Block Party returns at Reunion 2024 with live art, music performances

April 26, 2024 — With professional musicians and an artist on hand, joining an array of food trucks and carnival-type games, Block Party during Reunion 2024 will feel like an on-campus festival. 

With expanded hours from 5 to 10 p.m. on May 31, Block Party is returning to the Reunion event lineup for the third year in place of many of the class dinners. Music performances by alums Roxi Copland ’05 and Ella Williams ’18 – better known musically as Squirrel Flower – will add to the merriment. 

“Alums returning for Reunion who haven’t yet experienced Block Party are in for a treat,” says Guinevere Natarelli, associate director for reunion programs. “While it’s still a fairly new addition to the weekend, it’s been a hit from the start. I think attendees have enjoyed building their own Block Party experience by picking the food trucks and activities of their choice while hanging out with their friends in a relaxed atmosphere.”

A variety of food trucks, including Dari Barn, will line up along Eighth Avenue during Block Party.
A variety of food trucks, including Dari Barn, will line up along Eighth Avenue during Block Party.

Iowa-based food trucks lined up on Eighth Avenue will include Caribbean Kitchen (Jamaican cuisine), Cottonwood Canyon, Dari Barn, Fire on Wheels Pizza, Hotsy Totsy Food Truck, Karam’s Mediterranean Grill, La Calle (Latin American), Pho T, Scratch Curbside (cupcakes), and Smokin J’s BBQ. There will also be an option for kids meals provided by the Dining Hall. The food trucks are scheduled to be open for the duration of the event from 5 to 10 p.m.

The 50th, 65th, and 70th Reunion classes will still have class dinners on Friday evening.

Copland, a multi-award-winning singer, songwriter, pianist, and producer, will perform from 5:30-7 p.m. at Kington Plaza. The Austin-based artist describes her innovative sound as being forged at the crossroads of Americana, roots, and jazz.

“I noticed that what I really loved as a kid were songs that told stories, and a lot of those were country and Americana,” Copland writes on her website. “My songwriting started to have more of a tilt towards that direction.”

Copland has performed at over 1,000 events across the U.S., Canada, and Europe, and opened for a number of prominent acts, including Esperanza Spalding, Vanessa Carlton, and the Mingus Dynasty Band. Her 2023 song, “Daddy Don’t Do Politics,” was a finalist in the Folk/Americana Category of the Great American Song Contest.

Roxi Copland ’05 and Ella Williams ’18 – better known musically as Squirrel Flower
A singer, songwriter, pianist, and producer, Roxi Copland ’05, left, joins Ella Williams ’18 – better known musically as Squirrel Flower – as performers during Block Party.

Squirrel Flower will perform from 7:30-9 p.m. at Kington Plaza. The music that Williams composes as Squirrel Flower communicates a strong sense of place. Her self-released debut EP “early winter songs from middle america,” was written when she was a first year at Grinnell.

The Chicago-based indie rocker’s 2023 album Tomorrow’s Fire was widely lauded, landing on Rolling Stone’s 40 Best Indie-Rock Albums of 2023 and Vogue’s 26 Best Albums of 2023. Currently on tour, Grinnell alums have caught her show in several cities across the U.S., including a Grinnell-in-Philadelphia group outing to her concert in October.  

An artist of a different sort will also be at Kington Plaza. Kathleen Roling, a professional 3D illusion chalk artist from Des Moines, will be painting a work of art based on the Block Party. 

Roling has painted several murals on buildings, swimming pools, tunnels, and other areas. She won the Grand Championship at the 2016 Kewanee Chalk Art Festival in Illinois. 

A caricature artist draws a pair of alumni.
A caricature artist is one of many activities alums and their family members can choose from at Block Party.

“I love street art because it is for everyone to enjoy,” Roling says on her website. “My art isn’t closed inside four walls for only a few to see.”

Block Party will also include several yard games and activities appealing to all ages. Attendees can participate in Yard Checkers, Ring Toss, Cornhole, Yard-Zee and giant versions of Jenga, Connect Four, and Twister. The bounce house will return this year along with face painting, a caricature artist, and a photo booth. 

Block Party originated two years ago largely because of COVID-19 related concerns prior to Reunion 2022. The All-Reunion picnic shifted from Friday to Saturday evening (and became a barbecue) and the Block Party filled in on Friday evening. It turned out many Reunion attendees preferred the outdoor dinner setting and the chance to interact with Grinnellians across all classes. 

“We continue to refine Block Party each year while adding new elements to make the event even more festive, and I think to some degree it has become reminiscent of a few events alums recall from their own student experiences,” Natarelli says. 

Two alumni play cornhole
The always popular Cornhole is back this year along with several other entertaining yard games.

Outside of Block Party, another different Reunion element this year are five events led by Grinnell College faculty members. 

Senior faculty Kesho Scott and Will Freeman will team up for an overview of their Journeys courses they taught students. Tamara Beauboeuf-Lafontant, Louise R. Noun Chair in Gender, Women’s and Sexuality Studies, will present Becoming Edith Renfrow: Lessons from a Black family photo album, 1915-1937. 

The Class of 1974 will sponsor a panel about changing times featuring Scott, Rosenfield Professor Wayne Moyer, L.F. Parker Professor of History Sarah Purcell ’92, and Gertrude B. Austin Professor of Economics Bill Ferguson ’75. Professor Emeritus Sandy Moffett will present a reading from his new book, Emmi, and there will be a tour at Hazelwood Cemetery led by faculty, staff, and students who have documented the lives of African Americans who lived in the Grinnell area, including mapping each person buried in the cemetery.

“This is a bit of nod to Alumni Colleges of the past,” Natarelli says. “We think alums will immensely enjoy hearing and learning from some of their favorite professors.” 

— by Jeremy Shapiro

For your information

While Reunion 2024 registration will remain open through Reunion, late fees will be applied for registrations after May 15. Check out a preliminary schedule of Reunion events and see what alums have signed up to attend.

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