Seattle's Capitol Hill Block Party Keeps the Cool in Changing, Historically Queer Neighborhood

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Summer music festivals bring residents together and foster community pride. For Seattle’s annual Capitol Hill Block Party, this is not only true, but vital in a time when a community once home to artists and queer folks is fighting to keep its identity.

“A lot the narrative around Capitol Hill is that it’s not ‘cool’ anymore and the artists have been pushed out by the tech bros,” Capitol Hill resident Katie Solan tells Billboard. “While I’ve seen significant changes here over the last five years — some for the better, some for the worse — Capitol Hill Block Party helps the community retain its hip vibe by showcasing diverse artists and emphasizing community.”

Since 1997, Capitol Hill Block Party (CHBP) has hosted its three-day music festival in July with a diverse lineup rising and established talent including Macklemore, MGMT, Lizzo and Toro y Moi. And this year’s party will welcome Betty Who, GoldLink, Amber Mark, Brockhampton, Father John Misty and many more. But since 2000, the art scene and the LGBTQ community has been slowly vanishing. According to The Seattle Times, between 2000 and 2012, the number Capitol Hill’s same-sex households dropped 23 percent.

Festival organizer Jason Lajeunesse says the block party’s diverse talent roster is an intentional effort to reflect Capitol Hill’s diverse roots and hold onto its art identity.  

“There’s been a concerted effort from the Mayor’s fice on down to preserve the Capitol Hill community including the artists, the musicians, and the LGBTQ community,” Lajeunesse tells Billboard. “We try to be mindful the diversity we bring to the table and try to provide a platform for artists so they can continue to grow, but we also want to make sure the acts represent the diverse communities in the neighborhood and the larger Seattle community.”

In addition to bringing cool acts to Capitol Hill, Lajeunesse says some proceeds go back into the art and LGBTQ communities.

“We directly fund the Capitol Hill Art Walk which indirectly supports LGBTQ artists and have raised upwards $200,000 in nonprit giving which include youth arts programs like The Vera Project,” Lajeunesse says. “There are also approximately five businesses that identify as LGBTQ within the festival’s parameter who are a consistent part the community owners and their employees.”

Joey Burgess, owner gay nightclub Queer/Bar praised CHBP for continuously using its platform to champion and represent the LGBTQ community.

“Capitol Hill is more than a neighborhood,” Burgess says. “We are a community that revels in the fact that we are known for being queer, being musicians, and celebrants the arts.  CHBP helps carry that torch, and we can’t wait for July every year.”

Burgess also applauded the festival for unendingly creating opportunities for upcoming artists — some who work at Queer/Bar.

“I’m over the moon to have employees actually be featured and showcased in the lineup," Burgess says. "You can imagine the hype and pride they feel sharing a billing with artists like Brockhamton and Betty Who. It’s huge and invaluable.”

Betty Who tells Billboard she too is thrilled to be part the longstanding event.

“Festivals bring so much life to a community,” Who says. “I’m always honored to play a show that celebrates a community strong, confident, and beautiful people who celebrate each other for who they want to be and come together to enjoy one the simpler pleasures life: live music.”

Capitol Hill Block Party kicks f its three-day weekend Friday, July 20. For information on tickets, visit their website.