It’s a pretty great concept, when you think about it — a day of free concerts, all on porches. A way to bring a community together with music, a way to encourage first-time players while giving venue vets a more intimate experience. After launching in New England six years ago and taking up root in West Philly in 2015, the Porchfest model makes its way across the Ben Franklin Bridge this month for the first Collingswood Porchfest.
Set for Saturday, September 23rd in the small Camden County town nestled along the PATCO High Speed Line, the event features a roster of familiar names from the singer-songwriter scene (Heyward Howkins, pictured) and pop-punk rock universe (Kevin Day of Aspiga), as well as first-time players. We spoke with event organizer Stacey Brown-Downham of indie four-piece The Classic Brown — their awesome record Down With Fun turns ten this fall — and found out about coordinating an undertaking of this scope, connecting the community and juggling duties as a performer, behind the scenes and as a fan.
The Key: I first heard about the Porchfest concept when it started in West Philly a couple years ago. What was your first encounter?
Stacey Brown-Downham: Same thing. My neighbor went to the one in Philly, and came back telling me about it. I was like “Wait a minute, we could so do this in Collingswood, we have a very artsy community with lots of porches.” I just put a message on our community Facebook group, asking would the town be interested, and the post went crazy — hundreds of responses to it in the first day. So we actually brought it to the [Collingswood Board of Commissioners], and they were all for us giving it a try.
TK: What about Collingswood – aside from the porches – do you think lends itself to this type of event?
SBD: I think it’s a close-knit town. I think we already have a lot of arts and culture happening in town, especially with the Perkins Art Center. There are a lot of grassroots festivals. I just figured this would go over so well. So far we’ve got 40 bands, 40 porches, people seem excited about it.
TK: How long does it take to coordinate and plan an event like this?
SBD: It took a couple months. We had our first planning meeting in July, and then we created a Google form sign-up for performers. We made the signups due September 1st. We did a bit of work reaching out to businesses, so we have Gradwell House Studio, Pop Shop, Collingswood Music, Yogawood and Tonewood Brewery sponsoring the event offering deals to patrons. Sara Neal has been instrumental in the planning and communications for the event; she’s the official Miss Collingswood Porchfest.
And then there was the job of laying out the map, trying to figure out, with so many porches, how can you have one band playing this porch, another a block away. The hosts are ready to go, though – they’re inviting people over for brunch. The idea is after you host, you ride your bike around to catch other bands on other porches.
TK: How did recruiting the bands work? Did you go after people you knew and like, or was the submission process open? Both?
SBD: Really, only a couple of us recruited a couple bands or friends. In the group of coordinators, four of us are in bands. Kevin Monko is performing with his band MONKO; Gradwell House is going to have a showcase on our porch with Kevin Day of Aspiga, doing his solo thing Graduation Speech, and Brian Mietz of It’s a King Thing.
Other people, like Heyward Howkins, just saw that It was happening and reached out. Some people are folks who’ve never played before, or who have never played publicly. We didn’t audition anybody; just said “if you want to play, go for it!” We’ve got a good range of genres, and we’re even going to have an acrobatic aerials team set up in the street.
TK: What are you looking forward to the most about the event – is there one thing everybody should try to see?
SBD: It was so hard to plan it, I had to make sure nobody I want to see is playing the same time, or at the same time as me.
To start day off, there’s John Falco (of The Commiserators & Charming Snakes) on Styles Avenue. Ben Garvey on Washington Avenue. There’s a neat act of people that I’ve never heard of, Doglips, who are in a band from Alaska down here. There’s a country soul band, Ginny Mill and the Barter Kings.
I can’t boil it down to one, and it’s going to be really hard for me to ride my bike around and catch all the acts I want to see. It will be a strategic feat if I can see everybody.
Collingswood Porchfest happens on Saturday, September 23rd. More information can be found at the festival’s website.
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