Run the Streets: Capitol Hill Block Party’s Lasting Impact on a Growing City

Words by Chris Zimmerman

Few events can claim a shelf life of more than 10 years, especially in the ever-changing world of music festivals. Now in its 20th year, Seattle’s Capitol Hill Block Party is pushing forward full-steam, continuing to welcome crowds of excited fans with fresh, awe-inspiring lineups year after year. What began in 1997 as a way to engage the community and bring people to Capitol Hill has now evolved into a three-day music and arts festival, drawing huge crowds and big name headliners. Centered on the cross streets of 10th and Pike, CHBP features indoor and outdoor stages, partnering with local venues, bars and vendors. Over time, the infamous Capitol Hill Block Party has become a fixture in the Northwest’s music and arts world.

Crystal Castles – photo by Eric Tra

The blend of music and art orchestrated by CHBP offers a mix of festival vibes and typical Capitol Hill weekend activities—bar hopping, thick crowds and wild music experiences. While rapid growth and an extended timeline often prove detrimental for certain festivals, the organizers of CHBP have been able to stay true to their original intent. Drawing in national acts while acting as an incubator for local groups like Macklemore and Fleet Foxes, who have since gone onto wider fame, CHBP continues to set the stage for tastemakers across the region.

Left: The Joy Formidable; Top: STRFKR Spacemen; Bottom: MØ – photos by Jake Hanson

Olivia Gouveia, the Associate Producer for CHBP, spends her time leading up to the festival coordinating with local business partners, dialing in sponsorships and juggling a number of other important factors. Now in her sixth year with the festival, Olivia feels that Block Party’s original ethos has remained intact. “Then and now, our mission has been to keep members of our community—as well as local artists involved—a priority. Year after year, we love seeing local businesses doing things inside the festival, and local bands go from playing the Vera stage to headlining national and international tours.”

Thunderpussy – photo by Jake Hanson

Local acts have long been an important aspect of CHBP, and to this day, they still make up nearly half the lineup. From national headliners to up-and-coming local bands, CHBP strikes a fine, curated harmony. This balance is a thoughtful consideration, because as Olivia admits, “this festival would not exist without the thriving music community in Seattle. It would also not exist in its current form without the touring headlining acts that often draw a larger crowd.”

Left: Gaythiest; Top: The Thermals; Bottom: The Grizzled Mighty – photos by Christine Mitchell

With this balance between local and national acts playing such a key role in Block Party’s outcome, the team behind the festival is just as adamant about fostering the right local talent as it is for bringing in headliners. Olivia describes the event’s ideal booking scenario being “a local act that has been growing and playing the festival for years, coming to the point where their success has brought them to headlining or supporting the headliner on the main stage.” This has happened multiple times throughout the festival’s history, having featured the likes of Macklemore, Fleet Foxes, Beat Connection, Dave B, and a number of other groups who have risen to national fame.

CHVRCHES – photo by Jake Hanson

Naturally, everything CHBP-related takes place in the middle one of Seattle’s densest, fastest-growing urban environments—Capitol Hill. Community involvement has always been an important aspect of the festival, but with the neighborhood’s growth, coordination has turned into a much larger job. Olivia describes how “correspondence began with the few neighboring businesses that grew up with us.” Since then, things have grown to be more complex. “We are now in the middle of one of the most densely populated neighborhoods in the US,” she noted.

Left: unknown; Top: TV on the Radio; Bottom: unknown – photos by Eric Tra

In some circles, multiple days of live music and brow-raising headliners seem like they would make music festivals more popular than ever, but Olivia claims festival attendance has actually experienced a great decline in the past few years. “Many of the nearby festivals have been hit hard,” she says. So what makes Capitol Hill Block Party unique and able to maintain its growth, while others have had a harder time? “A unique aspect of CHBP, which has assisted in keeping our festival sold out year after year, is we are in an urban area where so much is going on inside and outside the gates. You can dance in the sun all day, then easily get home to your own bed each night.”

Iska Dhaaf – photo by Jake Hanson

With the close proximity to the city, along with varied, progressive lineups and continued support from local businesses and the community, CHBP seems to be on a path to continue its long-standing success. And while Olivia is tight-lipped in regards to the future of the festival, she did have some final thoughts on how to best enjoy the experience. “Stay hydrated and look out for a few last-minute additions to this year’s fest!”

Wolfgang Fuck – photo by Christine Mitchell

Our gracious thanks go out to Olivia for taking time out of a busy pre-festival schedule to speak to us. If CHBP is in your sights for 2017, be sure to check out the Wayward Wandering Shop that will be open in Sole Repair during festival hours and for the week following. Join us for nightly events with our friends at Roark, Impossible Project, Growlerwerks, Tanner Goods, Yeti, High Brew Coffee, Traeger Grills and more! Follow the Facebook event for updates and news from the Wandering Shop.

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