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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Like a good neighbor: Flaco’s and Vecino’s host block party weekend

The celebrated Cuban restaurant and next-door bar aim to rekindle the spirit of community with similar events in the future

At the corner of Flaco’s and Vecino’s, a Block Party Weekend transformed 2nd Street into an ambient gathering space for two nights of live music, Cuban food, craft cocktails and more.
At the corner of Flaco’s and Vecino’s, a Block Party Weekend transformed 2nd Street into an ambient gathering space for two nights of live music, Cuban food, craft cocktails and more.

The block was hot this weekend, and it wasn’t just because of the climbing Gainesville temperatures.

At the corner of Flaco’s and Vecino’s, a Block Party Weekend transformed 2nd Street into an ambient gathering space for two nights of live music, Cuban food, craft cocktails and more. As Flaco’s expands and live shows make their return, the block party was just one event among the many Flaco’s plans to host in the future. 

Co-owner of Flaco’s, Vecino’s and Abuela’s Sara Puyana said the block party is an early step toward the future of Flaco’s, one she envisions as being more inclusive and community-centric. With Puyana’s acquisition of Vecino’s — previously known as Durty Nelly’s until closing in June 2020 — and the continuation of live events, she plans to create a hub for social gatherings as the property expands.

Around 30 attendees at a time filtered in and out of the makeshift patio, all while the slated musicians performed stripped-down, acoustic sets at the front stage. For safety measure purposes, the event had distanced tables, masks for employees and hand sanitizer stations.  

Intimate but still lively, the block party was brimming with light conversation in every crevice. Puyana, said the event set out to rekindle this spirit of connection and community, which was hindered by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and closures — both temporary and permanent — of several local businesses.

As one of the few Gainesville businesses with ample space for distanced events, Puyana said the block party was conceptualized as a means for people to gather safely, especially in light of Memorial Day Weekend.  

“We kind of feel responsible to create activities for people to partake in a safe place, which is outside,” she said.

Puyana said the lineup for the block party, encompassing everything from EDM to pop punk to hip hop and beyond, was curated to showcase different facets of Gainesville’s diverse population. With a variety of styles and cultures included, Puyana said the event aimed to serve as an accurate reflection of the city’s musical makeup.

“It’s important for us to make sure we’re representing different parts of our community,” she said.

Working with Jennifer Vito, a local events consultant and musician, Flaco’s brought the block party to fruition. Performers included locals like rapper Azazus and pop punk group Articles, along with out-of-towners like Miski Dee Rodriguez of Michigan punk trio City Mouse. Vito even performed with their side project Jenarchy, offering an acoustic set early in Saturday’s event.

Though these acts would normally put on larger-scale productions, the block party was a much more low-key affair. Vito said the acoustic sets were unique to the block party’s more subdued setting, providing artists with the opportunity to strip down their music in front of a smaller crowd.

As a community events organizer, Vito said matching the vibe of the block party was essential in its execution.

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Vecino’s also featured performers such as the Brazilian duo Hermogenes Araujo and Pamelli Marafon, who took the stage Saturday night with everything from original songs to traditional samba music to a Gershwin standard in their musical repertoire.

Marafon, originally from São Paulo but a Gainesville resident of three years, praised the area’s open and accepting music community. Despite a style that strays from staples like metal or indie rock, Marafon said her music with Araujo has been well-received by Gainesville fans.

As live events like the block party are returning, Marafon said the ability to reach people through music is returning with them. Though live streaming and remote listening were suitable substitutes at the apex of COVID-19 shutdowns, Marafon said the tangible energy exchange found at a live show is irreplaceable.

This energy exchange, fueled by the mutual passions of performers and spectators, is what Marafon said draws fans in the first place.

“As an artist, when we offer something with love, it’s the first step to connect,” she said.

Vecino’s and Flaco’s will eventually merge into one larger entity, a hallway connecting the two establishments. Puyana said the joint businesses will host concerts, fundraisers and educational events upon the project’s completion.

As the property adjacent to Flaco’s, Vecino’s — meaning “neighbor” in Spanish — is aptly named, but the definition of being a neighbor extends beyond physical proximity.

For Puyana, it means championing local businesses and artists, providing a place for people to congregate and celebrate all the city has to offer. It means being consistent, adapting when necessary and keeping the doors open to ensure the preservation of space where all are welcome.

Contact Heather Follow her on Twitter @hgrizzl.

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Heather Bushman

Heather Bushman is a fourth-year journalism and political science student and the enterprise elections reporter. She previously wrote and edited for the Avenue desk and reported for WUFT News. You can usually find her writing, listening to music or writing about listening to music. Ask her about synesthesia or her album tier list sometime.

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