What began as a small neighborhood gathering with a couple of ukuleles a decade ago in Ithaca, New York, has turned into a nationwide celebration of community and local music with more than 60 PorchFests in the U.S. and Canada.
Mapleton Hill, Boulder’s oldest neighborhood, which joined the PorchFest party in 2012, is hosting its sixth annual Mapleton PorchFest with a parade at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 17, followed by 22 musical acts playing on Mapleton front porches.
“We are convinced that our little music walkabout festival promotes neighborliness and conviviality,” said Dom Nozzi, the sheriff of Boulder’s PorchFest community. “And an appreciation for the musical talents of our region.”
The event spans seven blocks of the historic neighborhood, with the parade kicking off at Maxwell and Fifth streets and headed by Pearl Street Mall’s famed teen trumpeter Gabriel Angelo (or Master Blaster G) as the grand marshal. Angelo, who once caught the attention of Ellen DeGeneres and appeared on her show in 2012, will be joined by tap dancers, clowns, Irish dancers and circus-school performers.
The community is encouraged to participate, and visitors from all neighborhoods are welcome. Nozzi said people can feel free to come in costume and with decorated bikes.
“There’s some really strong civic reasons for having an event like PorchFest, but the main thing is it’s just fun,” said Kathy Spear, a member of the PorchFest organizing committee. “It’s such a community and neighborhood builder.”
Which is what struck Nozzi in 2011, when he learned about the movement through a Listserv group. Since then, it’s grown. Last year, Mapleton Hill PorchFest, held on the third Sunday every September, had 800 visitors lining the tree-canopied streets of the picture-perfect neighborhood.
Nozzi, who said he lived in Mapleton for nearly a decade until about a year ago, said the walkable design of the neighborhood, the low speed limit on the wide streets and the conversational distance between the porches and sidewalks is what makes Mapleton the perfect spot for this event.
“Mapleton has many beautiful houses with big front porches, making it conducive to this activity,” Nozzi said. “And a gratifying aspect is that it’s very serendipitous at PorchFest. It’s great to run into familiar faces, and have a chance to meet new ones.”
Spear said she lives right in the heart of Mapleton, in a house that was built in 1895.
“In a three hour period, there’s this wonderful sense of community.” Spear said. “It’s great music, good conversation, kids in strollers, dogs on leashes, just a great neighborhood event.”
The committee — which Spear said also includes Jamie Cannon, who organized the bands and put together the map (which will be available on participating porches) — has perfected the placement of the bands so there’s no overlap in sound. And unless it’s for a solo keyboard performer or an a capella group, no amplifiers are allowed. In the last couple of years, organizers have also broken the music into two sets to make it easier for visitors to see more performances.
The bands love it too, Spear and Nozzi said, as a fairly significant number of returning groups come back.
“They all perform gratis, and the residents have opened up their porches out of their neighborly love,” said Spear.
There will also be three food carts sitting on Sixth Street between Maxwell and Concord avenues, said Spear. This year the bands are booked and the porches are filled, so interested groups for future PorchFests can inquire at mapletonhillporchfest.wordpress.com.
“As a town planner, I know that our society tends to be more isolated than it once was,” said Nozzi, a member of the city’s Transportation Advisory Board. He noted Robert Putnam’s take on America’s modern civic disengagement in the 1995 book “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.”
“PorchFest is a way for us to bring more neighborly and social activities to the community,” he said.
The organizers encourage visitors come by bus or bike, and if a car is necessary, Nozzi suggested parking outside of the fest’s limits, since there will be a higher number of people, children and dogs in the neighborhood.