The sights, sounds and smells of 4th Street Market say a lot about the current state of downtown Santa Ana (DTSA). The hip, fast-paced food hall greets you with the flavor profiles of many cultures fusing into the hub that developer Ryan Chase has used to rebrand the area over the past four years. However, he has always hoped that music would be part of that equation.
Once a year, the area rises to the occasion with East End Block Party, a free event backed by Chase and spearheaded by Konsept Collective founder Tyson Pruong, who works with a team of promoters, artistic collectives and DTSA businesses. The shape of it continues to grow and change with the neighborhood, Pruong says, gradually incorporating all styles and cultures while trying to retain a distinct feeling of Santa Ana.
“I think it’s not just the festival growing; it’s [also] us growing as individuals,” he explains. “The more I’ve been working behind the scenes in the industry, the more promoting [I’ve done] and people I’ve met. These opportunities allowed me to contribute to the festival that’s giving back to the community with the resources that I have.”
That experience and teamwork shows in this year’s ambitious lineup. Expanding to six stages, the fest added EDM and Spanish-speaking artists (on the Feels and Giant stages, respectively).
You can also expect hip-hop, R&B, punk, Latinx, and alt-rock acts on the East End Stage, the Feel Good Collective Stage, OCML Stage and the Chucotown Stage. Underground hip-hop’s dark lord, Hopsin, will host a pop-up shop for his clothing brand Undercover Prodigy. Meanwhile, the new Link Market will be open to festival-goers shopping for street wear. And Artisans Trading Co. will sell pins and stickers on Fourth and Bush streets.
Last year, despite meeting an untimely end when a scare over an inert grenade forced police to clear the streets, the Block Party’s crowd was the largest to date, attracting thousands of patrons. A mix of Santaneros and fans coming from as far as LA, Riverside and San Diego shows the magnetic pull of the festival as it has grown.
“The reality is that this was not a place people wanted to come to five or 10 years ago, for a lot of reasons. This festival helps open those doors and makes people aware of what’s here,” Chase says. “From an Orange County standpoint, there’s not a cool urban center; [DTSA] is it. We don’t have to go to LA to have that experience; we can do it here.”
The organizers have also noticed the number of families coming to the event is steadily increasing.
“Being a parent, seeing audiences with strollers and seeing their family over here it really changes the whole perspective and setting and I love it,” says Production Manager Daniel Park.
The collective vibe that kicked off with Konsept several years ago is strengthening as Third Street venues La Santa and the Yost Theater expand and begin to host more marquee Goldenvoice acts, drawing packed crowds to the area.
Expect some of that big-budget magic to surface at this year’s Block Party, as a variety of surprise special guests are scheduled to perform. And after the main event, La Santa hosts an after-party featuring West Coast gangsta-rap legend Kurupt.
For Carlos “Droops” Cerda, a longtime DJ and promoter of hip-hop events in Santa Ana, using star-powered resources to throw a free event is his way of giving back to local fans. “I looked at it as a fan-appreciation show for supporting all the events we’ve been doing here in Santa Ana that do have a price tag on ’em,” he says. “So to do something like that for the city and to bring everyone under one umbrella—we have different artists, different stages and whatnot—it’s a little bit of something for everyone.”
It’s also a good look for local artists such as Jay Taj, Reverie, Vel the Wonder, DJ Lala and the Hurricanes, who have contributed to the event growth as performers, fans and promoters of the city in their own right.
“If it was all national acts—who gives a shit?” Chase says. “They’re all doing their thing and making their money; they don’t care about Santa Ana. The people who are here really give a shit, and some of the people who are coming are giving us really favorable terms just to come, just because they’re from here and they’re proud of Santa Ana getting some attention finally.”
The festival comes at a time when the Santa Ana music scene is evolving, with venues such as the Observatory changing ownership, the revamp and expansion of La Santa swallowing up former restaurant Cevichería Nais, and even whispers about plans to build a larger venue downtown. This year also marks the last hoorah for Konsept Collective, as its core members pursue other opportunities. But Pruong says his commitment to the Block Party remains solid, and he hopes the event will be as big of a draw to the downtown community as 4th Street Market.
“I say this every year: I want to start planning the Block Party earlier and earlier,” he says. “This year, we finally started planning six months out, but I really can’t wait until we start one year out—just making sure it gets better every year.”
East End Block Party on Fourth Street, between Bush and French streets, Santa Ana; www.eastendblockparty.com. Sat., noon-10 p.m. Free. All ages.