Beth Ditto, best known for her vocals with Arkansas-based indie band Gossip, once described the Olympia of the turn of the 21st century as “crawling with music.” That might not be the most flattering way to describe a city that launched a wave of DIY grunge, post-hardcore and riot grrrl artistry a generation ago, but at least it reinforces the idea that music festivals are a vital part of Olympia history. In his recent work DIY House Shows and Music Venues in the US: Ethnographic Explorations of Place and Community, musicologist David Verbuč credits Helsing Junction Sleepover and Music in the Park for supporting Olympia’s “utopian mythology.” The International Pop Underground Convention alt-rocked the Capitol Theater in 1991, followed by Yoyo A Go Go in 1994, Ladyfest in 2000 and Homo-A-Go-Go in 2002. Unfortunately, some of those festivals’ lifespans have ended, while Ladyfest departed Olympia for cities around the world. With COVID cases on the decline, it’s time for something new. That’s where Christen Greene saw an opportunity. She’s the programmer of a new summer music festival in Olympia, the South Sound Block Party at North Point this August.
“I moved here over a year ago,” she explains. “Previously I was in Seattle and Brooklyn. My background is predominantly in band management, touring and A&R, and I’ve always had my hands in events. My Olympia and Pacific Northwest music obsession started in the ’90s with Kill Rock Stars and grew from there. There’s a real mysticism and romanticism for me in this town and its rich, musical history. I’m proud to be contributing a small way.”
In 2020, however, Greene continues, “We were still very much in lockdown mode, and nothing was going on. While getting to know my way around town, I spent a lot of time thinking about and talking to folks about what the local music scene needed and/or didn’t have, as I wanted to be able to help contribute once things began to open back up. What I found was that there is a real hunger here for live music and events, and no one was doing a festival of this size and scope so I figured I’d go for it. I’ve always loved midsize, regional music festivals for a few reasons: They’re not too big, overwhelming or expensive, and I always discover a new band that I like.” She feels “consumers are increasingly comfortable with outdoor events,” so she thinks “this is the right time.” The right time for what, though, exactly?
“I wanted to go with some strong, actively working local bands to start,” Greene continues. “From there it was important to me to have a majority (from Pacific Northwest)-based acts, and then I wanted to round it out by adding some national headliners that the industry is aware of but the common household may not have discovered yet. I’m not out here trying to compete with the big festivals in major markets. Quite frankly, we simply couldn’t afford to do that, nor do I want to. I’m aiming to create an annual event that the community takes pride in, enjoys attending, and that will highlight local music and commerce at an affordable price point. I think we’re off to a good start.”
So far at least a dozen acts have confirmed for what promises to be 30-plus hours of melodious merriment. “Of course we have Grammy-nominated Americana songwriter darling Courtney Marie Andrews,” says Greene. “She’s got a next-level golden voice from heaven” and should appeal to “fans of Brandi Carlile, Winona Judd, Buddy Miller and Lori McKenna.” Andrews worked with Jimmy Eat World in 2010 and 2011. Her seventh studio album, Old Flowers, was nominated for a Grammy and made Good Morning America‘s list of the 50 best albums of 2020.
Sub Pop artist Bully, aka singer-guitarist Alicia Bognanno and company, “really embodies that riot-grrrl energy that Olympia is known for,” says Greene. Bully’s third studio album, Superegg, was released in 2020.
Colombian Canadian singer Lido Pimienta has been nominated for Grammy, Juno and Latin Grammy awards. Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail called her “artist of the year” and “the future of Canadian rock and roll.” Her most recent album, Miss Colombia, came out in 2020.
“The Seshen,” Greene says, is from San Francisco, and it was one of those bands that I got a text about at 11:45 p.m.: ‘Hey, I don’t know anything about your business, but I just left this show and this band gave me the best night of my life. They’re called The Seshen. You have to listen to them.’ How do you not go check that out after a text like that?”
Seattle-based acts in the lineup include The Cave Singers, The Home Team, Lemon Boy, Lovely Colours, Lisa Prank and Weep Wave. Greene describes The Cave Singers as “one of my favorite Pacific Northwest bands ever, and they’re a really, really good live show. I’m psyched they’re on board.”
Rounding out the schedule are The Districts; Oly locals Oh, Rose; Susto and Ethan Tucker. Due to ever-changing conditions, COVID-19 protocols for the festival are unknown at publication. For more information including which objects guests are free to bring on site, please visit the festival website, SouthSoundBlockParty.com.
Photo credits: Christen Greene.
South Sound Block Party
3 p.m. Friday, Aug. 26 through 10:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 27
1210 Marine Dr. NE, Olympia