I can’t say that, when we started Tonic Ball in 2002 and Tonic Gallery in 2003, that we ever dreamed of the phenomena they’d become.( I’ve written elsewhere about how we started the show, and there’s more at TonicIndy.com–plus a really nice write-up in NUVO this week–if you can’t get enough Tonic history.) I also can’t say that we’re disappointed. Tonic has become an institution–a festive kick-off to the holiday season in Indianapolis.

But Tonic can also be a logistical challenge–especially for the uninitiated. And this year looks as if it’s going to be the biggest Tonic ever. So here are a few tips to help you navigate the evening for maximum Tonic goodness:

1. Arrive early. Have dinner. There are all sorts of happenings in Fountain Square on Tonic Friday; in fact, it’s the biggest night of the year for Fountain Square merchants. Shop in the shops. Have dinner at the restaurants; many of them are contributing part of their proceeds for the evening to Second Helpings as part of our Tonic Tables program. And, speaking as someone who works in Fountain Square and eats lunch here all week long, you’re in for a great meal, no matter where you choose to eat.

2. Don’t worry about parking. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a space on the street on Prospect or Shelby. But head down Shelby to the IMPD parking lot, and you’ll find a space. Or north on Shelby for more free parking. Or: take a cab and make sure you get home safely.

3. Protect your bid at Tonic Gallery. You have to see the great Tonic Gallery show at New Day Meadery. And you’ll want to bid on the art; bids start at just $100, and can go up to $500. Hang out as long as you want. The Gallery will be filled with nice people and superb mead. But if you’re bidding, you’ll want to be around at 8 p.m. when the Gallery closes. Last year, the last-minute bidding went nuts. If there’s a piece you have to have–and, by the looks of the show, you may have to have several–you’ll want to be there.

4. Bring the kids. Tiny Tonic is a new addition this year, featuring kid-friendly crafts, music by Ruditoonz, and kids’ meals at Square Rootz Deli, right next to New Day Meadery and across the street from Radio Radio and the Fountain Square Theatre. Then take the kids to the big show at the Theatre: it’s an all-ages venue with lots of great music.

5. Buy your tickets now. Tonic Gallery and Tiny Tonic are free, but you’ll have to shell out a little dough to get into Tonic Ball–all of which goes to support the great work of Second Helpings. Ticket sales are–let’s say, “brisk.” Go buy them online now, or stop by Luna Music or Future Shock to get yours today.

6. Pick up everything at the Fountain Square Theatre. Will Call is there. T-shirt sales are there. If you’re paying for tickets with a credit card, you’ll have to do it there. (You can buy tickets at Radio Radio with cash. But: see above. Buy tickets today.)

7. You do not have to stand in line. Every year, there’s a long line to get into the show at Radio Radio. We understand: it’s a fantastic show in there. But there’s also a great show going on inside the Fountain Square Theatre, and your wristband gets you into both rooms. Yes, the Theatre is an all-ages venue–but, contrary to popular belief, you can get a drink in there. There are more places to sit. It’s a beautiful, big room and a very comfortable place to see a show. And the lineup this year is fantastic. Plus, the Naptown Roller Girls are going to emcee. Why would you want to look at me when you can look at them?

8. If there’s a band you must see at Radio Radio…. Get there early. Do not leave. You will have a terrible time getting back inside. I repeat: get there early. Do not leave. And please remember that your ticket to the show does not guarantee you entry to Radio Radio. Again: Get. There. Early. Do. Not. Leave.

9. It’s gonna be loud. Especially at Radio Radio. It’s a rock show, for goodness’ sake. Bring foam earplugs. You’ll still enjoy the show, and the earplugs will cut down on the noise.

10. Stay late. There are amazing acts hitting the stages at 11 p.m. and later. The crowd will be a little smaller. The Tonic goodness will be undiminished.

11. Be kind. The best thing about Tonic–among all the great things about Tonic–has always been the love in the room. We’re all out for great art, great music, and a great cause. It’s going to be crowded, so please remember that we’re all working hard to put on the best show possible. Please do your part.

12. Sing and dance. We’re doing Beatles’ songs, for cryin’ out loud. Shake it up, baby.

13. Don’t miss the Yoko Moment set at 10:40 at Radio Radio. Seriously. We’re gonna kill.

14. Follow all the action–and add your own–on Twitter. Look for our tweets at #tonic9 and add your own, all night long. Review the show in real time. Make sarcastic comments about my hair. Whatever.

15. Thank a sponsor. Because of the support of all of our great sponsors–chief among them, Dr. Greg Sipes–every penny you spend on your Tonic tickets goes to Second Helpings. We could not do the show without them.

In summary: come early. Stay late. Be nice. Have fun. See you Friday!