On September 23, 2018 San Rafael’s Gerstle Park neighborhood held its first Porchfest, a phenomenon that started in Ithaca, New York in 2007 and has now spread to over 100 communities in the United States and Canada. Twenty homes in the Gerstle neighborhood opened their front yards to 40 different musical groups, offering a range of styles—from Indian tabla drumming to jazz, blues, and folk music.
The idea germinated on a porch where a couple in Ithaca's Fall Creek neighborhood liked to play their ukuleles. When a neighbor stopped by (as neighbors will with the open invitation that a front porch provides), they started talking about how much they all liked listening to music outdoors. Realizing they had quite a few musicians on their street, they decided to launch their own mini-festival and call it Porchfest.
It takes a community to organize and run a Porchfest, and the beauty of it is, it’s all free. The musicians donate their time and talent to get local exposure, and volunteers do the work of promotion, while homeowners lend their porches and yards. Their communities cordon off streets from traffic to keep the baby strollers and cyclists safe for the four hours of the typical event.
Liz and Don Glattly perform "Moondance" by Van Morrison during Porchfest in the Gerstle Park neighborhood of San Rafael (Photo: Sherry Lavars)
The porches may be within blocks of each other or spread out over larger areas, as San Francisco’s was in May 2017 in the Mission District. It offered 88 bands on over 20 streets stretching from Valencia to Bartlett.
Napa’s Old Town neighborhood near Fuller Park may have seen one of the largest crowds this year, with 15,000 enjoying 125 acts at 50 porches on July 29.
Skunk Funk performs at the eighth annual Napa Porchfest. (Photo: napanews.com)
After many years of being seen as more decorative than functional, porches are trendy again, and for both purposes. They started out in
the Caribbean and American south as handy places to do some chores out of the
sun, as Michael Dolan tells us in his “The American Porch: An Informal
History of an Informal Place.” With the invention of air conditioning, people
didn’t need to go outside to cool down, he notes, and porch building fell
off, only to recover in the 1990s when “walkable” communities came into vogue
According to the National Association of Home Builders, the number of new U.S. homes built with porches is rising. The percentage grew from 42% in 1994 to 65% in 2016 and is now at 86% in the Southeast and growing in the West.
Dolan understands why: “[Porches] are a stage for how life unfolds between the public sphere and the private sphere,” he says. “On the other side of the door is your private world. Down the steps is your public world. The most interesting parts of life happen in the cracks between.”
Top photo: Napa Porchfest, SFfuncheap.com
Citylab.com article by Lyn Freehill-Maye titled “America Rediscovers
Its Love of the Front Porch,” published November 20, 2017
Napanews.com July 29, 2018 article by Howard Yune
“Ithaca celebrates 11th annual Porchfest,” by Hannah Breisinger, published October 6, 2017, by WICB News, Ithaca