Fuse Feature: Nothing But a Houseparty — Jamaica Plain Holds its 1st Annual Porchfest

JP Porchfest organizers see it as an opportunity not only to provide grassroots entertainment, but also to launch a community-building event that represents and celebrates the area’s ethnic and artistic diversity.

Julia Maree will be part of Jamaca Plain's Porchfest

Julia Maree’s “indie folk/rock with a little twang and a lot of soul” will be part of Jamaica Plain’s first Porchfest

By Jason M. Rubin

It sounds very old-fashioned, very homespun, and very southern, but it’s coming to edgy, urban, artsy Jamaica Plain this month. It’s called Porchfest and it’s a traveling feast for the eyes and ears, a neighborhood-wide presentation of music and poetry where the stages are people’s porches (for the most part; churches and a senior housing facility are also hosting performances) and the audience can bop and stroll from one to the next.

The first annual Jamaica Plain Porchfest hits the city’s front steps on Saturday, July 19, from 12-4 p.m. The event showcases nearly 60 acts on approximately 35 porches, an impressively broad roster for a debut. Organizers Marie Ghitman and Mindy Fried see it as an opportunity not only to provide grassroots entertainment, but also to launch a community-building event that represents and celebrates the area’s ethnic and artistic diversity.

“We intentionally matched artists with specific venues to draw a strong mix of crowds at each site,” says Ghitman, who performs in a marching band and has a background in organizing arts events. “And to make it easy for people to get around, we will have pedicabs roaming through the neighborhood giving free rides.” (Note: Two pedicabs will be available to give free tours to the low-income elders who are residents of Nate Smith House, thanks to a generous offer from the JPNDC to cover the cost. Otherwise, the pedicabs roaming the rest of the neighborhood will be following their usual custom of working for tips.)

The Porchfest concept started in Ithaca, New York, in 2007, and has spread throughout the U.S. and Canada. Somerville held its fourth annual event on May 19. It seems a natural fit for JP, which has a long history of homegrown arts support. This writer was involved with the now-defunct Jamaica Plain Arts Center in the 1980s, which for a time occupied the site of a former firehouse that today is home to JP Licks. On any given day, you’d find singer/songwriter Deborah Galiga in the office answering phones; on the 19th, she will be performing at the Porchfest.

“We are thrilled and amazed at the overwhelming response from the community, including musicians of all genres and the many people who have offered their porches,” says Fried, a writer and former dancer. “The energy is positive and we are certain this will be the first of many Porchfests in JP.”

Of course, there are a few challenges in putting on an event of this size and scope in such a dense, high-traffic neighborhood. Ghitman and Fried have met with the police and with community organizations such as the Hyde Square Task Force and the JP Neighborhood Development Corporation. For attendees, the upshot is that standing and listening in the streets and on the sidewalks will not be permitted. That leaves private property – i.e., front yards – to serve as viewing areas.

The Wicked Hanging Chads will be part of JP's Inaugural Porchfest.

The Wicked Hanging Chads will be part of JP’s inaugural Porchfest.

“Each site will have a person on hand to make sure people are following the rules, picking up after themselves, and remaining orderly,” says Fried. “It’s up to the audiences as well as the performers to make this work.”

The event is rain or shine, unless, Fried cautions, we have the kind of torrential rains we’ve been seeing lately. But in the event of light rain, since artists will be playing on covered stages the show will go on as long as listeners can endure it.

As for the artists themselves, the range of genres is as wide as it gets, including Afro pop, Caribbean, punk, acoustic, R&B, rock and roll, country, world music, classical, jazz, reggae, and more. Specific acts include New Orleans singer/songwriter GaBrilla Ballard; Devin Ferreira (“hip hop soul” incorporating rap and saxophone); Lowman, a group with an 80s/90s rock bent; Julia Maree (“indie folk/rock with a little twang and a lot of soul”), and Wicked Hanging Chads, “an original fusion of reggae, ska, and alternative that combines conscious lyrics with heavy rhythms, bombastic horns, and three-part harmonies.”

An interactive map of all musicians and locations can be found here.

Jason M. Rubin has been a professional writer for 29 years, the last 14 of which has been as senior writer at Libretto, a Boston-based strategic communications agency. An award-winning copywriter, he holds a BA in Journalism from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, maintains a blog called Dove Nested Towers, and for four years served as communications director and board member of AIGA Boston, the local chapter of the national association for graphic arts. His first novel, The Grave & The Gay, based on a 17th-century English folk ballad, was published in September 2012. He regularly contributes feature articles and CD reviews to Progression magazine and for several years wrote for The Jewish Advocate.

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