Downtown Hamilton is in the midst of a cultural explosion.

This statement may seem laughable to those suburbanites who long ago gave up on the city core as a place of decay and depression.

But rather than spending their entertainment dollars in Toronto, these folk should give the core another try, take a stroll beyond Gore Park, north on James. Take in both sides of the street, past the stump of the old Tivoli, Cannon Street, the armoury and the cathedral, keep going right down to Murray.

Among the ethnic eateries, you'll find a new community of galleries, boutiques, studios, clubs and cafes. It's been growing for the past few years. Lately, though, things seem to be happening at an almost exponential pace.

Which is why all those suburban skeptics should come down to James North tomorrow night to watch local art and music scenes merge for the first annual Supercrawl. It's an extension of the Art Crawls that have been taking place the second Friday of each month for the past four years.

Dozens of galleries and studios have been taking part in the crawls, holding openings and special exhibitions, sometimes featuring musical acts. Satellite venues such as The Pearl Company have been connected by the well-known art bus.

The Supercrawl will be all that and much more, closing down James North between Wilson and Cannon with three stages of live music.

Stage 1 will be in the parkette in front of the Tivoli Theatre with four high-profile acts starting at 7 p.m. with John Ellison, the longtime Dundas soul singer who wrote one of the most enduring hits in pop music -- Some Kind of Wonderful. Also onstage will be Jeremy Fisher, a Hamilton-born folksinger nominated for two Junos last year. Closing out the night on the mainstage will be Ohbijou and The Hidden Cameras, two of the top art-rock bands in Toronto.

Stage 2 at James and Cannon features four local acts -- singer-songwriters Annie Shaw and Terra Lightfoot, as well as Cowlick and Marble Index.

Stage 3, located behind Dr. Disc on Wilson Street, will feature Hamilton hip-hop poet Lee Reed, Dundas electrobeat master Koushik, as well as Juno-nominated world beat band Eccodec and Olenka and the Autumn Lovers.

In between the stages, there'll be plenty of art in the form of a wide range of wondrous street installations.

There will be people projecting art onto buildings and others riding around the streets on bicycle trains.

The night doesn't stop at 11 p.m., though. There are three after-parties, including the C+C Music Festival at This Ain't Hollywood, the new rock club at James North and Murray. C+C is a joint production of the city's two campus radio stations 93.3 CFMU (McMaster) and 101.5 FM (Mohawk). This Ain't Hollywood will feature four local bands including S.G. Sinnicks and Sandman Viper Command. (The C+C Festival will also sponsor two acts -- Matt Henderson and Kingdom Shore -- earlier in the evening at Christ's Church Cathedral.)

There will also be an electro-oriented after-party above the Harvest Moon Restaurant on James North, and another, featuring Said The Whale and Hannah Georgas, at Silver Reed Studio at Sonic Unyon on Wilson Street.

All in all, Supercrawl is a pretty big deal, put together on a small budget by an extraordinary coalition of arts groups and individuals who share a commitment to making Hamilton's vibrant cultural scene the best it can be.

Just about every business on the street is involved. Among organizers and sponsors are Jeremy Freiburger of Imperial Cotton Centre for the Arts, Tim Potocic of Sonic Unyon, and Dane Pederson and Courtney Lakin of Loose Canon Gallery.

They're expecting somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 people at Supercrawl tomorrow.

Can you think of anything better -- for free! -- on a Friday night? Sure beats going to Toronto ... or sitting at home in the suburbs watching TV.

grockingham@thespec.com

905-526-3331