The Block Party's great, but it could be greater

The Capitol Hill Block Party is so much better organized than other events or would-be events of its type (e.g. the thrice announced, only once attained, Alki Music Festival). That's partly because the block party's run by professional music/nightclub promoters, by people who know how to get performers on board and get everything else arranged.

But there's also something missing from the block party-that special vibe you can sense when a scene is really happening.

You could tell it on the Saturday and Sunday afternoons. A few dozen folks milled about the merchant and food booths. But there weren't nearly enough people to create that big summer-happy-time feeling, and probably not enough to satisfy some of the merchants. The big crowds only came at night, for the big-name bands on the main stage. And even they weren't all as big as some of the bands which performed the previous two years.

The block party's special business model is a chief reason for its success as a fundraiser for its nonprofit beneficiaries, including the Vera Project and Home Alive. But it's also why it doesn't attract more of an all-day audience.

Unlike street fairs, the Bite of Seattle, or the Northwest Folklife Festival, the Capitol Hill Block Party puts all its principal performers behind covered fences and a $12-per-day cover charge. Audiences come and pay to see their favorite bands (including, this year, such Northwest musical stalwarts as the Supersuckers, Built to Spill, IQU and the Presidents of the United States of America), performing under the sky but within the ugly fences. This part of the party lives or dies on the strength of the acts it can command, and fortunately has been able to command fairly big names each of its five years.

There's also a free festival just outside the fences. This part contains the food booths, the merchants and a small electronic/DJ music area. That's the part that hasn't fulfilled its potential- particularly during the afternoons, since rock bands tend to draw a more nocturnal crowd.

And it can, without siphoning revenue away from the mainstage admissions.

Simply add more, and more compelling, attractions to the free part of the party.

The event's promoters can keep the big-name musical draws behind the fences. But in front of the fences, they could have the whole gamut of other performances and attractions.

How 'bout, say, some alternative-circus performers, either on a stage or simply mingling with the audience? Or local-designer fashion shows, tarot readers, kissing booths, carnie games with an artsy twist, or interactive crafts projects? The possibilities are endless.

If the Gay Pride festivities leave Capitol Hill for Seattle Center next year, as their organizers are threatening to, the Capitol Hill Block Party will become, by default, the neighborhood's top summer outdoor attraction. Enhancing the free part of the party will draw more attendees to the paid part, especially earlier in the day. It will make the free part seem like less of a mere sideshow to the paid-admission stages and more of a gracious gift to the people of the Hill. And it will increase the revenue of the merchants and the food booths, potentially generating higher fees for the party's beneficiaries. It will generate more "brand exposure" for the party's corporate sponsors (which this year included KNDD-FM, Jones Soda and Toyota), which may help bring more companies on board in 2007 and beyond.

Don't get me wrong. Capitol Hill Block Party is a great thing. But it can become greater still.

Freelance writer Clark Humphrey's column appears in the first issue of each month. He can be reached at editor@capitol His long-running website on popular culture is at

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