Celebrating music and community from the porch

Porchfests, where music stages spring up on neighborhood streets, are spreading in the US and Canada.

Samuel J. Sacks/JP Porchfest
Jamaica Plain Porchfest.

Around the corner came the strums of banjo music, a few blocks away a drummer and guitarist thumped out classic rock, and in the heart of town a trio of folk singers blended their voices in harmony. Audience members young and old sat and watched from lawn chairs, stood on curbs, or sat on the steps of front porches. Welcome to Jamaica Plain (Mass.) Porchfest, one of a growing number of events nationwide that are setting up music stages on neighborhood streets. 

“Our vision was to create a festival that really reflected the diversity and the talent of Jamaica Plain,” says Mindy Fried, cofounder of the free Boston neighborhood event. “We saw this as an opportunity to bring the community together and bridge those divides, using music as a vehicle.”

Over the past seven years, a growing number of summer Porchfests have emerged as a way for people to get in touch with the culture of their neighborhoods, much like farmers’ markets or open studios. The first Porchfest, as far as the organizers know, was in Ithaca, N.Y., in 2007, and 19 Porchfests have been organized since 2009 across the country and even in Canada. (For a complete list, visit porchfest.org/porchfests-elsewhere/.) 

“For so long, local music has been something that’s revolved around bars, and you can’t bring a kid to a bar or a nightclub,” says Andy Adelewitz, a Porchfest Ithaca co-organizer. “[Porchfest] really becomes a celebration of a creative community.”

Blues rock group Love Love, surfer/punk-rocker duo Sugarcoma, Mozambican guitarist Albino Jorge Mbie, and heart-melting harmonizers Goodbye Sadie were just a few of the musicians performing for the wandering audiences in Jamaica Plain in mid-July. The increased foot traffic and vibrant spirit throughout the neighborhood gave it the feeling of a moving block party, but with more purpose. 

Paul Barroquerio summed up the mood: “I like supporting my neighborhood, because I think this is the best neighborhood around.” 

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