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Our Guide To This Summer’s Boston-Area Porchfests

People watch musicians perform on on Lamartine Street at the JP Porchfest in 2017. (Elizabeth Gillis/WBUR)MoreCloseclosemore
People watch musicians perform on on Lamartine Street at the JP Porchfest in 2017. (Elizabeth Gillis/WBUR)

The first Porchfest was held in Ithaca, New York, in 2007. It was born of a simple conceit: Musicians from around the city would perform on their front porches, and the rest of the population could come hear them.

The result was a rambling, ad-hoc happening, an open-air festival with a DIY bent. The (free) event was a hit, and soon similar fests began cropping up around the country. The organizers of the Ithaca Porchfest have tried to keep track of the movement’s proliferation; their website’s latest count puts the number of North American porchfests at 110, but there could easily be more.

Since Porchfest first debuted in the Boston area in 2011, its popularity here has exploded. 2018 boasts 12 Greater Boston porchfests, several of which launch for the first time this year. For the most part, they follow the formula laid out by the original Ithaca festival, though it has become common practice for organizers to facilitate collaboration — hosts and performers can usually sign up separately, relieving musicians of the burden of having to supply their own stage. Performers are not paid, though they can accept donations, and in every case, entrance to the festival is free.

And what of the music itself? A cursory glance at the lineups reveals a large number of rock and Americana acts, or what might be less charitably characterized as “dad bands.” Porchfest is an excellent opportunity for the casual musician to play out in a friendly, low-pressure environment, so it's no wonder it holds such appeal to  hobbyists, emerging artists and, indeed, parents of all genders.

But the festival is not without its surprises. My favorite Porchfest discoveries came to me by chance, the result of some serendipitous turn-of-the-corner or back road meander: the virtuosic theremin player who made pop songs sound like alien invasions, the little country band tucked away in a park, the participatory xylophone (or was it marimba?) jam session.

In the hopes of aiding in the creation of your own fond memories, we have collected all the available information about the dozen local porchfests that will unfold over the next several months. So read up, mark your calendars and lace up your walking shoes, 'cause Porchfest season kicks off this Saturday.

Sunday, May 13: Somerville Porchfest

Somerville was the first to bring the Porchfest concept to Greater Boston, in 2011. Somerville Porchfest, which is run by the Somerville Arts Council, starts at noon on the western side of town and moves east throughout the day, as do the massive crowds that descend on the city for the festival. Hundreds of musicians perform on hundreds of porches, and some intersections become so clogged with Porchfest attendees that the whole thing starts to resemble a slightly anarchic block party. In truth, it’s actually pretty organized, and you can check out a full schedule and map here.

Saturday, May 19: PlumFest

Now in its fourth year, Plum Island’s PlumFest brings Porchfest to the seashore. PlumFest is smaller than its nearby brethren, with 30-odd bands concentrated in the northern tip of the island. In lieu of walking — which is a more viable option than driving, as parking is scarce — free shuttles will be available to points around the festival.

Saturday, June 2: Newton Porchfest

Newton’s inaugural Porchfest will be concentrated in the Auburndale section of the city, which straddles the Massachusetts Turnpike between the Charles River and the Woodland Golf Club. The Newton/Auburndale Porchfest features 47 locations and more than 60 musical acts — not bad for a start!

Saturday, June 9: Arlington Porchfest

Produced by by the Arlington Center for the Arts, Arlington Porchfest is now in its third year. The festival stretches across the entirety of the city, though performances are concentrated primarily along Mass. Ave. in the eastern half of Arlington. A user-friendly website allows you to search by band, location, genre and time slot.

Saturday, June 9: Brookline Porchfest

The third annual Brookline Porchfest features nearly 90 bands and 70 porches. The full lineup will be revealed on Saturday, May 12.

Saturday, June 16: Fenway Porchfest

Porchfest comes to the Fenway neighborhood of Boston for the first time in history. Its motto? “Music everywhere, porches optional.” Lineup and schedule forthcoming.

Saturday, June 23: Porchfest Quincy

Though its inverted title suggests some kind of daring reversal, Porchfest Quincy is pretty much like all the other porchfests — thankfully, I might add, because why fix what’s not broken? Registration for Porchfest Quincy is open through May 31, and the lineup is scheduled to be announced by June 17.

Saturday, July 7: JP Porchfest

The Jamaica Plain Porchfest infuses the community spirit of the porchfest movement with a social justice mission. Since 2014, its organizers have made an effort to recruit a diverse mix of participants and to foster collaboration and communion across race, class, age and genre. Theirs is also the only porchfest to feature performance sites devoted explicitly to comedy, dance, spoken word, circus arts and theater. (For more information on JP Porchfest's unique approach, check out my 2016 feature on the event.)

The porchfest season stretches well into September, with four area porchfests on the docket: Belmont and Hull on Sept. 8, Roslindale on Sept. 15 and Milton on Sept. 22. Keep an eye on their websites for lineups and schedules — or, better yet, sign up to be a host or performer yourself!

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Amelia Mason Twitter Arts And Culture Reporter
Amelia Mason is an arts and culture reporter and critic for The ARTery, WBUR's arts and culture team. She covers everything from fine art to television to the inner workings of the Boston music scene.

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