Thursday, March 26, 2009

Doing the Heavy Lifting

The Naming Project, Westheimer Street Festival, 2003

This Saturday brings another Westheimer Block Party to the streets, and with another year comes bigger crowds and bigger expectations. Every spring and fall since it's reincarnation in 2005 the Block Party has elicited unfavorable comparisons to the debauchery of the 1990s Westfest, albeit unfairly. The city sent street closure aided festivals the way of tamale stands in 1999, and there's no hope of getting them back. The 40-somethings out there should be able to relate the Free Press helmed version to the Westheimer Art Colony (now the Bayou City Art Festival) who began holding art-centric events in the early 70s, and to compare and contrast the audio-centric Block Party more equitably with their memories of the old Montrose.

The big change this year is the acceptance of the festival in popular media. The writers have warmed to the idea that Westfest can be resurrected, and that there can be more than one alt-news publication in Houston. The increase in visibility has broadened the base of visitors as well as the quality of bands, and with the development and current ubiquity of social networking sites the Block Party's central place in Houston as a call to arms for street culture.

YAR, Westheimer Block Party, 2006

The city's auto-centric lifestyle has been decried as a symptom of the oil industry, and too a degree it certainly is, but the lack of a street culture has also contributed to Houston's indoor, air-conditioned madness. The heat and humidity is a sad excuse for the lack of outdoor activity around here, it's not going to stop them in New Orleans, Barcelona or Manila. The truth is that Houston did to itself a century ago, in a series of classist moves that subjected Houston culture (German, African-American and Mexican) to stultifying rules. Where once there were Beer Gardens throughout downtown now there are only parking lots. After a sickness spread though tainted tamales in Market Square the city outlawed cooking on the street altogether- instead of regulating them. Without the food out there it has been tough to drum up outdoor activities, and its only gotten worse as the suburbs get farther and farther away.

The first thing we need is the food. Then we may be able to think about working towards a walkable city. In the meantime head down to the Westheimer Block Party this Saturday, all day and all night, for the best street life Houston has to offer. I'll be there if front of Numbers, maybe I'll see ya!

Westheimer Street Festival, late 90s

Check out Dusti Rhodes' interview with Omar Afra!

The Rice Thresher goes up with their hipster analysis

Updates from bands at the Houston Press and their Artist of the Week

The Cosmopolitician weighs in

...and we still have need for enterprising artists!

Paula Anicete, Westheimer Block Party, 2007