and First Friday event space in Arts District (corner of Colorado and Main Street).

Government Center Route (three stops): Government Center parking lot (entrance to Rotunda Gallery), Commerce Art Galleries (Commerce Street) and First Friday event space in Arts District (corner of Colorado and Main Street).

All shuttle stops have an A-frame sign indicating where the pick-up location is located. There is a sticker on every shuttle bus indicating which route they run.

Where do I park?

Where to park depends upon where you want to spend the majority of time on your First Friday stop and where you want to end your evening. Free parking lots include: Government Center parking lot, El Cortez Hotel, Golden Nugget Hotel, Stewart Parking Garage on Las Vegas Boulevard and Stewart. There is a parking closer to the Casino Center events in a lot that charges $5.

If you want to end the night in downtown Vegas and hit up some of the bars near the Fremont East District, it’s best to park at the Golden Nugget or the El Cortez. If you want to be closer to the Arts District area at the end of the night, then the Government Center parking lot is a good option.

What’s there to do?

Part of the fun of First Friday is discovering what’s being featured at each month’s event. Every event is family-friendly, but there are plenty of adult-only things to do too. If you want to party with friends and grab drinks, there’s always a good crowd for First Friday. At the same time, if you’re there to check out some new art or listen to music, you can do that too. One of the great things about this event is there’s something for everyone. The featured events change every month. For a complete listing visit the First Friday website at:

What’s the deal with Burning Man and First Friday?

While you’re looking up information about First Friday, you may run into some mentions of Burning Man. After that you may start wondering, what’s Burning Man and what does it have to do with an event in downtown Vegas. Well, here’s the breakdown.

Burning Man is a week-long event that takes place once a year in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. Every year Burning Man attracts thousands of participants who congregate to build a temporary city founded on art, self expression, self-reliance and community.

Vanas attended Burning Man for the first time in 2011. He saw strangers helping strangers and realized that everything the event stood for was exactly what he wanted to see happen in downtown Vegas. Since then, Vanas has been working with various artists from Burning Man to help integrate some of what they do into First Friday.

The first Burning Man First Friday event took place in March when artists from Burning Man built a 20-foot tall showgirl that was ceremoniously burned in downtown as part of the monthly event.

How do I get involved?
After visiting First Friday you may be inspired to start your own art project or even volunteer. There are ways for everyone to get involved at First Friday. For more information on being a volunteer or how to participate in the event as an artist, vendor, etc. visit: