San Francisco 20th Street Block Party celebrates local art as unifying force

Ryan Tuozzolo/Staff
Ryan Tuozzolo / Staff

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On Saturday, anticipating the attendance of 20,000-plus Bay Area residents, event organizer Noise Pop transformed three blocks of San Francisco’s Mission District into a free, vibrant festival featuring performances from 10 California-based musicians. The transformation culminated in the sixth annual 20th Street Block Party.

Though musical performances headlined the experience, the festival was meant to reflect the potency of music not just for the sake of music, but music as a community-unifying force. The suggested donation of $10 upon entry benefitted the Mission Language and Vocational School Inc., or MLVS, a nonprofit community education center offering free job development training for under-resourced youth in the Mission District. “A lot of people, they tend to understand that giving a donation keeps (the festival) free,” event volunteer Krystal Beasley explained, noting that most of the attendees whom she had prompted for donations had given what they could.

Though not comparable to the district’s deep-rooted Carnaval celebration earlier this summer, Noise Pop did a fair job representing the Mission and its values of community development and participation. Under the festival’s supervision, Alabama Street became Art Row, exhibiting the work of a range of local arts organizations. Workshop SF, which offers affordable DIY classes for adults in the city’s Western Addition neighborhood, manned pin-making and block-printing stations. ArtSpan, which provides an inclusive art experience for diverse Bay Area audiences and artists, organized a community mural, inviting festivalgoers to add their own work to the piece. “I like the community aspect,” said San Francisco-based visual artist Nick Sirotich, whom Noise Pop had hired for the event. “It’s a good amalgam of creative people who are here enjoying themselves.”

Couple Ulises Cisneros and Thúy Bercher attended the festival to enjoy the music and promote Cisneros’ zine, SISU. Both students at the University of San Francisco, the pair voiced appreciation for the accessibility of the event. “It’s really nice when events like this are free because I feel like us students, personally, we’re not exactly like rolling in money, but it’s nice when you can see a lot of different types of people coming together over one shared thing they like — music. Having that available is nice,” Bercher said.

Though a steady flow of visitors graced the booths lined up throughout the designated blocks, the main attraction of the block party remained the live acts. Noise Pop spread three stages — two for live performances and one for DJs — throughout the festival parameters, providing attendees with a consistent stream of music.

At the MLVS, DJ-designated stage, visitors did not begin congregating until all-female DJ collective B-Side Brujas took the reins. Mixing an all-vinyl arrangement of salsa, disco and soul, B-Side Brujas had festivalgoers swinging their hips and shaking their shoulders in no time.

At the BandWagon Stage, Oakland-based indie pop group Small Crush stole the show with a playful, raw and tight set. With selections including “Chicken Noodle” and “Signal Dreams,” the group showcased its proclivity for capturing the anxieties and confusions of teenage years. A mini dance party formed in the audience, with younger viewers jumping about. Ninety-year-old Charlie Gao fearlessly joined them, swaying along and grinning widely. “I enjoy music. Dancing is actually enjoying music. If you cannot enjoy music, you cannot dance!” he noted emphatically.

Small Crush’s lead singer, songwriter and guitarist Logan Hammon noticed the audience engagement during her band’s appearance. “The crowd was great,” she told The Daily Californian. “It’s a free show, so everyone’s just enjoying themselves and having a great time. We’re super stoked to play.”

The Main Stage featured the most well-known musicians on the festival lineup. Among them was ska and punk rocker Jeff Rosenstock. When Rosenstock strode onstage, he immediately inspired high spirits and boisterous energy in his viewers. Live, the fury and restlessness evident in Rosenstock’s recorded material hit viewers full-on — the emotion was unavoidable. Those at the front of the crowd flung their bodies around in a pseudo-mosh pit, screaming along to “USA,” Rosenstock’s response to the results of the 2016 election. “We’re tired and bored!” they yelled.

Empress Of (stage name for Lorely Rodriguez) closed the 20th Street Block Party Main Stage in a textured set that was at once tender, striking and invigorating. The LA-based Latina singer-songwriter came ready to pump viewers up, as evinced by her bike shorts, a Nike Air sweatshirt and bright orange Nike sneakers. Though she admitted to viewers that she was a bit nervous about matching Rosenstock’s energy, she need not have fretted — Rodriguez’s set rolled out seamlessly. The seductive beat of “Realize You” had everybody showing off their moves, and “Woman is a Word” showcased Rodriguez’s knack for nuanced and potent lyrics.

As the evening dwindled to a close, audience members filed out of the barricaded space and into the Mission District, witnesses to the vibrant and complex cultural landscape that had inspired the festival in the first place.

Contact Ryan Tuozzolo at [email protected]. Tweet her at @_rtuo.