Music, Community, Feelings Stuff, and the West Campus Block Party

It’s been quite an April here at good ol’ UT.  And by “quite an April,” I clearly mean “a very sad, dramatic and mental health-degrading shitshow.” It’s truly been one thing after another, and as I told Mairead on Friday, I’ve been resigned to simply hoping that the next day will at least be normal.

But, there is one good thing about the healthy serving of crazy I’ve been dealt lately. This particular series of crises has reminded me, as crises often do, that I’m part of a pretty spectacular community. When hundreds of people gathered to honor Haruka Weiser’s memory, when friends, neighbors and classmates offered us places to stay after our apartment was evacuated due to hydrogen sulfide poisoning (still feeling pretty ?! about this one), when student activists started a campaign to save our community garden, when a small throng of onlookers stuck around to watch over my passed-out boyfriend (yes, seriously) until the EMTs let him go, I remembered that I’m surrounded by some of the best people in the world.

Now, what does this dumb feelings stuff have to do with anything?

I live in West Campus, which is ostensibly an overpriced garbage dump but in reality is so much more. WC is the beating, beer-scented heart of the aforementioned community, where you can barely walk to the corner store for a six-pack without running into a friend or three. In my two years here I’ve grown to love this place, frat boys and all. I remember catching Hinds and a couple of other bands at one of the co-ops during SXSW and, while I enjoyed the show and wasn’t put off by the always-messy sound, I felt that something else wasn’t right. As I dodged the vodka-slushie mix that some high schooler was sloshing all over the place, I realized that co-op shows, beer showers, and life in general are not nearly as much fun when you aren’t surrounded by friends and familiar faces.

WC may be loud, grody, and laughably expensive, but we have a pretty special kinda culture here. To me, this is perhaps best exemplified by the annual West Campus Block Party, a daylong, multi-venue music fest right in my trash-strewn backyard.

Band creds: TOMA

All fotos by the lovely and talented Belicia Luevano. You can find more of her photography here

Last year, the WCBP and Austin’s annual Eeyore’s Birthday Party happened to take place on the same day, meaning that particular Saturday was one of the best of my semester. A very questionable white rapper aside, the artists I saw that day were excellent, the crowds were friendly, and the vibe was homey, something I’d been looking all over for as a transfer student still getting my bearings in Austin. I don’t think I’d been to a co-op show in WC before the block party, actually, and I didn’t really know that such a sick music scene actually existed here (my neighbors were more into Greek letters than the Black Lips for whatever reason). But after that first WCBP I found myself going to more shows around the neighborhood, hanging out with the same crowd, and actually feeling like I belonged in both my friend group and my home. Some of that happened with time, of course, but I like to think that the Block Party- or at least the ideas behind it- played a part in helping me learn to love my community.

Photo creds: Belicia Luevano; Band creds: TOMA

This year, I only got to make it to daytime shows- I had tickets to see Dr. Dog, one of my fave live bands, that night- but had a truly fantastic WCBP experience. We made it to at least one show at each house, downed Prickly Pears in the street, ran into friends old and new, and took in some really solid music. I’ll link to a few faves below. The festival as a whole was both well-organized and the perfect level of Saturday afternoon chill. There were even a handful of vendors set up in one of the yards, hawking vintage clothes, zines, and art. To me, it’s pretty amazing that a bunch of my ~peers~ could bring this whole, excellent thing together. And it’s not just booking good bands (although getting such a solid lineup together must be a feat in itself)- it’s creating an inclusive, communal space where anyone, even folks new to the ~scene~, can participate and have a good time.

Photo creds: Belicia Luevano; Band creds: Smile

In the days leading up to the fest, I grew increasingly curious about the planning that goes into homegrown festivals like the WCBP, as well as how the culture of the neighborhood informs the event itself. So in the spirit of accessibility and community and all that shit, I shot some questions over to Jake Hiebert, aka Big Yah, who heads up the team that puts on the block party. To Jake, thanks for taking questions from a rando on Facebook. To the rest of y’all, like his page for newsies on next year’s party, upcoming shows and related happenings.

IV: To start with the basics: how’d you get started with booking shows?

JH: So I started ‘booking’ shows when I started my first band in college. I just tried to book us everywhere, to much failure. But over time you get better as a band and you meet a lot of other bands and friends and people who are involved, so it gets easier. I’m a super detail oriented person which is horrible because I am always stressing about little, insignificant things. But in terms of planning shows and stuff like this, it helps. Not my health, but the festival for sure.

PC: Belicia Luevano; Band creds: Smile

And where did the idea for the WCBP come from? What happened to the old festival in the neighborhood, which went by the excellent name West by West Campus?

The idea of WCBlock Party definitely came from WXWC. I play in a band with the founder of WXWC and once it was discontinued, I talked to him about starting it up again. They wanted to retire the name, so I decided to do a revamp of name and try to add some new things in. It’s out second year as WCBP so we’re still figuring stuff out. But we had comedy acts last year and some really cool stuff planned this year. Like the vendor village and live recordings of some of the bands.

How did you choose bands for the lineup this year?
We opened up applications for bands this year and a lot of the bands applied. We want to get a mix of bands that are pretty well established and bands that have, like, one shitty iphone recording. There’s not formula. We try to keep the lineup pretty different from previous years just to stay fresh, but there is some overlap each year.

In a city with a million and one music venues, why are house shows still important? In your opinion, what makes the WC coops in particular gr8 places to see a show?
House shows are the most fun. It’s pretty simple. In West Campus, for a lot of the people attending, the shows are right next door to their house, so that’s easy and convenient. I also think at house shows, there isn’t a bottom line of making money. I know it’s not fair to say that venues only care about the bottom line, but to stay afloat, a venue has to make money. So they have to book bands that will bring in people to buy tickets and more importantly beer. A lot of young bands’ fans can’t do that yet, so they don’t get booked and then they end up never playing. It’s a catch 22. At a house show, everyone gets a chance, and often you get an energy that really can’t be found at a venue with a three foot stage separating you and the band.

Photo creds: Belicia Luevano; Band creds: Smile

How important is the culture of the west campus neighborhood to the festival– i.e., if costs and such remained the same, could the WCBP exist in any other Austin neighborhood?
Well, the culture of West Campus is primarily fueled by the people that live there. So, I think the vibe will remain similar, because there are going to be people who want to put on shows and want to do things like this. I mean, if every student gets priced out, then yeah, I could see the festival happening wherever they all move. But the location is pretty pivotal to the whole idea of a free, hyper-local block party.

What’s your dream venue for the future of the block party? How about a dream headliner?
My dream venue would be the same venues, but we would shut down the whole block. We are actually working on doing that for next year, so it’ll be an official block party this time. Also, we are trying to get a series of after shows and pre-parties so that other co-ops and houses that want to be involved can join the crew. In terms of a dream headliner, who knows. It would be cool to nab some headliner who is touring through Austin, but I’m pretty much stoked on our headliners this year. Couldn’t have asked for a better crew.

Thanks for the chitchat, Jake!

Aaaand to wrap it all up, if you’re feeling as inspired to create your own sweetass neighborhood music bonanza as I am right now, give a few of my WCBP 2016 faves a listen as you plot:

Light Horse Harry, a Damn Tall Buildings-esque Americana party band for your foot-stompin’ pleasure

Rain Collectors, who played a delightfully chill, dreamy set at Eden

Born Again Virgins, who play mellow garage rock and have a killer frontwoman

The Two Lips, who do garage-y garage rock (fuck mellow dude) and have a great stage presence to boot

Toast Party, who plays around town a bunch and always shows us a good thyme

AND, though I was not lucky enough to witness these two sets at WCBP, I featured a couple of photos of Smile (and also quite enjoyed listening to their track “proper design” while, fittingly enough, writing a paper about urban park design) and TØMA (whose upbeat, catchy tracks are currently motivating me to get ready for work, where I should be in approximately 12 minutes).


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