Capitol Hill Block Party
July 20-22, 2018
By Nick Anderson
Help me: I think I’m falling in love with the Capitol Hill Block Party (again).
That may sound odd coming now, in 2018, 22 years after the festival made its debut. It may also seem odd given the disturbing news about long-time Seattle nightlife entrepreneur David Meinert’s lengthy period of sexual misconduct. And it may sound even odder knowing that I’ve previously described the event as “too much vomit.” But hear me out.
Yes, CHBP had a rough patch for a couple of years. And yes, as the neighborhood it represents has changed over the years it has changed too. It’s easy for those of us involved in the local music scene to long for “how it used to be” and complain about the insurgence of “tech bros,” but how many people purporting that rhetoric have actually been in recent years? I had a great time when I reviewed the first night of Capitol Hill Block Paty two years ago so I gladly agreed to return for the kick-off to 2018. What I found was an event that was well organized and carefully curated… and a hell of a lot of fun.
I got to Pike St. a little late because traffic was moving slower than molasses in January (seriously, I bailed on my bus on Broadway near Trendy Wendy’s and that thing never even came close to catching me). But I made it in time to catch a few songs from Hardly Art’s Dude York as they broke in the Main Stage. The local three-piece provided the day’s first ray of sunshine, their infectious garage pop drawing the crowd into the festival and warming everyone up (and the fact that at the end of their set they threw out otter pops probably didn’t hurt).
Next, I headed into Neumos to check out Monsterwatch (#41for2017) and then head downstairs to Barboza to find Pink Boa absolutely slaying in front a respectably-sized audience for such an early time slot. All three bands were great. Opening a festival is always hard work and each group played well and gave their respective audiences a reason to show up on time.
Something struck me during the end of Pink Boa’s set and it was this: The Seattle music scene runs deep. Now, I know that’s a rather self-evident truth to point out, but bear with me. I worked at Cafe Racer with a guy who used to play in Monsterwatch. I first saw them a year ago at a house show. The host of that show? My buddy Brian O’Brian, the guitarist of Pink Boa, who is also a Racer alum. Meanwhile, my bands have performed with Dude York a handful of times and I’m sure they’ll be sharing a stage with either Pink Boa or Monsterwatch in the near future. Or all of them together. Preferably at the Tractor (thank me later for this kick-ass bill).
Anyway, what I’m getting at is that Block Party may be doing the best of all the PNW fests at giving local talent a shot. Organizers carefully pull in under-the-radar national talent too; D.C.’s Flasher brought some sweet harmonies and fantastic pop sensibilities and Chicago’s FACS made sure the sun didn’t shine too bright with their angsty shoe-gazing. But the day truly belonged to the locals.
Which brings me to The Black Tones. I love catching a band when they are poised to explode and, believe me, this crew can do it. It’s almost sickening how cool The Black Tones are. Their sound is perfect, a blend of late 70s Detroit punk melded to old Southern rock n roll. And my oh may can singer/guitarist Eva Walker play. She’s got that nasty, mid-to-late 60s wah pedal down cold. It’s a pleasure to see it done properly. I walked out fully understanding why The Black Tones made Nada’s 2017 list of local bands to watch. Go see them at venues like Barboza while you still can.
Speaking of Barboza, normally I’m not a fan of the basement venue’s layout but in the context of Block Party it really works. Early in the day it’s possible to make it from the Main Stage to the Vera Stage into Neumos and down to Barboza in minutes, allowing you to see all the openers in a relatively short period of time. Of course this changes as the night goes on and the fest fills up but for the first couple hours it’s nice to just wander, never getting too bogged down by crowds or inconvenient stage sites.
This freedom of mobility and access to emerging local talent holds tremendous import for long time Block Party attendees. I remember when you could just walk in. And I remember buying zines from crust punks whose “stall” was a blanket spread out in front of the old Comet. I saw Dead Moon and that’s why “It’s OK” is still one of my favorite songs to this day. I saw Dan Savage introduce The Catheters and I remember loving him for writing some column that let me know I wasn’t weird or sick or wrong for all the “sex things” I was trying to process (which in retrospect were pretty tame, but still). I’ve played the fucking thing twice. The bassist from Against Me! yelled “What’s Up?!” to my band one year. I’m almost positive that the first time I saw the Hold Steady was there and an old friend of mine had his arm around my shoulder and was screaming in my ear. Two years ago, when I reviewed this thing for the first time, I was half drunk and randomly introduced to the doorman of *pickajointoncaphill*. Apparently, he used to host. CHBP after party at his apartment right around the Comet for years. I had never met this cat before but he sincerely apologized for not being able to attend because it was too expensive.
I suppose what this really boils down to is that I’m dancing around the elephant that has been hunkered down in our collective Block Party room. So I’ll just face it. I believe the women who have accused David Meinert of rape and sexual assault. That he is deeply ingrained in the Seattle music and restaurant culture is unfortunate, but ultimately inconsequential. I’ve debated whether to address this for a number of reasons but every time I follow those internal debates to their conclusions I find them to be based on fear and supported by cowardice. And I don’t think that cowardice can be tolerated anymore, especially when a coward occupies the highest position of power in our country. I’d love to be able to focus on the music, atmosphere, crowd, and artists of CHBP but to do so without acknowledging that a significant figure in regards to the neighborhood this festival represents (and our local culture in general) does a disservice to all victims of sexual abuse. Seattle is the greatest music scene in America. It’s time to recognize that and start acting like it, on all fronts.
None of what we do exists in a vacuum. Monsters have stalked our streets and stages before and unfortunately they will almost certainly do so again. But those very same streets and stages belong to us and they always have. Keep a sharp eye, a loud voice and an open heart. Support your friends, chin up, and fight the power. Stay Seattle family. Stand up for the rights of everyone. And keep falling in love with the Capitol Hill Block Party.
Lots of great local photographers contributed to our massive CHBP 2018 Flickr album. On Friday, Andy Perkovich, Casey Brevig, Eric Tra and Rachel Bennett covered most of the action including highly entertaining and visual sets from locals Monsterwatch and Scott Yoder. Here’s a taste of Friday’s action.