Capitol Hill Block Party wants to keep the heart of the neighborhood alive as so much of it changes.
In its 18th year, the weekend event which closes down six blocks of Pike/Pine and draws upward of 30,000 music lovers remains an annual subject of excitement from fans and the rarest of summer musical festival beasts: a three-day commercial concert venue carved out of a living, breathing city neighborhood.
With A$AP Rocky, Chromeo and Spoon headlining this year, rock fest tourists and plenty of locals will once again swarm the cordoned-off area in the heart of Pike/Pine starting July 25 for a weekend of sights, sounds and selling your soul for a parking space.
Only in America
Owner Jason Lajeunesse has not needed the Capitol Hill Block Party to make his mark on the neighborhood. CHS dubbed him one of the ‘Princes of Pike/Pine’ — along with business partner and frequent collaborator David Meinert — due to his extensive stakes in many nearby restaurants and venues, including Neumos and Lost Lake.
After spending nine years planning the Block Party’s music as co-producer, Lajeunesse took ownership of the event in 2012.
He believes Capitol Hill Block Party is a product of the neighborhood which gives it its name.
“I think it’s important to promote the neighborhood year round,” he said. “The Block Party sort of grew with the local and regional bands. As the bands got bigger, so did the Block Party.”
With four indoor venues, two outdoor stages and dozens of restaurants and bars in the area, the Block Party has the distinction of being the only event of its kind in America.
“To our knowledge Capitol Hill Block Party is unique as the only ticketed three-day street festival in the country,” Chris Swenson, program manager with the Seattle Office of Film and Music, said. “It’s a little like scooping up half of Sasquatch and plopping it in the middle of a neighborhood for a weekend. The city’s primary concern is safety and, because of the unique layout of the event, each year safety officials and agencies spend many months establishing organizer requirements and emergency plans specific to the site.”
For Lajeunesse, the Block Party represents a way to showcase the neighborhood and music of the region. In his long involvement he has seen that mission come to fruition as local groups like Odesza climb the lineup.
“Honestly, I don’t think there are any events in the country like us,” he said.
Getting down to business
Attendance for the festival has not fallen as it reaches the age of maturity and neither have the business concerns from owners in and around the staging area. After a particularly challenging 2010 event for some local businesses, city officials asked Block Party organizers to work more closely local business owners and neighborhood residents before issuing a permit. Interaction has continued to grow between the Block Party and the Capitol Hill business community.
“It’s a complex issue,” Michael Wells, executive director of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce, said of the Block Party. “It’s part and parcel of the fabric of Capitol Hill and incredibly important to the tourism dollars.”
Of the chamber’s 300 members, about 76 of them are within the Pike/Pine Corridor. Though some restaurants and bars benefit from the surge of people in the last weekend of July, Wells said not everyone profits from the event.
“It’s more difficult for the retail shops,” he said. “More than likely, you are not going to buy a couch down there on that day.”
Listen: 2014 artist Spotify playlist or the official online radio feed here:
CHS in 2014: 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. Take note that previous additions of a curated art exhibition and a Sunday family day appear to have been scaled out of the planning for 2014.
Tickets: 3-day passes are still available via capitolhillblockparty.com — $146.84 with fees, etc. Single-day tickets are now $61.11 online. This year, you can buy a two-day pass for $106.05. If they don’t sell out, tickets will be available for $60 at the gate. There are also various local businesses giving away tickets as prizes or offering them as a gift with purchase. Check out the CHBP Facebook page to find the latest promotions.
Weather: The skies again seem to favor the Block Party. Forecast currently calls for three days of clear sunshine with highs in the low 80s.
2014 line-up: Daily Schedule
A$AP Rocky // Spoon // Chromeo // Matt and Kim // The War on Drugs // ODESZA // Budos Band // A$AP Ferg // Dum Dum Girls // RAC // Beat Connection // The Julie Ruin // Star Slinger // Sol // Robert Delong // Tanlines // xxyyxx // Man or Astro-man? // Angel Olsen // Poolside // EMA // Cymbals // Slow Magic // Small Black // HOLYCHILD // Shy Girls // Hundred Waters // Pillar Point // Raz Simone // Iska Dhaaf // The Chain Gang of 1974 // Wild Ones // Kithkin // Cataldo // Weed // Special Explosion // Childbirth // Katie Kate // Tangerine // Sandrider // Otieno Terry // Lemolo // Natasha Kimeto // Pollens // Ayron Jones & The Way // Constant Lovers // Shaprece // Gaytheist // Country Lips // Fox and the Law // Ricky and Mark // Dub Thompson // Audacity // Manatee Commune // Hand of the Hills // Tennis Pro // Dude York // Tom Eddy // Wimps // Pony Time // The Pharmacy // Vox Mod // Deadkill // Eternal Bad // Trash Fire // Grave Babies // Cabana // Tacos! // MonogamyParty // Theories // Sex Blister // Great Goddamn // Bad Motivators // The Beach Boy // Sashay // Blood Drugs // Power Bottom // Wolfgang Fuck // So Pitted // Stickers // Haunted Horses // The Dip // Paralyzer // Murmurs
Lajeunesse has worked with the chamber to ease any tensions through communication and said producers subsidize some of the business lost to retail shops over the weekend.
“We make sure we can do the best we can to make sure the businesses feel good about it and are benefitting,” Lajeunesse said.
For the past three years, Wells said the Block party has donated money to the chamber to fund some winter events and a retail walking map.
“They have given us that money to help the retail population,” he said. “We also have a conversation beforehand to help the Block Party and generally have a meeting afterwards to see how things have gone. We feel it is our responsibility.”
Lajeunesse does not downplay the interconnected nature of the Block Party and nearby businesses.
“It’s a big symbiotic relationship,” Lajeunesse said. “Most of these people are my neighbors.”
Because of that connection, both with his personal business interests and the event’s place on the streets, he wants to keep the organization ahead of any conflict of interest.
“We’re asking these questions early,” he said. “It’s on the small business owners and community members to make their voices heard.”
Swenson said the city closely monitors the interaction between the Block Party and Capitol Hill’s business community.
“The business and neighborhood landscape is changing, and throwing a massive three-day event into the middle of everything is very impactful,” he said. “[C]ommunication is key to the success of the Block Party and the neighbors – without it, the Block Party cannot happen. With the continuing changes in the neighborhood, I believe the city will continue to hear legitimate concerns about the impact of the Block Party, and I expect the communication between the Block Party and the neighborhood will continue to increase.”
Though the city has increased its demand of the Block Party to ensure future permitting, both parties say the partnership is working.
“I think the city has extended a lot of resources,” Lajeunesse said. “Chris Swenson has been very supportive and made sure that we are covering all the bases. I think the relationship is really good.”
“Jason has a great understanding of the complexities of making this event at this location run successfully, and is always open to creative ideas for improvement,” he said. “It’s been a good fit.”
The ongoing conversation with business owners and the community has allowed Block Party organizers to see how to best serve attendees and the public at large.
“I feel like ever year we learn from the last,” Lajeunesse said. “I come away with different observations of what I want it to be.”
For instance, this year’s festivities include more food offerings from participating food trucks, an expanded 11th Ave stage, and better lighting.
Capitol Hill’s physical changes call to question how it will alter culturally and whether space will remain for the Block Party in years to come. Within the Block Party’s boundaries alone, five sites are currently under construction with another two planned for the future. Luckily for Lajeunesse, he believes developers understand the character of Capitol Hill.
“Developers have been very cooperative and responsive,” he said. “They’re cautious about trying to go against the grain.”
Due to the Block Party’s unique setting, growth is out of the question.
“We’re not going to get any bigger,” Lajeunesse said. “There’s only so much geographic space. It just depends on how much we can expand.”
Wells believed the established teamwork would continue, though admitted the difficulty associated with street closures, parking, construction and density.
“As Capitol Hill grows, there are lots of things we need to think about,” he said. “It’s a challenge, there’s no question about it. But I feel much better about the Block Party than I did say, five years ago.”
As the lay of the land shifts, it limits the flexibility of the festival.
“There’s only so much we can do to change,” Lajeunesse said. “I think as long as the neighborhood is committed to staying local, we’ll be here.”
On the city side of things, Swenson said it recognizes the both the culturally importance of the Block Party and hurdles the future may present.
“Like Austin’s SXSW festival, Block Party has become a part of Seattle’s unique personality, a part of its being,” he said. “We expect and hope some form of the Block Party would continue like they have. That said, it is impossible to say whether or not the Block Party would be permitted at this location that many years down the road.”
He said if the event “outgrows” or if the city’s Special Events Committee finds it inappropriate at the present location, the Block Party could face requirements for “significant changes.”
Should the area change enough to disrupt the event’s permitting and plans, Lajeunesse remains committed to holding the Block Party.
“I would clearly look at another location in Capitol Hill and if not, I would look in another neighborhood,” he said, quickly referring to this as a “worst case scenario.”
He acknowledged that Capitol Hill remains the heart of the Block Party, giving the event a rich history and a community around which to build.
“That’s where it grew out of,” he said. “We’ve been there for 18 years and you can’t imagine it anywhere else.”