Afterthoughts on Capitol Hill Block Party 2011

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Capitol Hill Block Party 2011 Photo by Jason Tang

A few days have passed since the annual weekend of summer music debauchery that is the Capitol Hill Block Party and during that time I’ve been able to reflect a bit on my experience at CHBP 11. And now that I’ve had some quality time to process what went down last weekend I want to share my final thoughts on this year’s Capitol Hill Block Party

The first thing to know about Capitol Hill Block Party is that it comes as advertised, which means there’s an extreme emphasis on the party. Sure it’s technically a music festival since the entire event is based around live music, but the real fun of CHBP comes from its summertime party vibe.

Capitol Hill Block Party is an event where you get hang out with friends, enjoy cocktails and beers in the sun and most of the time the music is an afterthought. Or at least it can be that way if you allow it. For example, a buddy and I ducked into Moe Bar in a failed attempt to avoid the long line to get into an overcrowded Neumos and we walked into a mini dance party.

There were groups of people dancing in Moe Bar who paid to be at Block Party and weren’t out enjoying any of the bands that were on stage at the time  (Best Coast, Teen Daze, Virgin & Austra) and that’s perfectly okay because it was clear they were having a pretty damn good time. One of the great things about CHBP is that whether you’re there for the music, the party, or just there because it’s something to do outdoors in the summer, chances are you’re going to have a good time.

Some other thoughts about CHBP 11:

  • Speaking of boozing it up, the festival is an all-ages event and the Vera Project stage had some of the best music of the weekend, but CHBP really isn’t geared towards the younger set that can’t make it into the beer garden. The Neumos stage is entirely 21+ as is the Cha Cha, which eliminates half the musical options offered.
  • Also on the alcohol front, some arcane state liquor law makes it so you can purchase alcohol at Neumos but you can’t bring that alcohol into the beer garden (which is adjacent to Neumos and serves liquor, beer and wine). You also can’t take any alcohol you purchase at the beer garden into Neumos. This is extremely bizarre and dumb since you have to be 21+ to enter either area and the entrance and exit to Neumos is located inside the beer garden.
  • While the state’s odd liquor laws left me scratching my head, one thing CHBP got right this year were the food options. Local food trucks were brought in to offer up their goods (hello Skillet) which made for some tasty treats. Pizza seemed to the popular choice with Pagliacci’s, Big Mario’s and Via Tribunali available to choose from. There was also Bluebird ice cream, Trophy cupcakes and other delicious culinary choices.
  • An increased security presence was noticeable. There seemed to be more cops than I remember from past years and event staff security was monitoring the rooftops and balconies of the surrounding buildings for safety purposes.
  • The main stage had the most consistently excellent music but it wasn’t without its problems. The crowd is left facing the sun for a few hours in the afternoon which makes it very difficult to actually see what’s happening on stage. Also, the sound levels are pretty crummy in the beer garden. I was standing directly under a set of speakers and could barely hear anything coming out of them. I’m sure the lowered noise level has to do with some sort of city noise ordinance, but rock concerts are supposed to be loud so turn it up please.
  • Neumos and Cha Cha are both great venues for music, but they get overcrowded too quickly and can make for a very uncomfortable and possibly unsafe environment. I purposefully stayed away from both venues as much as possible throughout the weekend because it felt too crowded and congested and I was worried about my safety due to the overcrowding and the oppressive heat.

Oh yeah, there was music at Block Party too. For the most part, Block Party has never really been a festival topheavy with big-name headliners. Past headliners include Sonic Youth, The Hold Steady, Spoon and Atmosphere. This year was no different with the caliber of headliners was perhaps the lowest its been in a while with not many big names on the bill at all. But as mentioned earlier a lot of folks don’t go to Block Party for the music and the value as far as number of quality bands per day for the price of the ticket is a steal compared to other festivals.

As I’ve mentioned before, nothing really wowed me as far as names on the bill were concerned and this allowed me to play the role of the casual music fan instead of the hip music critic. And you know what? I ended up enjoying my experience with the music quite a bit because there weren’t many bands I simply had to see and it gave me the flexibility to leave the festival before the headliners on two out of the three days without feeling like I missed much. And as usual, Block Party was a great showcase of local talent with bands like Virgin Islands, Craft Spells, Sol, My Goodness and many others playing memorable sets that will build their local fanbases.

Overall it was another great year for Capitol Hill Block Party with some positive tweaks that made this year’s festival a bit different from past years. Hopefully next year they will think about moving the main stage closer to the shade, consider booking some bigger-name talent (although that will increase ticket prices) and maybe be a bit more strict on the Nuemos and Cha Cha capacity.

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Travis Hay

About Travis Hay

Travis Hay is a professional music journalist who has spent the past 14 years documenting and enjoying Seattle's diverse music scene. In 2009 he established Guerrilla Candy and is currently the site's editor and publisher. He has written for various media outlets including MSN Music, the Seattle-Post Intelligencer, Seattle Weekly, Crosscut.com and others and was the founder and editor of defunct music site Ear Candy.