While the hardcore stylings of the band Dumb Fuck nostalgically thrashed as the sun set on the corner of French and 4th street in Downtown Santa Ana, a fleet of cops rushed in like a bat outta hell, as the mosh pit raged on. You’d be forgiven for thinking the whole scene felt a bit too on the nose: kids in Circle Jerk shirts and patched denim jackets head-banging, a too-loud-for-their-own-good punk band, a freewheeling and ruckus music and arts festival, and now, of course, the cops. But even as the boos echoed from the crowd when officers eventually descended upon the makeshift stage, what would follow wasn’t a noise violation or a warning against underage drinking–a grenade was sitting, un-detonated, on the intersection sidewalk across the street.
Santa Ana’s annual East End Block Party, a bastion for youthful recklessness and punk ideologies, had gone off without a hitch prior to the helicopters and cruisers overtaking the tiny festival, and then in an instant, chaos overwhelmed.
The first word of the explosive came from the circling helicopter. Spectators from rooftops of the nearby parking structure and beer bar watched the festival’s stages clear, albeit slowly, as the confusion surrounding the mysterious explosive device grew. As a cop approached the stage to alert festival organizers, unaware punks saw his advancement as a sign of doom, not as a warning of safety. After what seemed like an eternity, an announcement acknowledging the police presence was finally made.
Gradually, the police crept closer down 4th Street. Festival organizers, whose staff already felt somewhat transparent, seemed nowhere to be found. Vendors either quickly packed their pop ups or abandoned them altogether, festival goers in the downtown’s cult picture house, The Frida, became trapped inside as the outside street closed, and slowly the other stages winded down. But nonetheless, answers to why the police were shutting down the festival were unanswered for many.
Santa Ana PD released a statement at 9:17 p.m. via Twitter:
Officers assigned to work the “Block Party” observed a large fight at 4th/French. While breaking up the fight, they observed a hand grenade in close proximity. The area was evacuated. The OCSD Bomb Squad responded and determined the grenade was inert.
Dozens of onlookers, waiting patiently for the nights headliner, rising Southern California rapper OHNO, slowly walked west on 4th as the police line closed in. “Someone was bullshitting with some bullshit and now we all gotta go home,” said one of the MCs on the festivals main stage, as close to an official word from an organizer as anyone would get in those frantic 30 minutes.
Elsewhere, news of the grenade hadn’t touched the festivals alley stage, where despite the red and blue lights in the distance, Ontario, CA punks Ariel View kept the party going while the helicopter megaphones begged for the audience to evacuate. “Peace and love! Peace and love,” the band shouted before kicking into an appropriately messy version of the Strokes “Reptilia.” There was a beautiful, if somewhat scary, irony to hearing them shout “The room is on fire,” as the helicopters begged onlookers to leave.
Decades of enforced weariness between the music world and law enforcement came to a head at the East End Block Party, where a legitimate threat in an increasingly scary world was met with ill communicated confusion and a perceived fight on people’s right to party. What was an extremely exciting event, brimming with young music fans and some of Orange County’s best up-and-coming hip-hop, metal, psych, and metal, was cut short for reasons that never had a chance to sink in.