Jason Ben Nathan / Sun Staff Photographer

Porchfest featured several artists performing in the Fall Creek and Northside neighborhoods.

September 24, 2017

Porchfest Brings Music to Ithaca Streets

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Music filled Ithaca’s streets on Sunday afternoon as people gathered to celebrate the 11th year of Porchfest, a music festival featuring performances on the porches of Fall Creek and Northside neighborhoods.

Since the first Porchfest in 2007, at which 20 bands performed, the festival has grown to feature over 180 bands and has expanded far beyond Ithaca, Porchfest co-founder Lesley Greene ’91 said in an interview.

“It’s a total surprise,” Greene said, “not just how it’s grown in Ithaca, but how it’s a thing in many other places, too. We try to keep track of the Porchfests around the country and in Canada, and we know there are at least 100.”

Greene said she and co-founder Gretchen Hildreth came up with the idea for the festival in order to bring together the many musicians who lived nearby.

The lively atmosphere in the Fall Creek and Northside neighborhoods proved testament to the growing popularity of Porchfest.

Michael Suguitan / Sun Staff Photographer

The lively atmosphere proved testament to the growing popularity of Porchfest, now in its eleventh year. 

“There were so many musicians in our neighborhood that there could be a whole festival,” Greene said.

And now, it is.

Exclusively comprised of folk and jazz at its beginning, by 2012, the festival included pop, alt-rock, Latin and hip-hop music. The list diversifies more each year, with 2017 featuring bands playing psychedelic electronic music, as well.

Shaun Whistler, a drummer for the rock-and-roll band Fly Rods, has participated in Porchfest for at least five years and said his favorite part of the festival is the atmosphere of the day.

“Just look around,” he said as the sun beat down on festival-goers on Sunday. “It’s people wandering around. This town is so full of really talented musicians and it’s a great day to just wander around and take it all in.”

Natalie Milliken, a student at Ithaca College, said she enjoyed that the musicians were largely older, rather than the younger artists who play around town during the rest of the year. The festival, she said, presented a good mix that is not necessarily available at other venues or festivals.

“It’s a good mix of ages all around,” she said.

Anna Adler, community outreach specialist for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ithaca and Tompkins County, helped out at a lemonade stand on Sunday and described seeing a child in the program play with a mentor.

“There were people gathered all around, and kids sitting on the steps … and it was a really special moment,” she said. “We love Porchfest for that: just how accessible the music is and the musicians are.”

“I think it brings the neighborhood together in a specific way and it really helps people see each other creatively,” Adler added.

The festival featured an eclectic mix of performers that showcased Ithaca's music talent.

Katie Sims / Sun Staff Photographer

The idea of performing on porches is to help promote an idea of community encouraging local talent. 

Porchfest is not limited to those who live in Fall Creek and Northside. Cornell students have played a role in Porchfest each year as well, from strolling around to performing to volunteering.

This year, a group of computer science students designed a new software program for scheduling the various bands performing at Porchfest, the festival’s brochure said.

As Porchfest has grown, organizers have had to cope with challenges in accommodating the increasing number of participating bands.

“In the first few years, we just did it,” Greene said, adding that there was no funding and no oversight from local government.

Now, to accommodate the large crowds and the blocked-off streets, she has to file a special event permit and ascertain insurance.

“There’s more logistics involved,” Greene said.

Girisha Arora ’20 contributed reporting to this article.