For me, Capitol Hill Block Party has always been simply that: a damn good Block Party. Having attended the festival four times now, including twice while living within the “Cap Hill” area, I always looked forward to an intimate, slightly smaller, but equally excellent festival experience right in my own neighborhood. But it’s also been a festival chocked with incredible acts, acts that made you wonder how the bookers lured them into a smaller event. And acts that made me proud to have such a talent-packed, nationally-competitive festival tucked right into Capitol Hill. I’ve got many memories of beautiful, sunny, “it’s finally summer in Seattle!” moments soundtracked by former Block Parties. That being said, this year’s event was, unfortunately, my least favorite Block Party yet due to the line-up and capacity. Don’t get me wrong, it was still a good time and I caught some wonderful shows (check our day-by-day reviews). But hear me out.
Line-up: Certainly, the 2012 Block Party lineup had it’s awesome acts including Phantogram, El Ten Eleven, Grimes, Porcelain Raft, Twin Shadow, etc. But when contrasted with previous CHBP’s lineups, 2012 was definitely lacking. A quick rundown of years past: In 2008, with a much, much smaller festival, we got Vampire Weekend, Chromeo, Hold Steady and a still-novel Girl Talk. In 2009, we saw Sonic Youth, Jesus Lizard, Deerhunter, and Gossip. In 2010, we got MGMT, Jack White’s Dead Weather, Yeasayer, and Atmosphere. Last year brought Explosions in the Sky, TV on the Radio, Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, Battles and Ghostland Observatory. So this year seemed a bit thin, though local bands were still represented (Kithkin, Hot Bodies in Motion, Lemolo, Don’t Talk to the Cops, etc). While it might be unfair to compare to years past, 2012 was lacking in the line-up department.
Capacity: This had much more of an effect than the line-up, because there definitely were still awesome shows to be caught. But when capacity issues interfere with potentially great shows, there’s not a lot you can do about this. Personally, this was the most packed and overcrowded Block Party I had attended in four years of going. Nearly everyone I asked, regardless of opinion on the lineup or past CHBP experience, noted this. And as I mentioned in our Saturday review, I had four or five people all mention an “aggressive” crowd vibe. Anyhow, I completely understand the hard working Block Party organizers wanting to increase attendance and make a few more bucks to add to the festival. This means more exposure for bands, better resources, more stages, etc. Cool with that. But there is also a fine line festival organizers need to manage to ensure that the festival, regardless of size (see: Coachella), is still enjoyable, easily navigated and keeps you coming back next year. Block Party 2012 was a bit beyond that line. When you have to wait 20 minutes every time you want to pee (and c’mon, we’re drinking here), that’s too many people or not enough restrooms. When it takes 10 minutes to be shuttled around a relatively small beer garden via one-way entrances and exits, there’s a better organization option. When you can’t get inside of or within 100 yards of four of the six stages, that’s poor capacity management. I don’t need to sit here and complain anymore, but capacity definitely affected the festival and not just for simply myself. I know the festival organizers were conscious of it, but they could do more next year. I’m not launching a “money-hungry, expansion-over-all” rant here either, because I love seeing Block Party succeed and expand. It’s great for Seattle. But if organizers, for example, reduce attendance by 10-15% so the attending percentage has twice as good of overall experience, that’s a better route. As a long-time Block Party fan, I hope to see that change made in the future.