There are a few occasions each year when the area surrounding the U.S. Custom House transforms into the venue for a giant block party. The annual MOJA Reggae Block Dance is one of the best. We could smell the Swisher Sweets burning, as we strolled down the sidewalk of East Bay to avoid the traffic of people trying to park for the show. MOJA reps estimate 18,000 residents took part in Friday night’s festivities, and police made blockades to make room for the crowd.

On one side of North Market, ethnic food vendors sold items like saltfish, chicken wings, and Jamaican beef. On the other, booths had oils, African clothing, and bootleg CDs for sale, blasting Lil’ Wayne and dance hall music from portable speakers.

The Block Dance itself was a melting pot of white and black, young and old. And between the crowded stairs of the Custom House and the main stage, dads with babies on their shoulders, married couples and single ladies, all swayed to the sounds of De Lions of Jah and Dis-N-Dat Caribbean Band. Despite its mass, the crowd was relatively tame (though any real bumping ‘n’ grinding happened by the stage).

By 10:30 p.m., most had dispersed from the Custom House, but the presence of the Block Dance still lingered in the streets. All night, Market bars were flooded with people, as one tricked-out car after another bumped their subs through the city. More than a great show with great music, the MOJA Block Dance ignites Charleston with diversity in a way no other event can. Goes to show you what can happen over the love of fried food and free reggae.