The free, all-ages event showcases hip-hop artists who are underrepresented at other festivals, say organizers. It takes place Saturday, June 17.
On Saturday, June 17, the third annual Block Party at The Station will bring together musicians, dancers and visual artists to celebrate South Seattle’s arts community. The free event in the Beacon Hill neighborhood primarily showcases hip-hop artists and seeks to provide a welcoming environment for people of color, the LGBTQ community and youth.
Lead organizer Matt “Spek” Watson said hip-hop artists are underrepresented in other local music festivals. Block Party, he said, was a reaction to that.
“There was a very distinct lack of artists of color on festival posters in this town,” Watson said. “We reached out to leaders from those communities to book artists that they love and to build a space that those artists would be comfortable in and flourish in.”
Block Party at the Station
Saturday, June 17, noon-8 p.m., The Station, 1600 S. Roberto Maestas Festival St.; free.
The festival is based at The Station, a coffee shop in Beacon Hill that has become a hub for artists and activists since it opened in 2010. Watson has been a barista there for five years and helped the event grow with fellow performance artist Gabriel Teodros.
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Vocal loop artist Parisalexa (aka Paris Williams), who will perform at the Block Party for the first time this year, said the festival has gained a reputation for being a supportive environment for young artists of color.
“I feel like I’ll get really good reception from the audience because they’re people like me,” said Williams, 18.
Other musical performers include DoNormaal, Rell Be Free and CarLarans. Dance performers include Northwest Tap Connection; traditional Aztec dance group CeAtl Tonalli; and Au Collective, a contemporary-dance group made up of artists of color, women artists and queer artists. Mayoral candidate Nikkita Oliver will also perform songs and poetry.
Local hip-hop artist Guayaba (aka Guayaba Rodriques) said she looks forward to performing.
“When you’re one of the only hip-hop artists on the bill in front of a white audience, it’s very othering,” she said. “Playing in front of other black and brown bodies who are holding space for each other is really important to me … especially right now, and in Beacon Hill, it’s an important reminder to show who’s there from the community and under what circumstances.”
Hip-hop artist Taylar Elizza Beth (aka Taylar White) said there are many misconceptions about hip-hop events, and that people often stereotype hip-hop audiences as rambunctious or rude.
“It makes me sad,” White said. “You can’t put any genre in a box like that. It’s a black art form. There’s definitely racism in that for sure.”
The event also brings together two arts communities that don’t often mix: the queer community and the hip-hop community, said Watson. Cheryl Delostrinos and El Nyberg, members of the Au Collective, said The Station has helped foster relationships between the two groups.
“The amount of queer and POC (people of color) artists that are performing is a testament to how much love they put into that community,” Nyberg said. “It highlights and celebrates the work that we’ve put in to get where we are.”
Block Party is funded through grants from community organizations, local businesses and, this year, the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods. Watson said making Block Party at the Station free was “particularly a reaction to Capitol Hill Block Party,” which costs $60 per day.
One challenge has been finding local businesses to sponsor the event, especially as gentrification in the area increases. For the past two years, Block Party has relied almost entirely on volunteers, but this year, they made sure the artists and stage crew could be compensated.
“We want everyone in the community to be lifted up by this,” Watson said.
As gentrification brings change to Beacon Hill, Watson said it’s important for old and new residents to celebrate the neighborhood’s identity.
“It pays homage to what the community has been and why people wanted to move here in the first place,” he said. “There’s a lot of new people coming into the community, and unless those people have an appreciation for the community they’re coming into, they’re not going to change it in a positive way.”