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Natick - Local Town Pages

Porchfest — Live And Local

Nov 04, 2021 09:09AM ● By Chuck Tashjian
By Sean Sullivan
Consider the porch.
In quieter moments, porches host rocking chairs and wicker furniture. But last month they took center stage, hosts to rock, folk, acoustic and many other modes of music.
Porchfest is the live-music  event whereby residents, sheltered beneath shingled overhangs, host musicians upon the steps and stoops of their homes. Hyper-local by definition, Natick residents could walk or bike to experience most or all of the acts echoing throughout streets and sidewalks. The porches hosting performers were by design clustered around Natick’s downtown area for maximal accessibility.
The venues — all stages largely shielded from the elements — are a gray area between the greater outdoors and shelter of interior spaces. Places of shade from the summer sun, respite from the rain. A porch can provide that semi-solitude perfect for early-morning coffee, or a platform for socializing with family and friends. In New England they are three-season sanctuaries (four for hardier residents), who with knit hats, heavy blankets and hot cocoa savor sitting outside to watch a snowstorm’s falling flakes.
The Natick Center Cultural District (NCCD) has organized the autumn event for the past three years, though Porchfest 2020 was a virtual version of the community concert.
“It allowed people to come together around the gift of music,” said Athena Pandolf of the September 25th event. She is executive director of the NCCD and worked to organize Porchfest. Drawing on participants of years past, Pandolf matched the prime porches of willing residents with musicians looking for a place to play. The NCCD advertised the event on its website, seeking to persuade more performers to participate. In all, 15 residents shared their stoops with over 30 musical acts.
“It was immensely popular with the community.”

The progenitors of Porchfest are likely as old as music itself, when prehistoric perches of all kinds must have been occupied to showcase the advent of instruments, storytelling and songs. Technologies and venues have evolved - amphitheater succeeded by amplifier, Renaissance balcony replaced by residential porch.
Those porches are local, of course, but the event now draws talent from near and far. Versions of Porchfest today are held in communities all over the country and abroad. Roberta Lamb is a Rhode Island resident, but travelled those miles north to participate. The singer-songwriter could be found performing before a small crowd gathered on a Wilson Street lawn, part of a constellation of Natick Porchfest performers clustered around adjacent Sherman Street.
Plugged into the regional music scene, Lamb was quick to secure one of Natick’s coveted porches for her performance. She is a customer of Natick’s Music Go Round, the town’s longtime source for new and used instruments. The store sponsored  this year’s Porchfest, and hosted the event’s grand finale performance in its parking lot. Lamb has played Porchfest before in a neighboring town, and has also showcased her talents at TCAN, Natick’s popular performing-arts venue.
“I’ve been at this really seriously for about four years,” she said of her music journey. “I maintained all my Massachusetts connections.”
The most direct connection for Natick resident Judy Maggs was her own front porch. She is a musician herself, and had some recent experience performing on that venue right outside the door of her Walnut Street home.
Maggs spent some downtime during the pandemic entertaining neighbors with informal, impromptu solo performances - Disney show tunes her specialty. Her keyboard-playing persona goes by the handle “JMKeys,” and she hosted the band “Stretchpants” and solo artist Peter Montgomery for her Porchfest debut, sometimes performing with them during the event.
“There’s no such thing as too much music in my opinion,” she said.
Maggs had never played or hosted Porchfest, but had heard of the event in years past. And when the post-pandemic opportunity presented itself, she signed up to perform and offer her porch as a venue.  
“I’m a big fan of making and listening to music,” she said. “I knew this was something I had to do.”       
Natick’s Steve Levinsky hosted musicians on his Pond Street porch this time around, as he’d done during Natick’s Porchfest premier in 2019. The longtime resident has served as chair of TCAN’s board, and remains involved in shaping the town’s cultural character. 
Porch hosts don’t know whom they’ll be paired with for the event, and Levinsky said it’s always luck of the draw. 
“It’s hard to find a genre I don’t like,” he said of his taste in music, adding that he’s partial to live music of all stripes. Though Porchfest was held virtually last year, he said its return to open-air and in-person venues was most welcome. 
“There was pent-up demand. Everybody wanted to come outside.”
Turns out the porch’s powers of protection from the elements weren’t needed that Saturday. The event was blessed by blue skies and balmy temperatures.   
“It was a great day from morning to night,” said Levinsky. “The world is not perfect. But Natick is pretty perfect today.”