Don't divide Fridays

I cannot even begin to tell you how bad an idea I think the proposed changes to "Fridays After Five" are [News, "Freebie no more," March 13] ( On second thought, I'll try.

Charlottesville has provided free cultural enrichment in the areas of literature, film, music, and the arts for years, i.e., the Virginia Festival of the Book, The Virginia Festival of American Film, Fridays After Five, and First Friday. The diversity of the events and consequently of the participants has been exceptional.

While the book and film festivals charge for some talks or screenings, they also consistently offer free panels. "Fridays" remains one of the few events that draw a wide cross-section of the public: town and gown, singles and families, bikers and bicyclists. If admission is charged for every show, it's unreasonable to assume that families will frequent the concerts with the regularity they have in the past.

I have enjoyed the performances for the past 15 years, and my experience is that merchants are increasingly crowded on Friday nights after 8pm. This must be due in part to the concerts. If individuals spend money for admission, doesn't that leave them with less disposable income to use for after-concert libations, retail shopping, or a movie?

While I understand the need to charge for out-of-town "name" talent, as with last year's Eddie Money concert, I don't accept this rationale for the entire season. This should remain principally a venue for our many gifted local musicians.

If fears of terrorism prompt concerns about dangerous items being brought into the amphitheater, then why not simply check people's bags? Isn't this already done anyway? It's not possible to argue that imbibing is an issue, with beer having always been for sale. I appreciate wanting to encourage attendees to patronize the vendors, but haven't people often tended to bring in food from downtown restaurants? I've never seen a flurry of picnic baskets.

In many respects, Charlottesville strives to become more upscale, which has its merits– the greater variety of ethnic restaurants and retailers– but there's also obviously a downside– increased division between the haves and the have-nots.

If anything, we need to pursue avenues of inclusiveness, not exclusivity. Virginia in general and Charlottesville in particular have long prided themselves on adherence to tradition. Clearly this is not always the most thoughtful course, but when you have a great tradition, like free concerts at Fridays After Five, why abandon it?

Millie Fife