A nice, shady front porch can be a great place to swap stories or share songs. And the community event called PorchFest continues this relationship — by pairing musicians with neighborhood porches.
The first PorchFest took place about 8 years ago in Ithaca, New York. It's spread to nearly 30 cities, including the West Plaza neighborhood of Kansas City, Missouri, where visitors are encouraged to park their cars and follow their ears.
Matching musicians with the right porch
A fan runs steadily in the warm attic space as Kathryn Golden maps out the second year of PorchFestKC. Golden’s hands are full of handwritten notecards — each emblazoned with the name of a band. She holds up one card and looks around the room.
“All right, let me see here,” Golden says. “So this is ‘Back Fat’ so that’s kind of a rowdy, bluegrass porch.” Moving on to another card, she asks, “So Griffin, where can I put Griffin? Last year he kinda had a bad deal. This lady across the street started mowing her lawn right when he started performing. So I feel like I should hook him up. He actually signed up a second time.”
Golden stands in the middle of a mockup grid laid out on the floor of West Plaza streets and porches. This year, she’s coordinating more than 100 bands playing on about 30 porches of all shapes and sizes. But in this stage in the process, Golden says she’s almost got it figured out.
“The ultimate thing is just to make it really walkable,’ says Golden. “If there are any porches that are outliers and they’re way off from the others, people aren’t going to want to walk to them, in my mind. And so, trying to keep it compact enough so everyone gets a fair shot to have an audience. So that’s where we are right now.”
Combining festival energy with house-concert intimacy
Across town, Jacob and Danielle Prestidge go over a few songs in the living room of their Kansas City, Kansas home. The husband and wife folk-rock duo The Blackbird Revue plan to return the porches of the West Plaza largely because Jacob Prestige says last year went so well.
“One of the things that I really loved about PorchFest was that you had the excitement and the energy of a festival but you had the intimacy of a house concert or a very small venue,” Jacob Prestidge says. “So it was a lot of fun as musicians. It’s a lot of fun performing in that type of environment.”
It’s early evening and homeowner Victoria Cherrie is sprucing up a trellis of roses, occasionally finding a thorn. “Ouch! Dangerous!” she says.
Cherrie says the spring cleaning she’s doing will be worth the effort once the musicians arrive.
Supporting — and showing off — local musicians
During PorchFest, Victoria Cherrie is hosting five hours of music, including the bands Western Automatic and The Hardship Letters.
"It’s like heaven in summertime," she says. "I mean, when you can sit on your porch and just relax and have the music right there. You might have it in your house or in your ear buds, but I’ll be sitting in that chair right over there just listening away."
And Cherrie says sharing her porch with the city gives her a chance to support local musicians.
“I love local music and I love getting the opportunity to show off these people who are so passionate and so talented,” says Cherrie.
Back at rehearsals with The Blackbird Revue, Jacob Prestidge says he thinks PorchFest is a sign that something bigger is going on.
“It’s kind of representative of what is making Kansas City so interesting and fun and cool right now,” says Prestidge. “So, it’s an exciting time to be here as a musician.”
For now, practice time is over but Jacob says he looks forward to playing their next gig — on a porch.
PorchFestKC takes place on Saturday, June 13, noon to 5 p.m, in the West Plaza neighborhood, just west of the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, Mo. More information, including a schedule and a map of participating porches, can be found on the website.