Fifteen years ago, a group of neighbors in Ithaca, New York, were playing the ukulele on their front porch when suddenly an idea hit them: Why not make this a thing? Why not showcase people playing music on their porches? Walking around town on a fall or spring day going porch to porch listening to music at casual concerts sounds like a splendid day.
To put it mildly, the idea had legs. 15 years later, 130 cities now put on some sort of Porchfest; in New Jersey, the main Porchfests are in Asbury Park and Newark with cities like Cranford, Lambertville and Collingswood partaking as well.
This April, Porchfest makes its debut in two Central Jersey cities: Princeton and Bordentown. For Executive Director of the Princeton Arts Council Adam Welch, the decision to hold a Porchfest in Princeton was inspired by seeing other cities in the state host successful iterations of the community event. The Princeton Porchfest is tied together with April ARTS month in Princeton and will be held on April 23.
“Asbury has one, Newark has one, Lambertville has one, and Hightstown is planning one,” says Welch. “We wanted to culminate April ARTS month with a whole town wide event. A lot of people talk about having a street fair, but it only happens on two streets in town. With Porchfest, it’s truly spread out, and it’s not in one centralized location. We wanted to spread the event out to engage the entire community.”
Attendees can expect 66 acts from all different genres to perform at 11 different porches all around Princeton. Setting up Porchfest is a daunting task; though it did come with challenges, it’s been a rewarding process for Welch.
“There’s so many moving parts,” says Welch. “But the staff I have been working with at the Arts Council have been top notch. If you’re working with 66 different bands on 11 different stages, there are going to be a lot of moving parts. The hardest part of it is communicating with different people and places, and what piece supports the next. With so many parts it could become overwhelming and concerning. That’s been the challenge, but the flip side to that challenge is the same thing that causes that little bit of confusion and concern is what has brought so much joy and excitement to this whole activity. The fact that there’s 11 different stages and 66 bands, and we are running it for the first time builds the excitement. The reward and the anxiety are on the same coin so to speak.”
Over 40 Princetonians applied to offer their homes and host performances for Porchfest, and over 90 bands applied to perform; Welch is grateful for the overwhelming interest, and looking to parlay that into the future: “We’re excited about the prospect of this becoming an annual activity,” says Welch.
In order to be successful, it helps to ask more established peers for advice and tips, and Welch did just that, picking the brains of the organizers of Asbury Park Porchfest.
“Asbury told us about proximity,” explains Welch. “We wanted to do the best possible job out the gate and one of their recommendations that we took very close to our hearts was don’t have any destination locations. What that means is don’t have something that is so far away that people can’t leave if they have to go there. The idea is that you would make the locations close enough where one can walk easily between set breaks, and the idea behind that is if someone has to drive somewhere where it’s a 20-minute walking distance away, they will either not go there or if people go there, they won’t leave to go to other porches.”
About 20 miles south on 206 is a city where you don’t have to worry about having to drive anywhere because it’s only a square mile—Bordentown City will be hosting their Porchfest on Saturday April 30 with 28 acts spread throughout the city.
Bordentown Arts founder Leon Stanley stumbled upon the idea of Porchfest in the Bordentown city discussion groups.
“There was a post on one of the Bordentown City Facebook groups last year,” says Stanley. “And I saw a post that was like, ‘They should have a Porchfest in Bordentown.’ I was wondering who was ‘they’ and I started to think about it, and then I realized I have Bordentown Arts.’’
Stanley thinks that the square-mile city, and its abundant porches, is an ideal location for Porchfest. “Bordentown is a perfect little city for it, and is walkable,” says Stanley. “You can’t walk the township.”
For Stanley, the challenges of Porchfest are more logistical than anything and fitting the pieces together in terms of scheduling, but the positives are getting to showcase the talent that Bordentown has to offer.
“With Bordentown Arts we wanted to show off all the talent we have in town,” says Stanley. “Everyone talks about how there’s so much talent in Bordentown, we decided to take the next step from talking about it to manifesting it. Porchfest seems like the natural step to take. I mean not everyone who is playing at Porchfest is from Bordentown, but a lot are and you get to see your neighbors perform.”