It?s not exactly your traditional block party, what happens each year ?round this time on South A Street in Santa Rosa.

It?s cold and dark outside when the festivities begin at 5 p.m. today, and there?s nary a burger nor a hot dog to be found.

But when the burgeoning arts community that?s grown up along the short chunk of road near Juilliard Park throws open its doors each year for Winter Blast, it?s hard not to feel warmed by the music, laughter and lights that spill out onto the street.

Now in its fifth year, Winter Blast - held the Saturday before Thanksgiving ? features open studios and artwork, as well as a zany street festival that has included clowns, marching bands, fire-eaters, life-size puppets, a furry snowman and other oddities.

Some folks come in costume. There?s a bake sale and a jazz trio. You can shoot your own portrait in a makeshift photo booth at Tibidabo Photography or dress up and pose in the window like a live mannequin.

Gallery 300 artist Jennifer Hirschfield, an organizer of the event, likens the free event to a funky, but family-friendly block party with whiffs of Burning Man and ?visual treats? bound to brighten the night. As many as 900 people have attended in recent years, she said.

?The atmosphere is really light-hearted and fun,? said Brenda Fox, managing director for The Imaginists Theater Collective, which also participates. ?I hate to use this word, but it?s really a gay time.?

New this year is a SOFA (which stands for South of A) Parade in honor of the cultural/geographical moniker to which the arts community is laying claim.

The parade, a bit of an homage to the Handcar Regatta that debuted last year in Railroad Square, requires entrants to install wheels on their sofas and any other decorative features, passengers or props they desire, Hirschfield said.

?We?re just going to make it as ridiculous as possible,? Tibidabo Photography owner Bob Stender said of the ornate settee he planned to enter.

The sofas and whatever furniture ends up being offered will be paraded at 5:15 p.m. and 8 p.m., bookending the three-hour party that extends to the neighborhood hair salon, yoga studio and Peace and Justice Center of Sonoma County, in addition to neighborhood art and photography studios.

The Imaginists Theater Collective will host an exhibit of work from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. by apprentice artists associated with ArtStart, a nonprofit program promoting creative expression in local youth, and may offer an impromptu skit or two.

A special late performance of its current show, a rhyming, Moliere-inspired farce called ?L??ole de Maldet?e: The School of Headaches,? is scheduled for 9 p.m.

?Anything can happen here during Winter Blast,? said Fox. ?It?s a really fun kickoff to the holiday season.?