Clarion Alley Block Party still standing strong
It’s an age-old paradox of urban living that no matter how much there is to do and see it’s a) impossible to experience it all and b) so easy to take it all for granted. And it’s really not such a stretch to figure out that the more we take for granted the more chance there is that one day those things we love will disappear.
Of course a certain amount of flux is healthy, and part of what makes a city vibrant is that it’s a place where new ideas and new energies take root and flourish far more readily than in more insular, more homogenous spaces. And for every street corner band that’s moved indoors, every homey café long gone, every poetry brawl, punk rock peepshow, robot sex symposium, marching band parade, and nomadic dance party that have dropped off the radar, there’s bound to be a new crew of upstart art-agonists rising up to fill the empty spaces, it’s just finding the will or time to seek them out that can be daunting. They’re worth the effort. But sometimes we don’t want to have to put in so much effort.
Like comfort food for the underground, some perennial events are still staking out the remnants of, if not the long-distant past, at least the 90s, where the foundations for much of what is now taken for granted were formed. The Clarion Alley Block Party is one such remnant, and still going strong, as Saturday’s event proved.
Blessed by mild weather and a musically diverse lineup of beloved local bands, attending the annual celebration and fundraiser for CAMP (Clarion Alley Mural Project) was a bit like attending the reunion party that more reunion parties should aspire to be like, full of familiar faces and a distinct lack of hubris.
A couple of new murals glowed from the colorful walls which have been evolving since 1992, a who’s-who of notable works including Chuy Campusano’s homage to Picasso’s Guernica; Jet Martinez’ fantastical, Tomi De Paola-esque landscape Lo Llevas por Dentro; and a venerable, twitchy elephant by Andrew Schoultz, crowded into a much too confined space. Of the newer works, a comic strip detailing the adventures of modern-day, anti-overdose superheroine, Narcania, by Erin Amelia Ruch and Mike Reger (of Mission Mini-Comix infame); an image of busy cartoon ants working over the pale blue corpse of a gadget-toting, tech-type by Mats Stromberg; and Megan Wilson’s playfully anti-capitalist Tax the Rich (with its bed of smiling flowers that carpet the sidewalk) are perhaps the most eye-catching, and provocatively relevant to some of the abiding concerns of the neighborhood.
Of course it wouldn’t be a proper block party without bands, and Clarion Alley always manages to put together a creative and raucous all-day show on its twin stages. Highlights for me this year included a bombastically sludgy set from three-piece doom metal outfit HORNSS; a noisy, drone-y, industrial meets hardcore set from masked musical marauders Death Cheetah; and a sweaty, climactic apotheosis of sound from the last band of the evening, old school rabble-rousers, Apogee Sound Club.
The smell of cigarettes, dope, cheap beer, and tamales mingled in the still evening air, revelers in their Halloween costumes bobbed their heads in time to the tunes, and the only real sign of the times was the occasional ipad lifted aloft for photo-taking, which, given the casual nature of the event, didn’t even seem that intrusive. Proving, at least in the moment, that art and innovation can coexist if we let them.