Capitol Hill Block Party returned to Seattle on Friday, July 19th. For the uninitiated, CHBP is an annual three-day event that transforms six Seattle city blocks into a multi-stage indoor and outdoor music festival. What started in the late ‘90s as a neighborhood gathering has morphed into a destination party attended by about 30,000, replete with beer gardens, backyard games atop a green turf lawn, and street dancing. CHBP has earned a reputation as a place to catch up-and-coming local bands just before they hit the national scene.
Here are some Friday highlights:
At the Vera Stage, this four-piece L.A. “tenderpunk” band brought lots of energy and cute lyrics (“you’re alright but I wanna keep yr dog”). They’ve been featured on Pitchfork and NPR already, so stay tuned.
Vancouver, BC producer EKALI (Nathan Shaw) had fans waving their hands to his orchestral electronic beats on the Main Stage, while onlookers dangled their legs out upstairs windowsills and pelted the crowd with OtterPops. The festival tends dancey these days, and this set was well-attended.
Rising Seattle band Red Ribbon played the Neumos Stage with a recently updated lineup. Their sound is notable for sometimes-gloomy lyrics, persistent drumbeats, flute flourishes, and Emma Danner’s gorgeous vocals. Their 2018 album Dark Party is one to put on repeat.
New York City singer and performance artist Mitski modern-danced across a foggy Main Stage. Wearing kneepads, she performed aerobics while singing and dancing atop a table and chair. A couple of tunes in, Mitski quipped to those unfamiliar, “This is the set.”
At the Vera Stage, Montreal producer–vocalist–DJ Robotaki (Preston Chin) played some catchy remixes that got the crowd jumping. Then I left to catch two competing shows that hour.
Back at the Neumos Stage, a large crowd was enjoying Seattle DJ Rudy Willingham’s beats, projections, and colorful lights. Although I didn’t stay to dance, the upstairs balcony was a great place to people-watch and cool off.
Two floors down at the Barboza Stage, Seattle singer and multi-instrumentalist Little Wins (Andrew Vait) sang a good-vibes pop set with plenty of ‘90s nostalgia. You might remember Vait as the saxophone half of SISTERS, who played the Main Stage at last year’s CHBP. The basement was packed with a cheery crowd that swayed and sang along to his triumphant vocals. (Outside, I stopped at the hot-dog cart for a vegan sausage with cream cheese and grilled onions, which is apparently a Seattle invention.)
Again at the Neumos Stage, Shaina Shepherd led Seattle garage-rockers BEARAXE in a powerful 45-minute set. She brought soulful booming vocals and expressive dance moves, draped in northwest flannel, and the band added funky beats and wailing guitars. They also had a great onstage dynamic. This was my favorite set of the evening, and based upon the cheering crowd stretching to touch Shepherd’s hand, BEARAXE won some new fans with this performance. Side note: I was fortunate to first see BEARAXE at a wonderful neighbor’s backyard show last year; this band is even better with a whole stage for shredding and grooving.
In another excellent set at the Neumos Stage, Seattle twins Eva and Cedric Walker led the rocking Afropunk trio The Black Tones. Eva explained that their first tune was “about sex,” before launching into “Ghetto Spaceship” with bluesy vibrato and guitar. They also showcased other tunes off their recent album, Cobain & Cornbread. The twins were animated and playful together, and there were some fun surprises on “Welcome Mr. Pink.” I left too soon to see Eva crowd-surfing, so fortunately there is a video . Word of the Black Tones is starting to spread outside Washington, but you can still see them at the new THING festival in Port Townsend in August.
By late night, many thousands of fans stood between me and the Main Stage with headlining upstate New Yorkers Phantogram (Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter). I waded forward in search of a better view, and in the meantime enjoyed soaring vocals, synth-rich beats, and jangly guitar.
This year the sun shone brightly on Friday afternoon, and there was a mood of anticipation for the beautiful weekend ahead. Overall, the crowd skewed under-30, trendy, and a little tipsy. Folks were there for a party, so I had no shortage of enthusiastic groups of friends willing to pose.