September 17, 2012

Porchfest 2012: By the People, For the People

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It started with two ukuleles, and then became a hundred bands. Within a half hour, an audience of one became a thousand. Porchfest VI has really become a “fest for the people by the people,” said co-founder and Prof. Robbert van Renesse, computer science.

Exclusively folk and jazz at its beginning,  the festival now includes pop, alt-rock, Latin and hip-hop. Despite the wide range of genres,  most performers were still folk singers or folk hybrids.

4ever XUNG, a folk-bluegrass duo, echoed the tone of The Civil Wars, but their original songs were more instrumental than vocal. Sum Dude & Friends added a funk element, with their original song “Tell Me.” Their persistent sound and offbeat lyrics laden with innuendos was a bit unnerving but definitely entertaining. Out of the 20 folk bands, this one was the most memorable.

The Gunpoets, probably the most acclaimed musicians at the festival, had the largest turnout; over a hundred people crowded into the corner of Lynn and Tompkins Street to hear them. Their masterful blend of pop, rock and hip-hop definitely broke the mold of the string-dominated streets.  The new age band drew a crowd as diverse as their sound. They were the one group whose listeners were not predominantly bohemian 30 somethings.

The bass-keyboard-drum trio, Shuhan Family and Friends, made a statement. Solos transitioned to synchronized harmonies. Jazz turned into electric blues. Every chord, every note was artfully delivered.

Sunday’s event was more about the community than the music; it felt like a laidback gathering of friends and family.

The Cornell Ukulele Club best captured the spirit of Porchfest. On the steps of Prof. van Renesse’s home, where Porchfest began, the fledgling club took flight. 12 nervous students began to strum and sing Gotye’s “Somebody.” Although the performance was more than a little pitchy, their performance seemed to resonate most with festival goers. When the chorus was lost, wide-eyed Cornellians immobile; the crowd was a source of encouragement. Smiles and gestures led them back on track, allowing them to continue with their set. Helen Lin, president of the club said that she “didn’t expect so many people to come,” but thought considering their lack of rehearsal, “everything went really well.”

Grassroots performances stemmed from a much larger collaboration of the Fall Creek neighborhood, making Porchfest a truly non-commercial, community-run event. Local artist Nina Widger contributed her colorful, almost narrative illustrations for the advertisements, while the Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services covered almost all other costs. Vendors doubled as fundraisers for causes near to Ithaca’s heart. Fundraisers included local students who sold lemonade to raise money for Cancer Research. Lehman Alternative Community School students made cookies to help fund their trip to South America.

Calling Porchfest a music festival is like calling Ithaca a city. Neither exactly fits the description they’ve been assigned. But this is not a bad thing. Both function in the way they are meant to, but somehow retain the ideals and magic of a small town.

Original Author: Ashley Popp