CHSBP: Geek’s guide to the 2011 Capitol Hill Block Party

(Image: CHS)

There will never be another Capitol Hill Block Party like the party that went down in 2010. Last year, organizers said, was an experiment as the popular festival scrambled to add a third day for the first time. The result: Some 27,000 paid attendees, another 3,000 through the gates — and more “feedback” than the City of Seattle has ever received for the event that has slowly grown into one of the most popular, most unique music festivals in the country. “We don’t want to be Bumbershoot. We don’t want to be Sasquatch,” producer Dave Meinert said when talking about last year’s debut of the third day of the Block Party. “But there’s a demand for more.” 

2011’s Block Party, then, is about taking that experiment and finding a way to sustain it in a way that maintains the festival’s place near the top of US summer music festivals — and brings the neighborhood along for the fun. Changes include a more local, less big name-focused line-up, a logistical overhaul of many elements of the event and a much more robust connection to area residents and local businesses. Here is what to expect from CHBP 2011, some of the ways it will change and some ways you can enjoy it and help the party continue on its path in a changing Pike/Pine.

2011: Set-up will be fully underway Friday morning so expect E Pike and the 10th and 11th Ave spurs to be closed to traffic and fenced. Gates open at 3p Friday, 12p Saturday and 1p Sunday. Main stage will shut down by 9p on Sunday. The shorter day on Friday should also help things get off to a more organized, more enjoyable start.

Lines: Hoping to avoid the negative consequences of the huge lines that formed in 2010 and lead to one of the ugliest disputes between the festival and a local business — 12th Ave’s Ferrari & Maserati of Seattle — organizers have reduced the number of tickets sold by 500 to 8,500 for each day of the festival and improved ticketing options to hopefully reduce dependence on will call lines that they say was the major cause of last year’s long queues. Note to attendees: Please don’t expose yourself to local business people. It causes nothing but trouble, in the end.

Preview? Here are our “pics from the crowd” for 2010: Day One | Day Two | Day Three

CHS in 2011: We’ll be inside the gates this year covering the festival from the community perspective, checking in with local businesses and keeping track of the neighborhood.

History: Our version of things and a more definitive attempt from Seattle Met

Tickets: Discounted 3-day passes are sold out but continues to dole out single-day tickets. You can also score tickets at the Capitol Hill E Pike Caffe Vita.

Local dominated line-up: A more modest line-up with a heavy Pacific Northwest flavor — 7 out of 10 bands have Seattle region roots.

Free-loaders: Paid attendees weren’t the only contributors to last year’s bursting at the seems festival. Organizers say they will also crimp the flow of sneak-ins with increased security and cut down on the number of people they allow in for free from the neighborhood.

Shell station: One of the areas expected to see some of the biggest change outside the fences of the festival will be the gas station at Pike and Broadway. A popular gathering space for knot-hole crowds to enjoy the festival without buying a ticket, the gas station parking lot is also a key emergency route for SPD and Seattle Fire. Expect the parking lot to be closed in 2011 and manned by security. It’s the price of progress.

Rooftops: An iconic scene from every year of the festival are those god-like creatures looking down upon the CHBP rabble from a rooftop perch above. You’ll still see a few lucky souls who live or work in the nearby buildings enjoying the show from way up high. But if your plans include a scramble across Elliott Bay Book Co.’s skylights to gain a rooftop view like a few ambitious folks attempted in 2010, you’ll want to think twice. A portion of the increase security will be assigned to prevent similar shenanigans this year.

Layout: Meinert has said this year’s Block Party will have the same basic layout as 2009 and 2010 with the mainstage near Broadway and E Pike, and the smaller Vera Project stage on 11th between E Pike and E Union:

•                Pike Street will closed between 12th and Broadway  

•                10th & 11th Aves. between E. Pike and E. Union will be closed

•                If you live in a building with parking, you will have access to your parking garage as you did last year

•                Friday hours: 3pm gates, music on mainstage 4:30 – midnight, on Vera Stage 4:30 – 11pm, Neumo’s (indoor) 4:00 – 2am

•                Saturday hours: 1pm gates, music on mainstage 2:00 – midnight, on Vera Stage 2:00 – 11pm, Neumo’s (indoor) 2:00 – 2am

•                Proposed Sunday hours: 1pm gates, music on mainstage 2:00 – 9:00pm, on Vera Stage 2:00 – 11pm, Neumo’s (indoor)  2:00 – midnight

Sound booth move: One key layout change should make for better flow for safety concerns, patron enjoyment — and at least one local business. Curtis Bigelow of the Lobby Bar says he’s ready for a better year for his bar after 2010’s rough go thanks to increased help with security from organizers and a reconfigured sound engineering booth that will reduce the bottleneck near the music festival’s beer garden. The Lobby is also planning some fun promotions for the weekend. More on that, below.

Safety and permits: To start the week, organizers of the 2011 festival still didn’t have an official City of Seattle permit for the event. Believe it or not, that’s how it works every year for most events in the city — even giant music fests including national acts. A representative from the city told CHS last week that the 2011 festival was on track for the permit after months of work with the committee charged with approving these types of events. The city has already given the go-ahead for the third day of the event.

The city’s Special Events Committee is designed to organize cross-department approval for all major Seattle events from neighborhood parades to multi-million dollar spectacles like Block Party. It includes representatives from Seattle Police and Fire, the health department, Department of Planning and the Seattle Department of Transportation. The representatives have met with Block Party organizers for an on-site walk-through and worked out details of more safety and logistical improvements in 2011. At the meetings, safety issues like the Shell station access and fire exits on the south side of Pike near Broadway got the most discussion time. There was also interest in putting better controls on volume at the main stage, a problem organizers acknowledged and said was an issue for them too as sound engineers for the bigger acts were reluctant to cede overall control to the local crew.

Seattle Fire had this to say about the 2011 safety overhaul: “As a public safety agency we are concerned about the public’s well being at these events. The Seattle Fire Department worked with other city departments including Seattle Police to address some safety concerns based on observations made at last year’s event.”

*       The Special Events Committee (which SFD is a part of) worked with the organizers of the Capitol Hill Block Party to come up with a safety and security plan that includes:

*       Establishing an estimated maximum allowable occupant load for the entire venue and specifically the spectator area adjacent to the main stage

*       Increasing the amount of opening width in the security fencing adjacent to the main stage area to facilitate exiting in the event of an emergency

*       Ensuring that the event promoters provided an adequate number of appropriately trained crowd managers for the projected attendance

*       Controlling unauthorized spectator access to the roofs and/or fire escapes of buildings surrounding the venue, some of which are vacant

*       Controlling parking around the venue to ensure that the required exit opening in the security fencing is not blocked by trucks or other vehicles/obstructions that would hinder egress

*       Ensuring that there is an ability to provide emergency voice alarm messaging to the attendees

In case of an emergency, we want to make sure we have access to the scene. Response times are crucial for fire and life safety during emergencies.

East Precinct Commander James Dermody said, as usual, extra police will be on duty for the big event. “The East Precinct will have additional staffing working in the area of the CHBP as we have in past years,” Dermody writes. “We support a safe and vibrant city approved special event.  We have appreciated the work the organizers have put into the safety plan.”

Food trucks: Hungry Block Partiers will have more choices for chow this year as mobile food providers like @CharliesBuns and @skilletstfood will be in attendance certain nights of the festival.

Transportation: Take the bus. Bike. Walk. Fly.

Pike/Pine support: To help mitigate the negative business impact the festival has on some neighborhood restaurants and shops, festival organizers have worked overtime to find ways to bring some inside the festival gates (see Cupcake Royale, below) and integrate others with promotions some of which we detail elsewhere in this post. You can also take a look at for more.

Here’s what CR’s Jody Hall told us about her much improved outlook for the 2011 event:

 We’re excited to be inside the gates of block partythis year with our mobile cupcake party cart selling the Whiskey MapleBacon cupcake, and strawberry cupcakes.  They’re allowing us to do this with no fee attached.  As well, we’ll be doing band cupcakes for Cave Singers and Head and the Heart and possibly be doing frost-o-graphs by band members for our customers.

We built a great relationship with David M and Jason L – they’re doing extra work to promote our businesses with offers of free tickets for folks who purchase $50 or more (first 10 a day to do that, thru next Thursday,will get this deal!).  And, they’re adding extra security to help with managing the rowdy behavior outside the gates.  They’re adding more cleaning of porto-potties (no one wants to pee in a puked out bathroom!) -which will prevent less traffic to our café for restroom use (we’ll be closing down our restrooms for the party – and only offering it to customers.)

Feeling really great about it.  The other thing that’s key is that theacts are way more local and appropriate for a 10k attendance (Vs. JackWhite/Dead Weather and MGMT – which draw huge crowds are are more stadium shows than small venue shows).

In addition to working more closely with businesses like Hall’s, organizers also say they plan to donate about $20,000 to local non-profits from the Block Party proceeds. Meinert is sorting out details of money he said the Block Party will make available to improve the “South Capitol Hill” area: 

My desire going in to the meeting is to make as many people happy with the festival as possible. Certain people in the neighborhood hate nightllife and will oppose the festival no matter what format it takes. Others have legitimate concerns that we need to work hard to mitigate. Ultimately, other than having a great, entertaining, fun and safe music festival, I want the event to benefit and support the  South Capitol Hill neighborhood and its unique culture. We’ll be finding new and improved ways to do that every year.

The Capitol Hill Chamber tells us nothing specific has been worked out yet for the effort.

Community support: Organizers were part of a series of meeting to discuss the 2011 festival. While there was a handful of business owners who opposed the expanded festival, the overwhelming majority of residents and business owners who spoke at the meetings expressed support for the challenging urban festival. At one of the meetings, Mike Meckling of Neumos said he employs 70 people full-time for the three-day run of the festival and that his summer business depends on the Block Party’s success. “We will bring thousands of people into the neighborhood,” Meckling said. Meanwhile, some people who live in the area have been provided tickets for themselves and friends to be part of the fun while others have been offered hotel rooms so they can move out of Pike/Pine for the weekend if they choose, Meinert said. The biggest change has been overall communication with meetings planned and communicated more widely. Even before 2010’s expanded event, there were some businesses that felt left out by the growing festival. “Maybe Block Party hasn’t been as involved as they should have been in previous years,” producer Jason Lajeunesse said about not having worked more closely with the Capitol Hill Chamber in the past.

But even one of the most vocal critics of the event says organizers have done a great job this year reaching out and working with area businesses — but even still, she’d like to see the festival moved. Here’s Michelle Cotton of Michelson Properties: “I have to say that the BP organizers put an amazing amount of effort contacting the retailers in the neighborhood for this year (it’s about time!).  Much has been promised but the proof will be in the pudding, right?  Bottom line for us and many residents and retailers is that we would like it moved off Pike – to Pine and Bobby Morris or to Volunteer Park.  We have hired our own off-duty cops that will hopefully protect our tenants and our buildings from harm.  This event is way [too] impactful for people who live and work in the neighborhood.”

Neighborhood business promotions
According to the City of Seattle’s Joanne Orsucci, 51 of 56 businesses in the area have given their support to the three-day schedule.  Local businesses also benefit from increased marketing at the event, Meinert said, as well as free promotion in Capitol Hill-based the Stranger which is partnering to provide ticket services again this year.

  • CHBP organizers have teamed with several local businesses to offer ticket deals for purchases at the neighborhood merchants. Here are some example offers. Each has a limit (ie, first 10 customers) so make sure to check with the merchant prior to purchase:
  • $500 at Retrofit Home, get 3-day pass
  • $50 at 35th North Skateshop, 1-day ticket
  • $50 at Cupcake Royale, 1-day ticket
  • $50 at Elliott Bay Book Co, 1-day ticket
  • $50 at Everyday Music, 1-day ticket
  • Haircut or color at Emerson Salon, 1-day ticket
  • After experiencing 2010 mostly as an outsider to the festivities, Elliott Bay Book Co. is much more integrated in the 2011 event. The big highlight should be Thurston Moore reading poetry from the booklet of his Demolished Thoughts album Friday night.
  • Organizers are still pulling together a roster of sales and deals available to visitors to the neighborhood during the festival. An example will be “15% off smoking accessories for Block Party attendees, and 25% off clothing!” at the Crypt, we’re told.
  • There’s also some savvy counter-programming afoot. Like any good music event, the Block Party can bring out the “bridge and bridge” crowd. Lobby Bar is dedicated to gaying up Block Party with its Backdoor Weekend.
  • Broadway’s TidBit Bistro is planning “a 3-day day&night Happy Hour with $1 wines, $3 wells and $3-5 tapas.” 12th Ave’s Lark is also planning a special menu for the weekend in conjunction with the Party.
  • HG Lodge will be open and cover free all day Saturday to celebrate the 2nd anniversary of the Members 206 club night.
  • Bluebird rolls out a custom Block Party-inspired coffee+stout Battles ice cream flavor.

    Bluebird is teaming up with one of Capitol Hill Block Party‘s 2011 headlining bands, BATTLES for a custom ice cream flavor. BATTLES has always been a staple on Bluebird’s speakers, so when we found out that the first single off their new album is titled “Ice Cream” (vinyl available in 3 flavors) we knew we had to get together. Turns out some of their crew has strolled along Pike Street before, and has even been to Bluebird. They figured that since they’re playing a block party right outside our shop, a neighborhood flavor would be in order. Straight from the mind of the band, BATTLES will be a coffee stout ice cream, with coffee fromCaffé Vita, and stout from Elysian. Of course, the band will be in-store the day of the show, and we’ll be hanging out, listening to the new album. So come say “what’s up,” and try a scoop. 

  • Odd Fellows-based start-up King of the Web is playing CHBP Twitter bingo.
  • The People’s Republic of Komedy is planning on having comedy events on all three nights of Block Party.  On Friday, we have our usual weekly comedy show at 8pm.  Saturday, 9pm, a live version of the local comedy podcast Charisma -2, with stand up and sketch comedy.  Sunday night, 9pm, the Ashley Judd Comedy Hour presents an evening of sketch comedy.  All at the People’s Republic Kafe.  1718 12th Ave.  “
  • High 5 Pie: “We are VERY excited for Block Party here at High 5 Pie!  For those three days, we are doing special and awesome hours:  Friday July 22nd open at our usual 7am and staying open UNTIL 3 AM!  Sat, July 23, open 10am UNTIL 3AM!  Late night pie n coffee for all those rock n rollers…we are really looking forward to this!  Also, on Sunday, looks like we may be hosting a pre and/or post-show Pie Party for one of the labels represented…so, basically, I can’t wait for that weekend to be here!! :)” UPDATE: “Just confirmed, for all those who LOVE the CH Block Party, come to the Pie Party! High 5 Pie + The Pharmacy + Tacocat = Pie Party! Sunday, July 24th, High 5 will host The Pharmacy from 4-6pm before their set, and Tacocat 6-8pm after their set! Pie, merch, DJ sets, + more. Pie Party *hearts* Block Party.”
  • Poquitos is super excited to be smack dab in the middle of Block Party 2011… Poquitos will be 21 and over ONLY for the entire weekend. The menu will be limited and they will have door guys. Rich Fox, one of the managing partners, has a lot of experience with large crowds. He has worked in super busy clubs/bars. “

If you know of a business promotion on the Hill this weekend, let us know in comments and we’ll continue to update this post.

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7 thoughts on “CHSBP: Geek’s guide to the 2011 Capitol Hill Block Party

  1. Please tell me that they are looking to have a stage that is high enough to be visible to that section of people between Via Tribunali & Quinns. It would be nice to actually see the bands we are paying to see.

  2. Please include a description of how the stop east of broadway on union and pike/pine will be impacted–such as gettting off a 2 at the maserati dealership and being able to walk down 12th to teh park? Or do we have to walk multiple blocks along the way giving up our right of way?

    And the garbage that is left over every single night? Will that be collected and disposed of? We let them add a 3rd day (it is a lot of funactioin for the Hill!) so now the organizers MUST prove that they can return the neighborhood to an “as was” condition.

    Love that Jody Hall managed to self-promote (“…the Whiskey MapleBacon cupcake, and strawberry cupcakes.”) I’ll remember that when the cupcake garbage all over the street is not picked up in the following days next week.

    Please take care of the neighborhood–what it gives it can take away!

  3. If you live in the vicinity or work near, you life will not be normal. Like the noise, pot banger music, and the thousands young drunks – or – go elsewhere for the weekend.

    Cheap get away at the gay campground? … this is the weekend to go.

    I support the event, money, jobs, fun for some. But it is not my thing for three days …. and some people complain about the Angels for several hours on Race Day weekend.