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At Porchfest, hike into Heights finds community
My wife had our car for the day, and noon Saturday, June 9, held lovely promise, so I walked to Porchfest.
The third held in Arlington, the Arlington Center for the Arts' event expanded farther into the Heights this year, and so I headed up that way from my home on Washington Street.
In 2016, the first Porchfest in town, rain tried hard to dampen the community entertainment in East Arlington; still, an estimated 120 bands turned out.
In 2017, 140 bands held forth on 75 porches across a little wider town territory. This year, 170 bands flocked to 95, with better penetration into the Heights.
Just after noon Saturday, the third Porchfest was underway in Arlington under brilliant skies, which turned milky later, and I was headed for the Heights.
My route went first to the Old Schwamb Mill, where no porch corralled Alan Kaufman and Friends. The musicians were encircled on pavement outside the light-red, main building: guitars, a banjo, a mandolin, a bass ... an old-timey Appalachian jam.
Listening were five seated in the shade, three standing, some eating lunch. More came.
The music reached into my roots, but I had to move on. With the Greek Festival done, Appleton Street was a good bet, and it was. Walking up, I could hear an Emmy Lou Harris-style voice.
At 53 Appleton, I reached a real porch. At a stately Victorian with a sign saying "Idahurst, 1894," The number swelled to 27 while was there, and another (on a cellphone) peered from a second-story balcony across the street.
She sang what she called a "most played" on WUMB, "Rabbit Hole." Hear it >>
I talked to her and learned that her uncle, Gerry, who I knew, but had not seen in 40 years, had died 20 years earlier. Gerry was connected to those folkies who started Godfrey Daniels Coffee House in Bethlehem, Pa. Among them were my sister.
These unexpected Porchfest memories made me veer from the main act that afternoon, Laura Vecchione and friend. As she sang, at least 15 more came. With her on guitar was Hunter Burgamy from New Orleans. Seek
them out and listen; it is well worth it.
Up the street at 92 Appleton, a different vibe. The Galvanics' brand of rock held sway on a high, wide porch. Back from last year, the group played what the leader called "one of our best" -- "Permission."
The Boston group's website describes its music as "hard British guitar riffs of Mike Austin meet the new wave and jam band sensibilities of bassist Colin Lukens and the muscular yet melodic punk voicings of drummer Chris Lawler, honed by the prog and blues stylings of guitarist Carlos Cardenas."
Each to his own taste, as a youngster carried by a caretaker showed: He wore earphones.
Not far around the bend, at 122 Appleton, 20 listened to songwriter and guitarist Adam White. He performed on the porch embraced by the ornate 1872 home of True Worthy White. Between songs, he said he is no relation.
His rough, raunchy Dylan-style voice growled out while a towheaded boy about 5 played with an older man, likely his dad, and laughed. The songs recorded a range -- Americana, country, folk, indie, kids, rock, roots.
In the driveway, at Alex's Lemonade Stand, I swigged a cup and munched a big cookie. Proceeds go to the Foundation for Childhood Cancer.
Seemed a fitting generous gesture for a donation on a day of porches delivering all kinds of music for free.
That was June 9; now it's June 13.
Linda Shoemaker, executive director of Arlington Center for the Arts, noted that a clear count of the attendance for Porchfest has not yet been determined.
"We take porch audience counts all through the day and then use those numbers to arrive at a total attendance estimate. Haven't been able to do that yet. The past two years we estimated 5,000, and I think this year will be higher. But can't say for sure yet."
Did all bands performed as scheduled? One band had to cancel because of sickness, she said. It had been scheduled for one performance in the Heights and one in the East.
What does Shoemaker remember from the day?
"We loved having a central 'Porchfest HQ' in Whittemore Park as a place for people to pick up a map, get oriented and meet the Porchfest team.
"Since Porchfest is, by definition, spread out through the neighborhoods, it was great to have one central place to meet people, answer questions and basically serve as headquarters for the day.
"We saw so many happy people enjoying the day, the music, the community-neighborliness of it all."
And what's more ...
"I spent most of my time at HQ, so I didn't see as much music as I would have liked, but two highlights for me were: brothers Jason and Jacob Sibi-Okumu, a singer-songwriter duo from Kenya (and Berklee alums) who performed a beautiful, gentle set to a lovely audience on Beacon Street (see video at left), and the Brass Band School of HONK, which closed out the day at HQ with a rousing set with probably 50 brass players and fun dancing that people could join in with.
"It was a wonderful way to end the day."
This viewpoint was published Wednesday, June 13, 2018.
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