Good Food and Good Conversation: Two Essential Ingredients for a Block Party
By Christine Gwillim

TBA Opening Night BBQ

TBA Opening Night BBQ
Photo: Mallary Wilson

What does it take to transform dinner into a party, and a party into a block party? For this year’s opening night at TBA, it was affordable tickets, BBQ, and some loud energetic tunes playing at the festival’s yearly half-block street-turned-beer garden. I showed up early, notebook in hand, expecting vendors, games and other usual block party activities. Instead, I met a simple buffet line, eager attendees, and electrified PICA staff for a simple, communal meal- and it was perfect.

TBA Opening Night BBQ

TBA Opening Night BBQ DJ: VNPRT
Photo: Leslie Vigeant

The food was filling and tasty, there was plenty of seating, and most importantly folks were there to be with one another. Strangers sat alongside one another at long wooden tables, groups of friends convened in pockets near the bar and water cooler. Everyone talked, even when the music was so loud we had to yell. We smiled at one another through bites of coleslaw and ribs (or jackfruit) trading plans for the festival and sharing how and why we came to the festival.

TBA Opening Night BBQ

Photo: Leslie Vigeant

A long, steady line snaked through the tables well into the party. At 8:30 there were still folks waiting to exchange tickets for a plate of BBQ. A person sat down next to me shortly after with a plate full of jackfruit, beans and rice and salad. I mentioned that I had eaten earlier, he asked if there had been meat- or if it was a vegan BBQ- there had, but it was gone- and he seemed fine with it.

I imagined a BBQ in my home, Austin TX, envisioning enraged attendees begrudgingly eating jackfruit instead of ribs. We talked about how we’d come from far- Texas and Arkansas, or near- Seattle and Portland locals- and why we came- to see new performances, to perform, to work, to stretch our imaginations. We were excited that the opening night meal was affordable, casual, and made space for us to meet people to connect with for the rest of the festival- and maybe, hopefully, beyond.