Last weekend’s Capitol Hill Block Party provided the setting for some 70 up-and-coming indie bands to showcase their offbeat repertoires and whimsical numbers. The 15th annual Block Party hosted bands from all over the country, but, as tradition dictates, focused specially on Northwest groups. The festival was held over a three-day period of sun and heat in Seattle’s trendy Capitol Hill neighborhood – one that’s famous for its gay-friendly scene and Bohemian vibe. A landscape of free spirits chugging down on PBR’s and Ranier’s set the scene for this year’s funky fest.
Friday afternoon began with rumbling sound checks coming from all four stages – Main Stage, Cha Cha, Vera, and Neumos – and the most dedicated had already started to gather around them, anxious and hungry for the weekend ahead. The ones I saw were likely waiting in anticipation for Grave Babies, one of the first acts of the festival to play on the Vera stage. With its dark, shoegaze-ish, lo-fi style and “fuck it, I don’t care if I piss people off” attitude, Grave Babies was a great way to start off the weekend.
But my mind was fixed with impatience on two other bands that have gained significant notoriety of late: The Head and the Heart and Ghostland Observatory. The kids from The Head and the Heart got their start in Seattle recording their own music and spreading it through word of mouth. They’ve risen to national fame with an indie-folky-bluegrassy sound that touches on the longing angst with which the modern 18-25 year-old identifies so well. The band performed both at Caffe Vita’s unofficial bean room stage and again on the main stage. Both acts were markedly different – catering to the die-hard bluesy folk fan at Caffe Vita and pleasing the pop-folk loving concertgoer at the main stage.
It’s not often you see a folk band share a stage with an experimental electronic group on the same night, but the Block Party simply isn’t a place for sticking to the rules. Just as the last of the setting sun helped lend nostalgia and emotion to the Head and the Heart’s set, the cool, dark evening set the mood for the ever-energetic Ghostland Observatory. Though Ghostland Observatory’s roots are in Texas, the funk-rock-electronic duo has garnered a solid following in the Northwest and has become a staple to Seattle’s electronic scene. Ghostland’s shows are legendary for their lights and lasers, so I was curious as to how it planned to top what it does indoors at a venue like the Block Party. Though closer to the stage it was next to impossible to move independently (at one point I found myself floating through a bouncing crowd, feet off the ground), the lighting effects did not disappoint. Ghostland’s laser show cut through the dark of the night and lit the streets around us with brilliant beams of red, green, and blue.
Also notable were the Spaceneedles, who rocked out at the Cha Cha stage and provided a dark and air-conditioned respite for those who wanted to move but not contract heat stroke doing it; Seattle’s own female hip-hop duo THEESatisfaction, who touted its recent signing to Sub Pop by rocking yellow sneakers imprinted with the label’s name; and last but not least, Seattle’s The Cave Singers, who played an intimate session at the Caffe Vita stage and later, another at the main stage. The ultra down-to-earth folk band’s lead singer Pete Quirk was nice enough to pose for a picture with me when I ran into him after the performance — even seemed a little surprised that I wanted one to begin with, thus solidifying his place in my heart.
If we’re going purely on music and talent, the Block Party gets a ten, for sure. The venue’s placement in the midst of a bustling city on narrow streets, however, made the music difficult to access and truly enjoy. One thing you can’t say about Seattleites is that they don’t pack an outdoor venue – whatever venue it may be – when it’s sunny outside. The Block Party brought back memories of that one taco truck “festival” at the Seattle Center whereby four taco trucks were parked in a circle and hundreds of people stood in endless, twisting, confusing lines for street tacos. Meanwhile the city is already chock-full of those things.
If it wasn’t clear already, there’s something about trying not to get trampled among an endless crowd of hipsters that’s corralled by chain link fences in a downtown metropolis that isn’t appealing. But, I must re-emphasize: the music was the shit.
And that’s enough for me.