Have you ever been to a block party? One where the street is actually blocked off and music is being played and people walk around and chat with each other in a way that suggests friendly neighborhoods are alive and well in America? I’d daydreamed about attending a block party like this for years, and it finally happened last Tuesday on Goodyear Boulevard between Newton Street and Honodle Avenue.
Different versions of this party occurred across America on the same day as part of National Night Out, an annual event started in 1984 which, according to the National Night Out website, is “a national community-building campaign that promotes police-community partnerships.” Fifteen of these events were held in different neighborhoods throughout the city of Akron.
The one in North Hill was supposedly a picnic. The one I attended was more like a small festival.
“Every year this gets a little bigger,” said R.I.G.H.T. Committee president Sharon Connor, who helped organize the Goodyear Blvd. event.
There was face-painting, haircuts, cotton-candy, multi-colored balloons, somebody dancing in a T-Rex costume and live music performed in the paved lot beside the Linda Theater.
Rapper/singer Floco Torres delivered a lively set of his inspirational alternative hip-hop/r’n’b blend. Between songs he shouted-out passersby, interacted with the crowd and even invited a pre-teen heckler (we’ll get to that later…) to talk on the microphone.
“It was cool playing an ‘old-school’ block party,” said Torres. “I loved the atmosphere.”
East Akron natives The Dreemers closed out the evening with their surfer tunes delivered with a scuffed-up garage-rock sound. Between live acts, DJ Forrest Getemgump cut up b-boy-friendly breakbeats that were being played at New York City block parties circa the late ’70s/early ’80s. I was lucky enough to spin some records alongside Forrest, a high point of my summer.
The event’s community-building focus seemed successful. Police officers conversed with civilians and shook a lot of hands. Little kids wandered around with sticks of cotton candy and big smiles. People were just plain friendly.
And everything was free. Even the haircuts.
The only remotely troublesome moment of the evening was when a 10-or-so year-old kid sucked in helium from a balloon and, with a chipmunk-pitched voice, began heckling the DJ.
That DJ was me.
But it’s all good.