Porch Players Return
Many a sunrise and sunset has been savored in the shelter and serenity of this sacred space, many a conversation and much quality time shared with family and friends.
Porches are a place between privacy and publicity, indoors and out. It’s the perfect stage from which to watch precipitation play out, a rain or snowstorm, sheltered from the elements.
It’s also a space that seems to have fallen somewhat out of favor in a culture often frantic to beat rush hour roadways, race from one youth sporting event to another, juggle multiple jobs or gigs.
But porches were reclaimed for a time during the pandemic pause, liminal spaces that became landing places - where neighbors, friends and family could gatherduring those uncertain days and months.
And if it happens to be one’s preoccupation, the porch is a prime perch from which to survey a property line, scolding neighborhood kids and dogs to scram off one’s lawn.
In stark contrast to the spirit of that latter function, Natick’s Porchfest repurposes this unique space into a stage, onto which residents welcome perfect strangers. There, the guests will play guitar (or other instruments) for audiences gathered on the green of lawns.
Porchfest is a grassroots, hyperlocal music festival, one that puts community center stage. Performers are paired with residents eager to lend their porches for a few hours, providing a venue for local artists to play before the public.
A unique feature of the events is that performances are pro bono, as are the procurement of porches. The event is jealously guarded as a music-making (not money-making) enterprise.
Porchfest isn’t a Natick original. It’s a sharing of space and sound that’s been a highlight for years in other towns and cities.
The history of Porchfest dates back more than a decade, when the inaugural performances were held in Ithaca, New York in 2007. That first festival featured about twenty acts, but has evolved into an annual extravaganza sometimes featuring over a hundred performers.
In recent years, many Massachusetts municipalities have hosted their own versions of Porchfest, some adopting the event into an annual ritual of community culture.
Porchfest has also spread since its inception to all corners of the country and beyond, even crossing the border into Canadian provinces.
The porch hosts are really the unsung stars of the show, said Athena Pandolf - the often-unseen homeowners that make the performances possible. Those verandas-turned-venues also lend the event its unique local flavor.
“They open up their homes and make it really special.” Pandolf is Director of the Natick Center Cultural District, the organization that plays a leading role in producing Porchfest. “I think that’s what makes it such a wonderful community event.”
The town has been hosting the annual late-summer event since 2019, and the intervening years have seen its volume and variety bloom.
“Each year it’s just grown exponentially.”
“Some returning artists and some new,” will make up the roster of performers of this year’s Porchfest, added Pandolf, which will take place on Saturday afternoon, Sept. 23, from 2pm to 6pm. As of mid-August, musical acts were still being sought for the lineup, as were the residents needed to host them.
The lineup then stood at about 40 performers, slated to share 23 porches. As per usual, a map detailing the locations of the venues and the acts scheduled at each will be part of the local music festival.
The music genres featured can range from Grunge to Jazz, Blues to Alternative Rock. This year’s Porchfest will feature the “Golden Tones,” a Natick chorus comprised of retirement-aged singers that’s long been a staple of the town.
“You just never know what you’re going to get,” said Pandolf.
In keeping with the spirit of the festival as a free event, its organization is powered by a crew of volunteers. But putting on Porchfest still requires advertising and a website to get the word out, and funding for those necessities was provided by Natick’s Music Go Round.
“It’s pretty much a no-brainer,” said Phil Chernin. He owns the store that’s been a staple for musicians in the community for over a decade. The company has been a stalwart sponsor of the event since Porchfest’s first appearance in the town.
Music Go Round has been a patron of Natick performers on and off the porch, and the company’s $1,500 donation went to producing and publicizing Porchfest 2023. They have also supported TCAN and “Rock Off Main Street,” an event that staged performances for youth bands for two decades before its final showing in 2018.
“It’s just part of what we do in the town,” said Chernin. “Most of the bands that play are customers in one form or another. We’re thrilled to be able to do it. I feel like a part of the community. It’s a great town.”