Mission District’s 20th Street Block Party puts local vendors, small bands in spotlight

Jessica Doojphibulpol/Staff

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After hosting thousands of people at Outside Lands earlier this month, the city of San Francisco has returned with another festival — though, notably, one much smaller in scale.

Noise Pop is known for spearheading several popular festivals in California; it promotes the Treasure Island Music Festival, the Noise Pop Festival and the 20th Street Block Party. The Block Party, which took place Saturday in the Mission District, is all about celebrating the neighborhood — there’s a focus on local business vendors, food and artists. This year marked the fifth iteration of the open-to-the-public festival, donations to which benefited the Mission Language and Vocational School.

The 20th Street Block Party offered a small but talented lineup for the entertainment of its visitors. There were three stages set up across the 20th St. corridor: the Florida Street Stage, the Bandwagon Stage and the MLVS stage. Each was located far enough away from the other two stages that sound did not blanket the festival grounds, but rather those traveling between stages entered into pockets of a palpable, odd sense of quiet.

Though festivalgoers chatted noisily and the streets were lined with activity from vendors, the lack of a consistent musical presence added to a peculiar brand of casualness that characterized much of the festival — as if everybody was happy to be there but at the same time wouldn’t mind leaving.

Even the stages themselves struggled to reach their audiences with an all-encompassing sound. When Oakland-based indie-pop group The Tambo Rays took to the Bandwagon Stage in the late afternoon, much of the vocals were little more than a muddled haze; it was only when lead vocalist Sara DaMert let out one of her impressive, almost-gravely belts that her melody ever carried above the psychedelic instrumental lines.

That being said, the group still put on a solid show; DaMert’s energetic, full-body performance was just compelling enough to capture the attention of her audience, particularly when supported by her brother and guitarist Brian DaMert’s endearing charisma and relaxed charm.

As The Tambo Rays reached its conclusion, the remaining festival attendees made their way back to the mainstage, where headliner Neon Indian would play the final set of the evening. Neon Indian, a popular chillwave electronic band featuring Alan Palomo, was certainly the festival’s highlight; his dreamy escapist glo-fi was not nearly so burdened by sound difficulties as other bands’ sets.

Palomo’s stage presence demonstrated an amusing contrast — he sang with a captivating, concentrated intensity, but when the band had to take a few minutes to repair a broken guitar string, he immediately displayed a far looser, more friendly side — joking with the audience to pass the time and chatting with one of his bandmates.

But when the music started up again and infectious electro beats kicked in, Palomo immediately re-engaged — his eyes never seeming to blink, whether he was reaching to the top of his hypnotic falsetto or leaning into the gentle pull of his buoyant funk. He would sidestep up the mic, slightly hunched at the shoulders, only to strike a pose or bust out a body roll at the top of the beat. The crowd — a few hundred strong — could hardly tear themselves away and was soon rewarded with a high-energy performance of the band’s popular single “Polish Girl,” off Neon Indian’s 2011 album Era Extraña.

The performance was the perfect high note on which to conclude the festival, and as attendees sauntered back home down the beer-soaked streets, they did so excited for next year’s 20th Street Block Party. It was an ideal addition to a summer of Bay Area festivals — small but mighty, it has plenty of room to grow, as more local vendors and small bands gather to celebrate the Mission District’s own unique character and spirit.

Shannon O’Hara is the arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected].