Capitol Hill Block Party
July 19-21, 2019 in Seattle, Wash.
By Aarin Wright
Photos by Marcus Shriver, Jake Hanson and Eric Tra
Welcome to your Sunday recap of Capitol Hill Block Party 2019! Your guide: A Topo-Chico-hydrated, ear-plug-prepared, comfy-shoes-wearing 25-year-old.
The goal: Survive the high 80 degree weather, catch the sets of multiple unique artists before screaming out every single lyric at Cuco’s closing act, and avoid being trampled by a mix of intoxicated minors and wealthier-than-thou bros.
If you prefer brief summaries, here it is: My expectations were far exceeded by the impressive caliber of local and touring artists at this year’s Block Party, as well as the overall stage accessibility. Despite frustrations with hose-wielding security guards and the sight restrictions for those 5’2” and below, fun times were had and above all, good music was played.
For the full detailed recount, read on:
My first Block Party in a number of years, I opted to attend only on Sunday and I had visions of calmer crowds, lighter binge drinking, and the opportunity to finally see Cuco live in the flesh after three years of fandom. My wish was granted in roughly every category.
After breezing through the entrance gate at 3 p.m., a rare and blessed occurrence, I headed straight to the mainstage.
UMI kicked off her heat-of-the-day set with a group meditation.
“Can everyone take a deep breath?” she asked. “Breathe in, breathe out…” repeating as her band dove into the soothing, appropriately introspective rhythms of her signature lo-fi R&B sound.
Standing in the center of the mid-sized crowd, clouds of sweet juul smoke were dessert to the over-priced sandwich I’d just wolfed down. Yet all was ok, as UMI taught us how to respirate from our diaphragm, and pulled us through heartbreak, lullabies and the friendzone with smooth vocals and jubilant shout outs to her Seattle high school friends.
UMI’s radiating brightness–strings of yellow flowers, upbeat snaps, and feel-good vibes–was instantly contrasted when Actors took the Vera stage.
Black leather and gothic ambiance oozed from the Vancouver four-piece, and lead singer Jason Corbett called out to the crowd.
“Do you guys know who we are?” was met with many affirmative cheers.
“There was an absence of black t-shirts, so I wasn’t sure,” he clarified, before launching into bass-heavy, distinctly 80s-inspired post-punk. I found Actors to be a wonderful piece in this year’s lineup puzzle, as their cinematic sound was familiar to New Order/The Cure fans peppered in the crowd, yet distinctly different from the 100-plus other acts on the bill.
As if manipulating the world around them, when harmonizing the lyrics “into the shadows,” a deliciously cool breeze passed through, and I befriended the glorious shade granted to patrons of the Vera stage. However the moment passed quickly, as Jack Harlow’s mainstage performance overlapped 15 minutes into Actors’.
“I want to hate him so much…but he’s really good,” was my photographer Marcus’ opinion on the Kentucky rapper, and I have to agree. I started, and ended, the day still pretty much over white rappers. But Harlow’s flow, both lyrically and physically, melodic beats, and buoyant curls were downright charming. His southern drawl even allowed me to chuckle at an ongoing vasectomy joke, and by the time the infectious loop of his final track “SUNDOWN” exploded from the stage, I was leaping on each downbeat with the rest of the audience.
It was during this set I first encountered our trigger-happy security guard/hose master, who’s splash was at first appreciated, but later loathed by me and other attendees. The displeasure appeared obvious by the enormous gap of people in his line of fire, and the overcrowding on the opposite side of the stage, yet further proved the obliviousness of some men to the world around them.
For a debut set together, McCue and bandmates Michelle Nuño (drums) and Katie Hanford (bass) were a tight-knit, well-oiled machine, belting out a brand of heavy folk rock unfamiliar to my ears.
McCue’s voice in particular demanded attention, an intensely controlled timbre, sliding through octaves, moments of acute anger, and poetically observational lyrics, commenting on the crumbling earth around us. While Jason played one of his earliest tracks, “Mistakes,” Marcus sprinted to me from across the room to geek out over his favorite song. After, we got to sit down with the band to discuss the forthcoming album WASTELAND, an interview we’ll debut right here on NadaMucho.com in a few weeks.
Up next was Aminé, a Portland-bred rapper I’ve been itching to see since the release of his 2016 single “Caroline.” And oh how I wish I’d actually seen him. Unfortunately, by the time Aminé took the stage, 20 minutes into his allotted set time, and after a strange DJ mix of hip-hop’s best hits, my line of sight was completely obstructed. The audio from the center of the crowd was quiet and muffled, to the point where I wasn’t even aware when Aminé finally did begin. And fucking hose-man was back, spraying full force into the faces of folks who had just chanted “NO MORE WATER” as loud as possible. The sole highlight was bumping into another woman sporting a white bucket hat, and sharing a moment of fierce fashion choices.
I jumped ship quickly and abandoned what I’m sure was a great performance (check out Marcus’ high-quality shots from the photo pit.) My spirits were impossible to be dampened though, as it was finally time for Cuco.
Back at my one true Block Party love, the Vera stage, I immediately found a spot with good visibility, despite the growing crowd. While numbers of people dispersed off to catch RL Grime’s mainstage set, it was clear I wasn’t alone in my adoration of the LA-based bilingual singer/producer.
Cuco took the stage amid acid-trip visuals and deafening cheers.
“Y’all ready for some new music?” he asked before busting out into “Keeping Tabs,” an introverted druggie anthem from debut album Para Mi.
Only Omar Banos can sing about taking shrooms alone in his bedroom and make it sound romantic. The entire audience swayed like a high school homecoming dance, and multiple couples around me began swapping spit. Throughout the trumpet solos, intense reverb, and sensitive Spanglish lyrics, I too was swooning, as if each track was sung directly to me.
Before gifting us with well-known hits like “Lo Que Siento” and “Amor de Siempre,” Cuco would look out to the crowd and raise an eyebrow, anticipating the roar of recognition. He closed all too soon with the Brazilian-rhythms-meets-trap-beats banger “Bossa No Sé.” I, along with 90 percent of the crowd, screamed out every word of the refrain before drifting off into the still-warm Sunday night.
I was reminded of my favorite, and least favorite, parts of Capitol Hill Block Party. Music discovery is truly championed and slices of diverse genres are available to all who venture in early to discover them. Recognizable big-name acts like Cuco can be fully enjoyed in the intimate setting of smaller stages, but it’s almost a guarantee that you will not be able to see mainstage headliners after the sun goes down. I left sweaty, sunburned, and satisfied, eager to return in the future (though probably only for Sunday’s set again, because I don’t believe I could handle any larger crowds.)
Check out more of Marcus’s CHBP 2019 Day 3 photos below as well as shots from Eric Tra and Jake Hanson of additional performers including Sloucher (#41for2017), PSA (now called ARCHIE), Chris King & the Gutterballs, Kung Foo Grip, STRFKR and RL Grime. Then head over to our Flickr page for our our full album of photos from throughout CHBP weekend.
CHBP 2019 Day 2 Recap: Everyone is Batshit Crazy for Lizzo
CHBP Day 1 Recap: When in Doubt, Go to the Cha Cha