Block Party's Jason Lajeunesse: 'I'm exhausted and happy'
An interview with Jason Lajeunesse, who is embarking on his first year as head honcho of Capitol Hill Block Party — the popular music festival that swarms around 10th and Pike, July 20-22, 2012.
Seattle Times staff columnist
Colson Whitehead: One reviewer called his "Zone One" zombie novel (now in paperback) "a lovely piece of writing." Well, then. I'll bite. Whitehead, a MacArthur Fellow who lived in Seattle for a time, will visit The Elliott Bay Book Company at 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 17 (www.elliottbaybook.com).
JOYstick!: This video-theme burlesque show brings together "the best of gaming nerdery and the new burlesque" and is a fundraiser for GeekGirlCon, which celebrates female involvement in all fields of science and technology; comics, arts and literature; and game play and game design. 8 p.m. July 20 and 21 at the Theater Off Jackson, 409 Seventh Ave. S., Seattle; $20 (www.brownpapertickets.com).
Capitol Hill Block PartyJuly 20-22, East Pike Street between Broadway and 12th Avenue, Seattle; $85 three-day pass, $30 per day (http://capitolhillblockparty.com).
Jason Lajeunesse once referred to Seattle's Pike/Pine corridor as his own personal Sesame Street, where he knows every business owner, every corner, and, OK, every trash can. He even found his beloved dog, Piccu, out there.
("I took her to a drive-in movie and that was pretty much it," he said.)
The neighborhood never gets old because it keeps changing — and Lajeunesse is a large part of the energy that threads through this place like cabs at closing time.
Neumos. Moe Bar. Big Mario's Pizza and the recently opened Barboza. Lajeunesse — a talent booker-turned-club owner — has a hand in them all.
"I'm both exhausted and happy," Lajeunesse said the other day. "Mostly, I am really tired. I went to bed at 9:30 the night before last and slept until 8:30 the next day. Clearly a sign."
A sign he chose to ignore. This summer, Lejeunesse, 36, is taking over the Capitol Hill Block Party from former owners Dave Meinert and Marcus Charles. Block Party, which runs this year from July 20-22, is a summer music-festival mainstay that has continued to evolve not so much in numbers of attendees (it's up to 9,000 a day) but in scope.
The lineup is still impressive — Neko Case, the Lumineers, Reignwolf, Thee Oh Sees and Father John Misty, just for starters.
But under Lajeunesse, Block Party will do more with the community that contains it.
Neighborhood businesses like Digital Kitchen and World Famous will host digital installations; and 20 visual artists will show their pieces in various venues, under the guide of a curator.
There will also be a blogger's lounge "as a way to connect with the outside world," Lajeunesse said.
"There's not really a need to grow it," he said. "But there are ways to activate the space. So when you come to the festival, there is a visceral user experience that wasn't there before."
So how did this all happen? Lajeunesse was sitting in a Block Party meeting last April when Meinert texted him from across the room: "You should buy the Block Party."
"Yeah, that's funny," he replied.
Then it wasn't; it actually made a lot of sense to everyone. Lajeunesse had been booking talent for the Block Party for seven years.
"I was a little familiar with the in and outs of the festival," he said. "But I also feel connected to the neighborhood and I know a lot of people. So I didn't feel it was an unmanageable challenge."
It also seemed a perfect fit for a music lover with an artist's heart and an eye that is always looking for the next thing.
Lajeunesse grew up in Ontario, Canada, where his mother and her cassette-wielding friends schooled him in music: Tom Waits, Sonic Youth, the Dead Kennedys, Operation Ivy, Fugazi.
At 19, he got his first job in the nightclub business in Vancouver.
He came to Seattle in 2000 to work as a talent booker at Graceland. After three years, he moved to Neumos. Two years later, he bought the place with two partners.
Lajeunesse's evolution from booking talent to opening a nightclub to overseeing a three-day festival in the middle of the city seems a natural — if frantic — transition.
"Building a brand and a staff and an identity and a concept, and to try to change the culture of Block Party — that is the most exciting thing for me right now," he said.
When he's at rest, he is playing music with his band, Lovesick Empire, which started recording last winter. At home, he grills for himself and his girlfriend. He takes his dog to the park, or for a swim. He's learned to decompress.
But it never lasts long.
"When I feel like I don't have a clear sense of what I'm doing that day, that's more disconcerting," he said. "Something will happen. There is already some other stuff in the works."
Nicole & Co. appears every Sunday in NW Arts & Life. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or email@example.com.
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Every Sunday, I bring you a conversation with a local who is doing something great, or a great who is doing something local: media personalities, big thinkers, visiting artists, colorful characters and doers of all kinds.
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