The year is 2018 and grunge in Seattle is dead. In it’s place is an EDM/electric regime. The kids have traded in their flannels and guitars for computers and drum machines and I’m trying not to feel personally victimized. Growing up in Seattle, I was heavily influenced by all things Sub Pop and Nirvana and was hoping to return to those roots this year at Capitol Hill Block Party – a three day music festival in what is the most Portlandia-esque part of the city. The last time I went to the festival was in 2010. The lineup that year included MGMT, !!!, The Dead Weather, Fruit Bats, and Beach Fossils, as well as a strong contingent of local acts ranging from hip-hop and rap (a pre-Thrift Shop Macklemore made a bottom bill appearance) to folk and garage rock. A lot has changed in 8 years time. The lineup remains eclectic and incredibly diverse (almost confusingly so), the local acts continue to shine, but now there are people pressing buttons on a laptop in the headlining slots.
Capitol Hill Block Party is definitely a smaller scale festival compared to Seattle staples Bumbershoot and Sasquatch (RIP). It exists within 6 blocks in the Capitol Hill neighborhood giving the residents who fall within the grounds free balcony seats to the Mainstage shows (whether they want them or not). This seems to be pretty prized real estate, though, as people were hanging out the windows at all times and throwing otter pops to the groundlings below. Spanning three days and five stages, both indoor and out, it hosts acts that have just started getting local radio airplay to top 40 pop princesses like Betty Who.
Unfortunately, I missed the first day of block party which included local standouts Dude York and MONSTERWATCH, as well as Flasher, who will be on tour with Shame this fall, and Alvvays. Personally, I am much more into that kind of lineup and would have preferred that theme to carry through more strongly on days 2 and 3, but it is reassuring to see that different shades of guitar rock and indie pop are still being represented in some capacity. Day 2 started off strong, though, with local indie rockers, Spirit Award, on the mainstage. They have an expansive quality to their sound – rolling, dippy, trippy, with some psych moments, but it’s punctuated with strong percussion to break through the haze. I will hand it to block party, though, while I wasn’t always into the style of music being featured, the lineup did encourage me to scope out genres I wouldn’t necessarily seek out otherwise. There were some great R&B/soul bands like Busty and the Bass and The Dip, as well as soul pop princess, Gavin Turek (who I want to be when I grow up if we’re being completely honest). Block Party also does a great job at showcasing the best of the Pacific Northwest. I was constantly impressed by the local acts like Hibou, Sundries, and Great Grandpa. Pitted against the same time slot as America’s new favorite boy band, Brockhampton, Great Grandpa still managed to pack the Vera Stage audience for their closing set on Saturday night. Grunge pop at it’s finest, Great Grandpa is the Seattle band we all want and need. Anthemic crowd favorites “Teen Challenge” and “Favorite Show” balance cathartic release and catchy hooks with such skill that I’d be surprised if they don’t become the new classics.
Sunday was not as fun-filled as the day before. It started off strong with Bully on the mainstage, but petered off pretty quickly after that. There was a confusing Tennessee takeover in Neumos, one of the indoor venues, that was sponsored by Jameson Whiskey. With country music festival, Watershed, right around the corner and a Seattle staple for frat boys and aspiring Bachelor contestants alike, it seemed an odd choice to feature the genre so strongly when it’s target demo was probably not in attendance. It did provide solace to some of the 30-something block party attendees, though, who didn’t want to sweat it out by the mainstage dancing with the teenagers as Cashmere Cat pressed buttons and head-bobbed to a track featuring the not present Ariana Grande. I caught La Fonda at the Barboza stage, down the stairs from Nuemos, and got my indie pop fix. Another Seattle band, they skew more surfy and dreamy and could easily slip into an Urban Outfitters playlist rotation. The night closed out with Two Feet on the Vera Stage and Father John Misty taking it home on the mainstage. Fitting that Two Feet closed out the festival’s smaller stage as his sound was representative of a merger between things old and new – guitar fronted soul-infused indie “rock” backed by electronic beats. And last, but not least, Father John Misty closed things out once and for all. Everyone was smoking weed. Everyone was in love. It was a pretty perfect way to wrap things up.
The festival was not what I expected in ways both good and bad. I’m eternally grateful for the platform the festival gives to some really fucking good local bands and how they champion for their success. There seems to be a very strong and impassioned community supporting Seattle music and I couldn’t be happier about that. While I wish there were changes in what genres and artists were highlighted in the festival, unfortunately it does come down to what draws a crowd and sells tickets. Sadly, that’s not always guitar rock n’ roll. The diversity of genres was great, but for my taste, I hope they return closer back to their indie roots.