September 24, 2008

Porchfest: A Grass Roots Event

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About a year and a half ago, Lesley Greene was sitting with her husband, playing ukuleles on her porch. Her neighbor, Gretchen Hildreth, walked by and, according to Lesley, “Somehow the idea came to us of a festival where musicians play music on their front porches.” This past Sunday afternoon in Fall Creek, that idea became a reality for the second time in Porchfest II.
Nearly 40 bands and musicians gathered on assorted Fall Creek porches and front lawns to fill the autumn air with a multitude of tunes. Co-founder Lesley Greene said that she was “happy to include everyone who wanted to be included.” And inclusion was key, as the acts ranged from an elderly recorder ensemble to the world’s first synthesizer band, to an all-girl high school pop band.
The display of musical variety on Sunday showed Fall Creek’s diversity of community interests. The other co-founder, Hildreth, mentioned that from “jazz, bluegrass, folk, pop, rock, country, swing, heavy metal, classical, Porchfest has it all.”
A wide variety of community members contributed to the experience, and not just as audience members and performers: thanks to charitable contributions, both in time and money, the neighborhood festival was put on at an extremely low cost. A local artist named Nina Maniscalco, for example, lent her talents to the creation of advertisements, while Greene and Hildreth donated the small out-of-pocket fee of about $150 for photocopies of posters and maps. The musicians donated their time and talents as well. “The musicians are performing just for the love and fun of it … Although, the smiles, dancing and laughter that surrounds them during Porchfest is pay enough, I think,” Hildreth said. She also went on to mention that, “people are not paying… It’s a lovely relationship. Everyone is out having fun all for the love of local music!”
Everyone seemed to be out, indeed. From babies being pushed in strollers, to neighborhood parents and children, to aged couples riding bikes. The performers ranged in age as well, from the young (Fall Creek Fiddlers, a group composed of five tween-aged fiddlers with several adults) to the college-age (Pearly Snaps, an old-time styled duo hailing from Cornell and Ithaca College), to the middle-aged (Valerie Anne, a solo singer/songwriter) to the elderly (Aceto Quartetto, a 90-year-old man and his three sons).
“Porchfest feels special because we get to play for such a neat range of folks, including family, friends and neighbors, other musicians, and even some of my colleagues and students,” said Tom Farrell, a member of a local band called the Yardvarks. On any given porch there was an assemblage of anywhere from 10 to 50-plus audience members sitting, dancing or chatting. Ultimately, according to musician Nate Richardson, “It was a natural idea. Everyone just took to it. It was kind of just meant to be.”
Richardson continued, saying that, “part of the uniqueness of this event is that a lot of the groups are already out there in the scene and people have seen them before. This is a very different setting for them. They are going to be rising to the occasion in new and different ways.” This was especially true for Richardson’s Sim Redmond Band. The seven-piece had limited space on their porch and, as a result, the band’s drummer was forced to play on a toy drum set belonging to Richardson’s son. (But unless you saw the small set, you’d never have known.)
The festival in Fall Creek was a grassroots gathering that exemplified the beauty of a community. There were several performances in which the theme of a community coming together was exceedingly prevalent. The following is a laundry list of the highlights from Porchfest: the performance of lovely old-time tunes by a Cornell student and an Ithaca College student, the Pearly Snaps, at the start of the festival; seeing both young children and adults from the town playing collectively as part of the Fall Creek Fiddlers; hearing quality local melodies from the Sim Redmond band being occasionally drowned out by children who were playing in a tree house in the same yard; and Valerie Anne singing her “Everyday Song” accompanied by little girls from the neighborhood. Nate, of Nate & Kate, juggled to entertain the children in between playing gorgeous folk duets, and the Jazz-HappensBand created remarkable Dixie-land music that led audience members to dance in an intersection. Mother Mallard arranged dark-synth sounds from a garage in a backyard and, finally, the leader of the Porchfest Recorder Ensemble played music which Cornellian Ian Kreher ’10 described as being “like the Jimi Hendrix of recorders.”
At the start of the afternoon, Cornellian Stephanie Jenkins ’10 had begun the Pearly Snaps set saying, “You’ll have to excuse all the musicians. Today is not good instrument weather.” While the sky over Fall Creek was overcast throughout the afternoon, audiences didn’t seem to be bothered by the cloudy conditions. The music, not the weather, was the defining feature of the afternoon, creating a wonderful festival atmosphere. When the events came to an end at 6 p.m., musicians and audience members gathered together at the Auburn (Triangle) Park for a potluck dinner and a community jamboree to close out Sunday’s delightful Porchfest.