Can you Handle it?

The gathering at 18th and Capitol last Saturday bore all the trappings of the traditional block party. There were vendors peddling their wares, mediocre bands playing mediocre music, people to watch and, oh yeah, art. It appears that, as part of our new metropolitan makeover, Sacramento is experiencing the advent of the block party. This particular shindig was billed the “Midtown Festival.” “Festive” might be an accurate description; “festival” was, ah, an overstatement.

In what appeared as an attempt to make up for quality with quantity, the organizers went to great lengths to book multiple bands, forgetting that it takes more than an amp to make a great band. While the individual performances didn’t warrant any letters home, the collective effect of so much music being made in the street did add some flair.

At 7 or so, the crowd was sparse, even though the area has established itself as a bit of a dining hub. Maybe that had to do with the absence (gasp) of easily accessible valet parking. At any rate, business was brisk by sunset, and at nightfall the place was hopping. A reflection of the nearby businesses, the crowd was mostly well heeled and middle-aged, a few families with children thrown in for good measure.

True, it wasn’t the party of the century. Or even the weekend. It was, however, an improvement over the well-advertised and poorly executed 6/9 block party in June. That event, which was limited to the strip of businesses between 27th and 28th streets, didn’t get a permit to cordon off its streets. Totally missing the meaning of “block” party, it amounted to little more than a crowded sidewalk and a long line at the bar.

Three months later, this new gathering had a much better showing. Sure, it was no San Francisco-style street fair with excessive public debauchery and costumed party goers. Instead, we’ll call it “a step in the right direction.”

The party was organized by the Midtown Business Association and its “Handle District” partners. To someone standing in the street with a five-dollar beer in hand, the capitalistic motives weren’t too obvious. But when the event sponsors include the still under construction L Street Lofts and the Lyon Real Estate group, it’s clear that the affair wasn’t just a way to support the arts and celebrate the neighborhood.

The neighborhood, by the way, used to just be called “18th and Capitol,” and is now marketing itself as “The Handle District.” This new “district” runs approximately from Capitol to K Street between 17th and 20th streets. It is a burgeoning little hood, and these promotional efforts were an obvious first step in establishing its identity. Contrived as it is, the area has emerged with its own little well-manicured culture, giving it a name is likely an appropriate choice. Plus, hey, we got a block party.