On Aug. 8, the Lawn On D in Boston will acquire the trappings usually reserved for its smaller, more ordinary brethren: porches.
Over the course of the afternoon, two larger-than-life contraptions, outfitted with quaint wooden railings and potted plants and murals whose windows peek into the cool interiors of nonexistent houses—along with a regular old third stage—will play host to 10 musical acts, all of them from nearby Boston neighborhoods. The night will close with the exuberant Ethiopian-tinged pop of Boston’s Debo Band.
The event has been dubbed “PorchfestFest” by its creators, the folks behind the two-year-old, wildly popular Jamaica Plain Porchfest. In addition to music, there will be roving circus performers from Esh Circus Arts, an “ask a teenager booth” (which is exactly what it sounds like) and a “make your own tutu” station.
“We’re hoping to get everybody into tutus,” says Marie Ghitman, who organizes the event along with Mindy Fried. “All ages, sizes and genders.”
PorchfestFest differs considerably from its namesake. Ghitman and Fried were approached by Chris Wangro, who produces events for the Lawn On D, to create a kind of mega-porchfest—which meant having to pick and choose performers, unlike the actual Porchfest, which is open to any and all. “We’re fully aware that this is a faux Porchfest,” says Fried. “I mean the whole concept of Porchfest is that people play on their own porches. But because our strategy is to expand Porchfest into other neighborhoods of Boston, this is just one piece of the overall strategy.”
Ghitman and Fried hope that PorchfestFest, which features performers not just from Jamaica Plain, but from Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan, will help galvanize support for their goal of bringing Porchfest to those neighborhoods. The schedule includes soul, jazz and gospel from Berklee professor Lawrence “Larry” Watson and his band the Workforce; hip-hop from emcee, saxophonist and Mattapan community activist Devin Ferreira; and weirdo rock ‘n’ roll from JP’s Rick Berlin and the Nickel & Dime Band.
Porchfest began in 2007 in Ithaca, New York, and has since spread to 30 cities and towns across the United States and Canada, including Somerville, Cleveland and Montreal. The basic concept behind the Porchfests is simple: Residents are invited to play music on their porches or in their front yards, and organizers provide a schedule and map for the day’s free festivities. The Somerville Arts Council, which has hosted a PorchFest since 2011, describes the popular event as a “decentralized” festival, similar to visual arts-oriented open studios. This year will mark Roslindale’s first Porch Fest, on Sept. 12.
But Ghitman and Fried operate the JP Porchfest differently. Typically porchfests invite people sign up to host their own music. “Which is fantastic, Fried says, “but what it doesn’t necessarily do is bring people out who don’t have a porch that’s accessible to them. Either because they don’t live in a home where there’s a porch, or they’re a renter. ... Our mission is really all about building communities through the arts across race and class and culture.”
Instead, for their Jamaica Plain event they pair each JP artist with someone else in the neighborhood who has offered a porch, front lawn or other outdoor performance space. The strategy requires a lot of work.
“We spent this year, ever since last year’s events, doing outreach to neighborhood groups, nonprofits, community groups, youth groups, affordable housing groups in the neighborhood, churches ... and elder housing as well,” says Ghitman.
“We’re really looking at marginalized communities overall,” says Fried. “What we recognize is that there are artists throughout the city who are struggling to make it, and particularly people of color [and] working class people. The opportunities are much fewer. And people have a lot to express, whether it’s their pure art or a political message or whatever, and we really believe it’s important to provide a venue, an opportunity, to do that.”
For many PorchfestFest performers, the Lawn On D event offers new exposure.
“I’m looking forward to just being so close to the waterfront and all of the energy that’s over there. That’s so great,” says Allyssa Jones, a singer and composer who hosted a porch at this year’s JP Porchfest and will perform jazz standards and retro pop at PorchfestFest. “And to connect with a new audience, folks who don’t necessarily get over to JP.”