San Rafael PorchFest (photo: Carolyn McCoy)
Words by Carolyn McCoy
“PorchFest? What the hell is PorchFest?” you may ask yourself. In response to that nagging question I know you all are asking, I will paraphrase a quote from Mister Rogers: “Won’t you be my neighbor? And hey, let’s rock out together while we are at it!” OK, let’s be serious now, because I need to expound on these wondrous community-driven, neighborhood-oriented and, literally, down-home music festivals that are happening in many cities and towns in our nation.
PorchFest started in Ithaca, NY back in 2007, with the idea that neighborhoods or towns could create small music festivals centered around performances being held on front porches or in driveways and yards of private homes all within walking distance of all the other porches. There are now hundreds of PorchFest events that occur during the summer months from Tennessee to Missouri and from Ohio to California, each with their own diverse musical communities being part of the event.
San Rafael PorchFest is now in its second year, and I will do my best at describing what an incredible event it was. Held on a sunny Sunday afternoon in a tree-lined, Victorian-studded neighborhood, the six-block-radius festival provided for its thousands of attendees 24 stages that hosted approximately 65 local bands. The music ranged from rock to country, classical Indian to American folk, Mexican traditional to kids’ music, Irish tunes to a ukulele jam. Kids and adults alike danced, played and hobnobbed with their friends and neighbors all while hearing music waft over fences and yards and into the blue and cloudless sky.
As I meandered around San Rafael’s Gerstle Park neighborhood catching as many of the acts as possible, I couldn’t help but feel in awe of these moments I was encountering. I walked up Marin Avenue to hear young-buck rocker Matt Jaffe sing his original songs, while a few doors down country-rockers Danny Montana & The Bar Association torched and twanged away the afternoon. Jenny Kerr and her band rocked us hard with banjo and harmonica and epic guitarist Eric McFadden blazed us with his glory.
Up at Gerstle Park playground, little kids pogo-danced to guitar maven Bryan Kehoe and jazz-rockers Angelex. Over on Bayview Street, Jim Talley tinkled his keyboards, JZ and the Hillside Stranglers showcased blues and rock, students from the Ali Akbar College of Music drove us into a hazy dream state with tabla and sitar, and the Ventura Brothers sang in Spanish about lost loves while their families sold tamales in the driveway. Back on Marin Ave, Danny Click busted out his Americana country, San Geronimo wowed the huge crowd with their hard-driving roots-rock and indie-folksters House Of Mary sang acoustic and original songs about life. San Rafael Ave hosted bluesy cello-based band Dirty Cello, Brilliant Bluegrass and the roots-rock-country of Hurricane Gulch. Argentine tango drifted from Porch 16, the blues and funk of the Treble Makers slammed me at Porch 18, and the gorgeous harmonies of the Lowatters soothed my soul at Porch 3. Guitarist Mark Karan sent me skyrocketing, and the mellow vibes of the Highway One Band eased me back to earth.
At PorchFest, I put a lot of mileage on my feet as I walked back and forth, through hill and dale, past kids selling lemonade and cookies while maneuvering past dogs and strollers. I ran into old friends and met new ones. I heard music and bands from my local music scene that I have never heard before and I sat under shady maples in amazement while I watched everything go down right in front of me in this picturesque neighborhood. In this day and age of separatism and political divides, PorchFest provided a respite from having to think about that, if only for a few hours. Every person there, from the tiniest baby to the eldest of elders, all seemed to put away their judgments, fears, and personal agendas for a day in the sun in order hear music with others in the community. And that, my friends, is what PorchFest is all about.