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Jason Rantz

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As Seattle’s music scene struggles, Capitol Hill Block Party looks for solutions

Capitol Block Party kicks off this weekend. (Nate Watters)

With many venues and festivals in the region being forced to close down in recent years, there’s been one local event that’s managed to persist year-in and year-out, with a focus on booking some of the Pacific Northwest’s biggest talent: Capitol Hill Block Party.

Block Party started modestly, with just a handful of bands and a couple thousand people in the heart of Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. In the years since, it’s flourished, bringing in tens of thousands of attendees, and booking everyone from Lizzo to Father John Misty.

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Where it’s truly shined, though, has been in its focus on local artists, who have struggled in recent years to get exposure elsewhere in the city.

“Local bands do not have the opportunities they used to have to open up and perform with national touring bands,” Block Party founder Jason Lajeunesse told KTTH’s Saul Spady. “I feel bad about that. So the festival does give us an opportunity to put them in front of a new audience that they might not otherwise play to.”

That’s become especially important in a Northwest music scene in flux, that’s seen numerous clubs, concert venues, and festivals close up shop. The list includes Pemberton Music Festival in British Columbia, Project Pabst in Portland, Sasquatch at the Gorge, and soon, others could very well follow suit.

With AEG’s contract with Bumbershoot ending after this year and the Showbox Market on the brink of closure, opportunities for up-and-coming locals could soon get even scarcer.

“I do have legitimate concern about where these bands going to get exposure,” said Lajeunesse. “Where are they getting the opportunity to perform in front of 10,000 people? It’s very rare — things have changed with the music community.”

To help with that, Block Party has some measures of its own. First, an effort is made every year to book between 65 to 70 percent local artists to its lineup. Second, it’s eliminated radius clauses for smaller local acts, a condition in contracts festivals use to restrict where their artists can perform within a certain region before and after their event.

The hope through all of that is to continue getting exposure for the Northwest’s many talented local artists and bands.

“We think it’s important for those bands come in and just be able to have that experience,” Lajeunesse noted.

Capitol Block Party started Friday, July 19, and runs through Sunday July 21. Tickets are available through the event’s website here.

Listen to the Saul Spady Show weekdays from 6-9 a.m. on AM 770 KTTH.

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