If you say the words “block party” in Seattle, the first thing that comes to mind is probably Capitol Hill. But up on the city’s other Hill—Beacon Hill—a coffee shop is slowly making people re-evaluate what a summer block party really means, or should mean.
“To me, when I hear ‘block party,’ I hear ‘community,’ ” says Luis Rodriguez, owner of Beacon Hill cafe The Station, which over the past six years has become a second living room for the neighborhood. “What is happening on Capitol Hill, not to dismiss it, but it’s more like Capitalist Hill Block Party. It’s about making money, you know? How you going to tell me that I live on this street and support these businesses, but that day I’m not allowed to come in because I don’t have the money?”
This Saturday, Rodriguez and his team of community members and employees are throwing the annual Block Party at The Station, a free celebration of Beacon Hill’s cultural riches. In a city faced with rising rents and cultural homogenization, the Party is a rare showcase of the state of the culture, or at least in the neighborhood Rodriguez calls home. To ensure that the event never outgrows itself, the party accepts only local sponsorships and the talent is all local. The stacked musical lineup, exclusively hip-hop and drawn mostly from South Seattle, is jam-packed with excellence. Up-and-comers like Sleep Steady, Otieno Terry, and Sendai Era join established community members like Silas Blak, JusMoni, Stasia Menschel, and Draze. Neighborhood artists from the graffiti community will live-paint, and South Ender food vendors will serve cuisine from Jamaica, the Philippines, the American South, and the Mariana Islands. Local Seattle Process comedian Brett Hamil and Black Lives Matter organizer Nikita Oliver will host. And if everything goes well, Rodriguez says, there might be a procession of lowriders as well. “We’re having a hip-hop party, mostly based on who we are as POC,” he adds.
“Everything I need, all the artists that inspire me, most of the people I love, are in and around Beacon Hill,” says Matt Watson, better known to Seattleites as rapper/producer Spekulation. “We wanted to celebrate that in an intentional way, and in a way that showed the world, and ourselves, that we’re capable of putting on a really dope, high-quality show, just using the resources that we surround ourselves with every day.” Watson, a Station employee, is both performing in and helping produce the Block Party at the Station, alongside fellow organizer Gabriel Teodros, who is also performing.
The Party wasn’t always quite so elaborate—as a matter of fact, it was only last year, for the Station’s fifth anniversary, that Rodriguez decided to go all out. In its early days, the Party was more akin to “a backyard BBQ party,” says Rodriguez, “maybe 50 people. You know, bring chips, a six-pack, and your boombox.” The impetus was simply to get people in the neighborhood to talk to each other.
“I learned this from my father,” Rodriguez says. “Where I’m from, in Mexico, Baja California, my father created a community around us. I think a lot of people in Seattle want to talk and form community, they just don’t know how to start.”
According to Watson and Rodriguez, starting small is the key. For those in Seattle looking to create their own neighborhood block party, the city makes small-scale events very easy. Attaining a permit to close a block in your neighborhood is free through the Seattle Department of Transportation’s website—simply fill out a form at least 14 days in advance, find some barricades, print out street closure signs, and, of course, talk to your neighbors (the party hasn’t even started and look, you’re already getting to know them better). Once the party is over, all you’re expected to do is clean up and remove the barricades.
“Start small, but always bite off more than you can chew,” Watson says. “You’ll surprise yourself, and you’ll probably create something pretty novel in the process.” If you do want to create something more complex, akin the Block Party at the Station, make sure to do your research. The more bells and whistles you add—music, food vendors, sponsorships—the more red tape you’ll face. But chances are an organization exists in your neighborhood that can help you navigate.
“Find out if you can go through a nonprofit organization that can help you out,” Rodriguez says. “We have Beacon Arts helping us with logistical stuff, talking to the right people and doing paperwork. I wouldn’t be able to do this without all my friends helping me.”
Block Party at the Station, 2533 16th Ave S., stationblockparty.com. Free. All ages. Noon–8 p.m. Sat., June 18.
To apply for your own neighborhood block-party permit, visit seattle.gov/ transportation/stuse_blockparty.htm.