Open studio events — like the annual Somerville Open Studios, in which visual artists invite the community into the spaces where they work — are a familiar concept. But when it comes to music, that open-studio experience is harder to pull off, if only because most bands’ rehearsal spaces look like they’ve just been hit by a tornado, and often sound like one in progress. PorchFest solves that by bringing the bands of Somerville out into the light of day, where they perform on porches and in front yards throughout the city. This Saturday from noon to 6 p.m. well over 130 acts will turn Somerville into one giant open-air concert venue.
Nancy Goodman, a Somerville resident who works for the Environmental League of Massachusetts, imported the idea from a similar event in New York in 2011, and partnered with the Somerville Arts Council to make it a reality.
“It’s basically a decentralized music festival where musicians just play on their porches,” she explains. “We divide the city up into sections so people can get around.” It begins on the east side of Somerville and heads west, with each area hosting performances for two hours.
“It’s any kind of music, it’s been a broad range of stuff. Everything from kids music, to jazz, rock music, ukuleles, everything you can think of.” The PorchFest website (www.somervilleartscouncil.org/porchfest) has a full lineup and map you can use to plan out your strategy.
“Part of the thinking when I first got the notion was, we do this for visual artists, and I know there’s a lot of musicians in Somerville. This is a similar event. You can go to learn about bands and music, and in a different way than Open Studios, you can kind of meet your neighbors.”
“It’s one of the best community music events ever,” Mary Curtin of the Dirty Water Brass Band, a 9-piece second line, soul, jazz, Motown, and dance band says. “All you need is a porch to perform on. How cool is that?”
This will be their fourth year taking part. The chance for discovery is what makes it appealing, she says. “It’s so random and unscripted . . . Audiences in the know have their maps and plan on what to do when, which is super, but audiences who are taken by surprise can be the best. Last year, a large motorcycle gang pulled in by Redbones during the start of our second set, just to go in and hang out. But they ended up hanging out with us instead.
“It probably helps that it’s free and no one feels hamstrung to stick around in one place,” she says.
That spread-out nature of the event is a big part of its appeal. “It’s strange to think that decentralization can bring artists together, but I think it’s a great show of support for local artists that Somerville empowers us to share our work,” says Marshall “Gripp” Gillson, of nerd-core hip-hop act glassEyeballs.
“It’s one of the signature things that we’ve done that’s very decentralized,” Gregory Jenkins of the Somerville Arts Council says. “What different cities’ arts councils do, they end up curating, sort of producing everything and controlling everything, and I think that the real beauty of the event is the fact that we’ve created this structure, where we’re handling in terms of permitting, making sure everyone is OK with things, but then it’s a decentralized way in which people can express their own creativity. I think a lot of what we do is to look for that type of energy anyway, to help actualize other peoples’ energy.”
Jenkins estimates anywhere between 4,000 and 6,000 citizens will turn out to take in music, depending on the weather.
Mariam Saleh of the lo-fi indie act Bong Wish says that energy can be infectious for the neighborhoods, and inspire people to take in music they never would have otherwise. “I’m sure a lot of people won’t even know PorchFest is taking place. They will hear music, exit their doors and see some sort of live performance happening just across the street.”
That’s what happened to Joel Edinburg of the Somerville Symphony Orkestar, a gypsy-punk band. “The first year they had PorchFest I didn’t know until I walked outside and heard all this music. So I decided to walk around and see what was going on and it was awesome. There were great crowds of people listening to every band, so I knew we needed to get in on this.”
“Considering that all you have to do is walk around a corner and you hear some new music, it’s quite impossible to not find something new.”
Together Boston, the music, art, and technology festival and conference continues throughout the rest of the weekend with a plethora of panels, demos, and performances from international and homegrown talent. On the local side, Friday highlights include DJ Lenore of the long-running Elements drum ’n’ bass night opening for Netherlands trio Noisia at the Middle East, DJs from the recurring bear-themed dance party Group Hug supporting Bob Mould at The Sinclair, and the high-octane duo Glowkids & Fuse at Rise with German DJ Jerome Isma-Ae. Saturday night finds “dream club” producer Durkin with Jerome LOL and others at the Middle East, and Colby Drasher of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell party at Great Scott. On Sunday catch ascendant trap and bass music act JSTJR at Church, while outre noise artists and Boston veterans Neptune return for a performance with psych-rockers Sunburned Hand of the Man, and experimental producer Keith Fullerton Whitman at the Lily Pad, and a heavy lineup of Boston DJs including Voltran, JSB, DJ LeahV, Daniel Harder, Craig Rumble, and Dinoblunt are at The Phoenix Landing. For a full schedule, go to www.togetherboston.com.
Luke O’Neil can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.