It couldn’t have felt much more Seattle. Standing before a Seattle Center stage practically under the Space Needle’s shadow, the sun beat down on a golden summer day. The International Fountain erupted in the background like a geyser in the heart of the city, the water peeking above the festival stage backdrop.
Shabazz Palaces’ Ishmael Butler, another totem of Seattle culture almost as towering, and his band of local all-stars strode onto the stage Saturday to put their own Emerald City stamp on Day In Day Out, the burgeoning music festival organized by the Capitol Hill Block Party crew.
“We come in the name of the groove and we want everybody to move,” declared the suave emcee, easing into a set of blissed-out hip-hop abstractions like the galaxy’s funkiest spaceship captain taking the still-gathering crowd out for an interstellar leisure cruise.
Shabazz and the sun-baked fans vibing out on the Fisher Pavilion lawn weren’t the only ones who found their groove last weekend.
After an inaugural 2021 that felt a little like Block Party lite, DIDO seemed to find its footing in year two, better distinguishing itself from its more frenetic sibling on the Hill. DIDO’s vision started coming into focus this spring when parent company Daydream State announced its indie-rock heavy lineup headlined by the red-hot Mitski, The National and Mac DeMarco, a soft-rocking goofball so likable he got away with slandering Dick’s burgers during his Saturday closing set, which drew heavily from the lo-fi glam ham’s first two albums, “Rock and Roll Night Club” and “2.” He had more favorable things to say about the Seattle dogs (which apparently didn’t give the band diarrhea) outside of Neumos, where he first played those songs a decade ago.
The throwback set list — including a carefree “Freaking Out the Neighborhood” befitting the laid-back fest — was a treat for many of the fans in attendance who very well could have been at DeMarco’s early Neumos gig. This year’s crowd, which organizers estimated at 5,000-6,000 per day, had a wider age range than 2021’s more hip-hop and electronic-oriented lineup drew. A few parents wheeled strollers on the lawn Sunday when 2000s indie-rock mainstays Animal Collective and The National were among the biggest draws.
Expanding to a third day this year, DIDO was the backbone of a busy summer concert weekend, even with Foo Fighters canceling a T-Mobile Park date in the wake of drummer Taylor Hawkins’ death. As DIDO got underway Friday without Soccer Mommy, a last-minute COVID scratch, K-pop stars Seventeen took over Climate Pledge Arena a literal stone’s throw from the festival grounds on the Fisher Pavilion lawn. Over on the Eastside, Seattle folk rockers The Head and the Heart settled into a two-night stand at Marymoor Park; during Friday’s familial homecoming, the sextet — absent pianist Kenny Hensley — comfortably blended old favorites with their slicker new material, joined at times by Seattle’s go-to chamber crew the Passenger String Quartet.
As veteran art rockers Animal Collective unfurled kaleidoscopic, synth-sparkled tapestries for an attentive DIDO crowd Sunday, the festival’s 21-plus section grew noticeably denser than the all-ages side. This year a barricade split the crowd down the middle, separating the beers from the beer-nots, a slight reconfiguration from last year’s setup that relegated drinkers to the back of the lawn. Organizers also opened up Fisher Pavilion to fans this year, offering a welcomed shady spot to dodge the sun, at least for the 21-plus crowd. VIPers once again perched in a private section atop the pavilion for a drone’s eye view of the action.
Fans had plenty of time to cool off or grab $10 Rainiers between acts while members of standout local bands played 30-minute DJ sets. It was a fun premise (who knew Cozell Wilson of certified punk rippers Beverly Crusher could also rock a party with tasteful house beats?) that kept an easygoing pace throughout the weekend and was mostly worth any additional wait time between bands. With only one hometown act initially scheduled per day, it was a creative way to bring more local flavor to the single-stage event while killing time during set changes (though the 45-minute wait for Sunday’s headliner was a little long). Maybe next year they’ll display the DJs’ names somewhere while they spin so fans might find the otherwise anonymous artists’ music more easily.
Before a typically sweeping and dramatic set from The National, which had singer Matt Berninger frequently venturing into the crowd (as he always does), to close the festival, indie-pop breakouts Japanese Breakfast delivered what may have been the most joyous performance of the weekend. Frontwoman and Oregon native Michelle Zauner has much to celebrate these days following last year’s lauded “Jubilee” LP and a best-selling memoir that brought her wider acclaim.
As the band took the stage shortly before dusk, the last of the picnic blanketers were forced to cede some grass to the thickening crowd that filled the lawn on both sides of the barricade. After opening with a twinkling, gong-crashing “Paprika,” the euphoria in Zauner’s dancing-shoes indie rock energized a Sunday audience that repeatedly sent various fruits up to the stage — an inside joke between Seattle fans and the band, which started during their first show at the Crocodile, Zauner explained, when she tossed a greenroom banana to the crowd and got an apple and an orange in return.
Part of the magic sauce that makes the stage-hopping Capitol Hill Block Party an enduring hit is the confluence of the hardcore there-for-the-music fans and the more casual there-for-the-party crowd. In year two at least, as DIDO’s attendance was roughly half the size of Block Party’s daily average, the scales seemed tipped toward the devoted fans of the artists filling each day’s lineups. (Though the VIP folks still cleaned ’em out of beer and wine by the end of the weekend.)
However it evolves, Block Party’s more relaxed little brother, with its slightly older crowd, found its identity this year. Here’s hoping it’s the start of an equally enduring summer tradition.