River City rocks with people of all ages and stripes on June's First Friday celebration.

Vermont's Soft White Underbelly Shines

Submitted a year ago
Created by
Dave Celone

First Fridays in White River Junction Pop with Color!

It was June 2nd, and we were wondering what to do on a Friday night. A friend told us she was headed south to White River Junction from points north. We asked her to pick us up on the way, and it was then that we learned the term "River City."  She said her dad had been using the term for years referring to WRJ, and she never could figure out why other than the obvious—it's at the confluence of two great rivers, the White and the Connecticut.  But, from what she could gather, it was also some kind of secret code her dad used for a place to meet for parties when he and his friends were in high school.

Meadowlark plays its sweet, sweet music at Long River Gallery & Gifts on So. Main Street.

Today, it's no longer about drinking beer in a dark alleyway, or slugging back a bottle of something on the train tracks at midnight as the moon gleams down on parallel rails running to the horizon. River City has matured a bit, and grown into it's own new self. White River Junction, to my surprise this past Friday night (First Friday as its called here now), was no longer the soft white underbelly of Vermont people once shied away from. It wasn't the place where high school kids went for kicks to see tramps or hobos on the rails, nor is it the place to experience the post-pubescent adrenaline rush of who might be lurking around the next dark corner.

Today's WRJ beats the band of olden days in the Hotel Coolidge lobby.

Instead, this present-day River City was filled with color and colorful art, delightful food, and up to the roof beams with live music venues all around town this past First Friday. I counted fourteen different music groups or local bands playing really good music, and hundreds of people wandering the streets in search of the next surprise behind some heavy door left slightly ajar. For me, it was the thrill of seeing a town I'd not been to since the Polka Dot Diner's wait staff puffed on filterless cigarettes as they served breakfast, while its patrons were mostly those drinking many cups of coffee under their attorney's watchful eyes to get them to the point of being reasonably stable on their feet before appearing in court across the street.

Everybody wanted to dance to the music on First Friday night!

The crowded streets of Friday's night's River City were a spectacle of diversity—really, I actually heard multiple languages, including Japanese, as I walked by, and there were people whose skin color didn't all flow as one. Yet, people did flow together, chatting and rocking to the lively music as a band under a tent (photo above) played just across the street from Newberry MarketWhen the train came trundling through town, all the children turned, and some parents hoisted them up on their shoulders to get a better look at the lumbering giant whose horn became the night's beckoning call.

Piecemeal Pies was packed with patrons enjoying pasties and savory pies. I had a curried vegetable pastie that tasted like some kind of new heaven on my palate!

From Piecemeal Pies to River Roost Brewery and Big Fatty's Barbecue just across the parking lot, to Elixir in the Freight House building and on back along South Main Street to Long River Gallery & Gifts, the music was fine. The beer at River Roost is absolutely the best, and I say that having been a craft beer aficionado for quite a number of years. The Burnt Ends with Slaw at Big Fatty's are pretty much to die for, and a female vocalist singing there on Friday made this tasty meal all the more mellifluously digestible as she parse beautiful melodies from her lips to our ears.  

Two pillars of River City leaning steadily against a third in the Hotel Coolidge as the band plays on. The Coolidge's motto, "the cure for boring travel stories," has never been more on point than today!

What can I say. I always knew White River Junction as a place to mostly avoid unless I needed some rare and unique find from Vermont Salvagewhich is where you can find pretty much any type of architectural piece imaginable. Or maybe to go find a part for a wood stove at Home Comfort WarehouseBut it certainly wasn't the White River of my friend's dad's era. White River Junction has now found its groove, and its a way cool groove to be sure. If you haven't visited, don't come whining to me about there being nothing to do in the Upper Valley on a Friday night.  As far as I'm concerned, this new incarnation of River City, VT rocks!

Cars pack the lots, and the tables and taps at Big Fatty's Barbecue (above), and River Roost Brewery (below) on First Friday night.

River Roost's taps flowed steadily all evening long with great-tasting, hopped-up beverages.


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