Block Party faces its future in a developing Capitol Hill

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(Image: Alex Crick for CHS)

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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.”

(Jim Bennett/photobakery for CHBP with permission to CHS)

(Jim Bennett/photobakery for CHBP with permission to CHS)

Residents come and go mostly as they please (Image: CHS)

Residents come and go mostly as they please (Image: CHS)

Freeloaders no longer welcome (Image: CHS)

Freeloaders no longer welcome (Image: CHS)

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(Jim Bennett/photobakery for CHBP with permission to CHS)

(Jim Bennett/photobakery for CHBP with permission to CHS)

Lajeunesse gets a hug (Image: CHS)

Lajeunesse gets a hug (Image: CHS)

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.”


Preview? Here are our “pics from the crowd” for 2013: Day One | Day Two | Day Three

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.

HistoryOur 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.”

Swenson agreed.

“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.

Future facing
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.”

32 thoughts on “Block Party faces its future in a developing Capitol Hill

  1. Pingback: Block Party faces its future in a developing Capitol Hill – CHS Capitol Hill Seattle | Love and Blame

  2. …interesting. I live on 11th and I make sure to be out of town on the block party weekend as the few years that i’ve stayed it’s been hell.

    • Ditto, this is my must-do camping weekend, though it’ll be interesting to find a place that isn’t on fire this year :(

      I live just outside the fences and it’s hell for that weekend. People looking for parking (and getting REALLY aggressive about it), puke and other bodily fluids/solids on the sidewalk because the porta potties aren’t always clean/accessible, trash heaps everywhere and various things getting vandalized. I have to pay $60/day for a block party? This ain’t no stinkin’ block party – those are fun for the actual residents of the neighborhood. Let’s call a spade a spade. It’s a music festival, plain and simple.

      • Pike-Pine is a vandalized, litter-strewn, at times unsafe area even when there is no Block Party. It’s a pox on an otherwise-great neighborhood. Maybe some of the development and “gentrification” will help to civilize it, but I doubt it.

  3. I can see where it could be a hassle if you lived there. But it’s just like Seafair and the Blue Angels: people like it, and it’s part of the community. Grin and bear it, or leave town for the weekend.

  4. As the article quotes, it’s the only place in the US where you need a ticket to enter some piece of the public street. It’s not like Seafair, where I can keep walking wherever I want, get coffee or have dinner. Of course there’s a lot more people near the parade area, but that’s it.

    During the block party, I can’t go freely around. It’s a hassle for everyone except those 2,000 people attending. It’s basically a business, not a party. Decorate it all you want, it’s a private event on public streets.

  5. This is a disaster for most residents of Capitol Hill for the entertainment of a few. At minimum they should be allowed to violate the noise ordinance and it should end at 10:00 PM. Also, they shouldn’t be able to restrict access to businesses on Pike Street who don’t want to participate in this.

    • To say it’s “a disaster for most residents of Capitol Hill ” is completely overblown. Right, sure there’s more noise than usual for one weekend out of a year, and the Pike/Pine corridor is shut down, but these are inconveniences. Not a “disaster”.

  6. remember when this was only on pine and just the local hillies knew about it? now everyone from renton to snohomish shows up. glad i live on the east side of the hill.

  7. I live on 11th and usually have plans to be out of town during block party. My plans for this year just fell through. Ugh. I saw a picture above of a person with a “resident” wrist band. What does this mean? What does it get you? I always thought residents should be given some sort of compensation for putting up with this. Not like I want to attend, but what about coupons to some of these business owners restaurants and/or bars? At least for the piles of puke and garbage I have to navigate to get my coffee in the morning…as I will be barricading myself inside after a certain hour due to not wanting to put up with any crap.

    • CHBP rewards residents living within the festival gates free passes. Which is a “thank you” of sorts for putting up with the inconvenience of the festival…I mean who would want to have to pay to get to the front door of their apartment?

      • Thanks for the clarification. Someone else pointed that out on this thread. I know people who live within the block party gates. I, fortunately, do not. I’m about a block away. But am still impacted with the 30,000 people coming into the neighborhood. I guess I should take advantage and rent out my two parking spaces for $500 each a day…heh :)

  8. I’m torn. the CHBP has definitely outgrown my interest (loved it when it was small and featured primarily local bands), but I appreciate that the production team has taken to heart the valid criticisms around trash and non-music-centric businesses. It’s difficult for me to side with people moving into brand new buildings complaining about the noise and activity of the area (isn’t that “vibrant nightlife” why most people move to those Pike/Pine-area spots?). I haven’t attended the CHBP for many years, it makes getting to and from my home a right PITA, and I frequently want to kick the attendees who behave badly … but I would be sad to lose the festival. Same way I’d hate to lose the many myriad Pride festivals that shut down different blocks in the area the last weekend in June.

  9. Capitol Hill Block Party is decontextualized, boring, predictable, historically unaware, and expensive. It’s perfect for 2014 Capitol Hill. Go for it–who could possibly care anymore?

  10. I’m hardly a new resident having lived on 11th for over 13 years now. Agreed, If I were to move to this area now I would probably know what I am getting myself into.

  11. The CHBP was the bane of my summer existance for the last 7 years living on 11th. They never offered affected residents access/passes until that last few years even though we got go listen to it whether we wanted to or not. Unlike Seafair, it’s on your front doorstep for three whole days with music blasting all day and well into the night. The very early setup (the lovely slamming of chainlink fencing at 3 am) and the late night tear down disrupted any sleep you’d try to sneak in. The extension of the event to Sunday was the final straw for me. Earlier when it was just Friday/Saturday, I could at least recoup on Sunday after no sleep the other two days. But with the extension to Sunday meant that tear down went well into the early morning Monday, making it a very unpleasant start of a work week. The CHBP and the increasing nightlife traffic, and the disregard for local residents in the 11th Avenue area over the last 7 years finally drove me to sell my place and move elsewhere.

    • I’m feeling similarly – it is one thing when the weekend noise is drunk people having a night out and the obnoxious DJ across the street, but there is this horrible reality of CHBP that I just can’t stomach, living a block away from the main stage. It’s that it is permitted, and despite how much I give to my neighborhood, CHBP gives me nothing but a lack of sleep on a weekend I have to work, and a plethora of drunk 15-year-olds in cut off shorts on my doorstep (really).

      And my rent is cheap… Next year someone in one of the new developments will be paying four times what I am for the privilege.

      • With 30,000+ people attending at $61.11 to $146.84 a head I think these promoters should be giving money to residents so they can stay somewhere else during the chaos. As I stated above, I still don’t know what these “resident” armbands are for. It seems like some sort of compensation should be given to people that live in the direct line of fire for this and own their property and pay high taxes. These guys have got to be making a lot of money.

        • …or, perhaps, giving back to the neighborhood in the form of garbage receptacles, dog waste bag stations, occasional sidewalk cleaning, or replacement of damaged trees along Pike Street.

        • The resident armbands get you access for the duration of the event. I usually handed them out as tips to the local restaurant staff/baristas who weren’t included in the CHBP zone but suffered due to less than optimal customer flow that weekend. I never really liked any of the bands/music they show cased, so I had no desire to use my access. One year they half heartedly offered to put folks up in a hotel for the duration of the event, but it’s the principle that matters. If this was a free event, lasted one day/night, and celebrated the neighborhood community as a block party should…I’d be all for it. But let’s call a spade a spade, it’s a full blown multi-day music festival, not for neighborhood locals, and should be treated as such and held in appropriate facilities to support it.

          • Thanks for the clarification about the resident armbands. I do not want to attend any of the shows so it’s not something I would use.

    • Having the mainstage show go ’til 10 pm (probably a bit later) is really too much–Sunday night is not really “the weekend” for most of us. I could never figure out how they got away with that one. 5 or even 7 pm would have been a less douchey time to end…

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