East End Block Party’s Fire Grows in Downtown Santa Ana

East End Block Party (Credit: J.J. Arcinas)

While the last five years have seen a massive emergence and oversaturation of what’s become known as “festival culture,” it’s also brought about plenty of negative emotions and restrictions regarding what a festival can really be about. Every weekend, it seems like there’s a new for-profit music, food, or film festival making greedy promoters boatloads of money with the same generic setup, attractions, and astronomical beer prices. What was formerly often a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity has become such a predictable template that high-dollar festivals with the slightest bit of variance — from Coachella’s massive desert sprawl to Camp Flog Gnaw’s carnival attractions — are now praised for their individuality in a sea of virtually identical weekend-long events.

The East End Block Party isn’t one of those photocopied festivals.

Although it may sound familiar with over 70 acts spread out across 10 hours and 4 stages, the fifth annual summer celebration of downtown Santa Ana brings together everything from local food and shopping to up-and-coming national artists and musicians — all without charging a dime for admission. Rather than using their event to turn a profit, the guys behind the East End Block Party care more about putting the recent changes in their neighborhood and city on the map.

“I think a lot of people still don’t know what’s happening in Santa Ana or haven’t been here before or have a negative perception of it, so I think to see people’s reactions when they come here is really neat,” says Ryan Chase, the landlord and primary stakeholder of the East End Block Party — as well as much of downtown Santa Ana. “I know people who live in Santa Ana who have never been downtown, so I think it’s exciting to show off what’s happening with the growth and development of the party, the community, and the city.”

“I still meet people to this day who haven’t experienced downtown,” says Tyson Pruong, one of the driving forces behind both the East End Block Party for the last four years and Konsept Project, one of Santa Ana’s most prominent creative collectives. “Any chance I get to show people a different side of downtown, they’re always like ‘We never knew this was happening in our own backyard.’ Now I have friends I’ve made as far as the East Coast who come out just for the weekend of the East End Block Party. It’s crazy that we’ve made such a big impact.”

“I’ve watched this festival grow, and I had artists already asking me last year if I was involved with it because I’m born and raised in Santa Ana and most of my events are here in Santa Ana,” adds DJ Droops, who helped shape the Observatory’s recent hip-hop resurgence and is now handling talent for one of the East End Block Party’s stages. “I’ve come out to the last two or three events, and it’s an honor just to be asked to be involved. I really have so much love for this city, and I just wanted to bring some talent and some ideas to the table for this.”

With the transformation of downtown Santa Ana being a bit of a touchy subject among some of its long-term residents and newer tenants, the evolution of the East End Block Party alongside the area is unmistakable. As the culture of DTSA continued to shift from its traditional Latinx roots to a more contemporary urban feel, the fusion of hip-hop, rock, street art, and streetwear culture that now carries the festival expanded into a brand all its own. With Chase, Pruong, and Chris Gonzalez of Top Acid — Pruong’s more rock-themed counterpart — bringing in local heavy hitters like Droops and trendsetters such as the Coollab Project over the years, the creation of the East End Block Party each year has become as much about planning and coordination rather than just a few people’s visions of what a downtown Santa Ana festival should be like.

“There are a lot more emails going back and forth now,” Chase jokes. “It’s a lot more fun now that we have more people involved. When Tyson and some of the others started doing it, we didn’t know where it was going to go or how it was going to evolve, but that all just organically kind of happened. There’s no official Block Party thing where we start planning on a specific date, but it just kind of morphs and every year we get a little better at it.”

“The people we get involved with each year help it grow,” Pruong says. “The line-up is getting better. The other promoters and organizers we have now are definitely helping to make it grow, and I think it makes it easier that we have the right tenants here to help push the event as well.”

But aside from an increase in the teamwork behind the festival, making Droops officially a part of the East End Block Party crew raised the level of artists attainable for the event this year. While Pruong may have his fingerprints on the majority of Santa Ana’s local hip-hop scene, Droops’ time working with the likes of the Observatory and Goldenvoice have given him access to many performers who would’ve only ever been a pipe dream for the event in previous years. With headliners like Reverie, OHNO, and RJ on the East End stage this year, the 11-year industry veteran’s presence is already being felt.

“We had a long list of talent that we wanted to go after, but unfortunately some people are on tour and stuff like that,” Droops says. “Honestly, the lineup that we pulled off is pretty solid for the amount of time and budget that we had. With the amount of talent we’re going to have onstage this year, it’s going to give a lot of the local artists people to look up to. Reverie is touring the world now, and RJ is one of the biggest artists coming out of LA in the last few years. Even the guys under them are cool too. They’re all on their way up, and I think I’m really going to enjoy this line-up.”

This year’s East End Block Party looks like the perfect combination with the bigger headliners added on to what’s always been a good time. Of course, part of what makes the event work is that despite Chase’s hands-on mentality with most of his ventures, the father of two is more than willing to step aside and let his younger volunteers handle the programming for a crowd which he admittedly knows little to nothing about.

“Both Tyson and Chris from Top Acid have built these followings where people have started to know about them and get the word out,” Chase says. “Konsept does a few events a year, and people hear about them. Top Acid does even less events, so when they do an event, all these teeny-bopper kids — the Burger Records crowd or whatever — come out for it. I’m too old for it, but these kids go fucking crazy for these bands he pulls. He finds these random bands that have a few hundred or a few thousand followers, but for some reason these kids gravitate toward these bands. It’s well above my head, but whatever they’re doing is working. I just try to empower the young guys who are in the trenches and doing cool shit because I’m way too old and out of touch to understand what’s happening.”

East End Block Party featuring RJ, Reverie, Hi Tone and more in Downtown Santa Ana, 305 E. 4th St., Santa Ana, http://eastenddtsa.com/event/east-end-block-party, June 9th, 12 p.m.-10p.m., free, all ages. 

Josh Chesler used to play baseball for some pretty cool teams, but now he just writes about awesome stuff like tattoos, music, MMA and sneakers. He enjoys injuring himself by skateboarding, training for fights, and playing musical instruments in his off time.

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