This year marks only the fifth round for Tacoma’s Hilltop Street Fair, but already this summer event happening on the heights that overlook downtown has grown by leaps and bounds and is becoming one of the best attended street fairs in Tacoma. Last year’s attendance was an estimated 20,000. The free event takes place Saturday, Aug. 25 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Martin Luther King Jr. Way between South 9th and 13th Streets.
The Hilltop Street Fair offers something for everyone: music, food, art and community. The Hilltop, the area on the high bluff that presides over Commencement Bay and the Port of Tacoma, has a long and storied history and boasts a diverse population.
I lived in Hilltop back in the early 1980s when the area was infamous for its gang warfare. Even then, however, I found the neighborhood to be not without plenty of charm. If I sat on my kitchen counter I could command a view of the entire port. I loved the old houses and the shimmering domes of the orthodox church down the street, as well as the space-age tower of Saint Joseph’s Hospital. My favorite treasure was a little neighborhood grocery store run by Rastafarians who had posters of Bob Marley and were always burning sumptuous incense.
The old days are gone and the charms of Hilltop are coming to be appreciated by more and more folks, which is reflected in the exponential growth of the popularity of the Hilltop Street Fair.
The Hilltop Street Fair includes all of the usual ingredients like food vendors, arts and crafts vendors, kids’ activities and informational booths. Tacoma Community House, for example, will be giving away “I Stand with Immigrants and Refugees” buttons. There will also be free wellness and dental exams.
Something not found at your average street fair is a quilt show and a fashion show, both of which the Hilltop Street Fair features. The fashion show is presented by the Sound Movement Art Center, a modeling, cheer and dance class studio. Local designers get to show their creations on a fashion runway and fledgling fashion models gain some experience.
Also on hand will be historical reenactors from the 9th and 10th Horse Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers Museum (Tacoma boasts one of the two such museums in the country.) Dressed in their Union Civil War Uniforms and mounted on horseback, these men pay homage to the unsung African American soldiers that have often fought for the Unites States, despite lack of appreciation. The Buffalo Soldiers Museum is an organization that seeks to honor the America’s Buffalo Soldiers. “Buffalo Soldiers,” to those who don’t know, was a nickname was given to the Negro Cavalry by Native American tribes who fought in the Indian Wars. The term became a generic for all black soldiers. It is now used for U.S. Army units that trace their lineage back to the 9th and 10th Cavalry units.
One of the big draws of the street fair is the car show put on by the Blacktop Rebels Car Club. All car makes and models are welcome (classics, hotrods, lowriders etc.) From my observation, members of the Blacktop Rebels tend to favor rat rods: mean machines with a wicked, careworn look, but with powerful stuff under the hood – something like the automotive version of the Millennium Falcon, the famous space ship of the Star Wars movie sagas.
Centro Latino Community Center, which puts on an annual Latin Arts Festival, has begun to do so in conjunction with the Hilltop Street Festival. Fairgoers will be able to view the Latin Arts Festival Juried Art Show at the community center at 1208 S. 10th St.
Another unique feature of the Hilltop Street Fair is its film competition. Visitors can screen work from local filmmakers who celebrate the festival’s theme of celebrating diversity and inclusion. The screening is free and will be held at the Hilltop Regional Health Center in the Community Room. The building is located at 1202 Martin Luther King Jr. Way.
The Hilltop Street Fair Film Competition is sponsored by the Hilltop Action Coalition, the 2018 Hilltop Street Fair and the Tacoma Arts Commission. The competition runs 12–4 p.m. The family friendly submission categories included: documentaries, drama, comedies and more. The award ceremony starts at 3 p.m.
A staple of any street fair is live music and entertainment. The Hilltop Street Fair boasts four stages that will be playing live music all day long. As of this printing, only the lineup for the Eleven Eleven Stage (at The Eleven Eleven bar – 1111 S. 11th St.) has been disseminated. At the Eleven Eleven beer garden, free entertainment runs from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and will feature The Shivering Denizens, Ancestors of God, Barnyard Stompers, Old Foals, Ball Bag, Bryson Foster Band, Sky Giants and Halcion Halo.
The Hilltop Street Fair is presented by Hilltop Business Association with partnerships and support from The City of Tacoma, Tacoma Arts Commission, KBTC Public Television, Community Health Care, Associated Ministries, Allen AME, Blacktop Rebels CC, The Eleven Eleven, Mr Mac, Centro Latino, US Bank and more.
For more information, visit or www.hbatacoma.com.