18 months into COVID-19, Austin neighborhood continues nightly social distanced gatherings


AUSTIN (KXAN) — In the early days of the pandemic, neighborhoods around the world gathered each night for socially-distanced block parties, playing music and singing from balconies as far off as New York City and Sicily. The gatherings were a welcome reprieve for people navigating self-isolation and quarantining amid the spread of the coronavirus.

Eighteen months later, one neighborhood in northwest Austin has kept the momentum going, with nightly socially-distanced block parties that feature plenty of dancing, chatter and, of course, music.

“We grew up in the 60s, so Motown was really big for us,” said Dale Bulla, an Austin resident and social gathering organizer. “We play a lot of jazz and Motown, anything that has a really good beat.”

Dale and his wife, Pat, coordinated the socially-distanced gatherings as a way to honor health care personnel and other essential workers on the front lines of the pandemic. Each night, about a dozen residents come in tow with pots, pans and instruments to make some noise in recognition of those workers’ contributions.

“They’re just so overwhelmed,” Pat said. “It’s like, what can we do to help support them? And I don’t know if this helps them at all. But we’re sending out positive energy into the atmosphere.”

After several months of the nightly meetups, Pat floated the idea of ending them, worried there might be disinterest at this point, or people were ready to move on. Instead, she said she received an outpouring of support from neighbors, requesting the socially-distanced gatherings continue.

“At one point, after we’d been doing it for a while, we began to say, ‘well, maybe that’s enough. Maybe we need to stop,'” she recalled. “And people said, ‘oh, no, we can’t stop. This is too much fun.’ So it’s continued for over a year.”

What does more than a year’s worth of social distanced gatherings translate to? For Dale, these gatherings are more than just the music and dancing.

It’s the people supporting a grieving neighbor who lost her husband in June 2020. It’s celebrating a neighbor’s new grandchild, with residents delivering some new toys and items to celebrate their birth. It’s watching teenagers grow up and go away to college, only to come back on breaks and dance in the streets with their families each night at 7 p.m.

In 18 months of social distancing, new and deeper friendships were forged that might not have existed otherwise, Pat said.

“It’s just a shared community experience,” Dale added.

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