Start Your Own Porchfest!

How to Start Your Own Porchfest

By Dom Nozzi, Chair

Mapleton Hill neighborhood, Boulder CO

November 2, 2017

Starting and maintaining a porchfest in your own neighborhood or community is highly enjoyable and very rewarding. While it requires some work initially, it becomes easier and easier in future years. It is a powerful way to neighbors to get to know each other, and to promote sociability.

A “porchfest” — inspired by the Ithaca NY porchfest — is a free-of-charge neighborhood walkabout where local musicians play and sing music on the beautiful porches of a walkable neighborhood.

As Rob Steuteville has pointed out, this eclectic, community-building musical event “… is beginning to spread to other cities and towns, from Napa, California, to Somerville, Massachusetts. The only requirement is a walkable neighborhood and some home-grown musical or other talent. It’s a great way to build culture and community and show off these assets…”

In The Rise of the Creative Class, Revisited (Florida, 2012), Richard Florida points out that “Places are valued for their authenticity and uniqueness. Authenticity comes from several aspects of a community – historic buildings, established neighborhoods, a distinctive music scene, or specific cultural attributes…People…define authenticity as the opposite of generic…Music is a key part of what makes a place authentic.”

“The phrase ‘audio identity’ refers to the identifiable musical genre or sound associated with local bands…that give a city a unique sound track…Music…plays a central role in the creation of identity and the formation of real communities”

“Musical memories are some of the strongest and most easily evoked. You can often remember events in your life by what songs were playing at the time. Simon Frith writes that music ‘provides us with an intensely subjective sense of being sociable. It both articulates and offers the immediate experience of collective identity. Music regularly sound tracks our search for ourselves and for spaces in which we can feel at home.”

For a sense of what a porchfest is about, check out this little slide show that one of our porchfest planning committee members created here in Boulder, Colorado. When you click on the link below and the music starts, swipe (or click on the triangle on the right side) to see each image in the show.

http://zeega.com/153586

 PorchFest is rapidly spreading throughout the nation. Here is an inventory as of 2015 — a list that grows all the time…

http://www.porchfest.org/porchfests-elsewhere/

Steps in Creating a New Porchfest

  1. Your first step in creating a new porchfest is to confirm that your neighborhood is conducive to a porchfest event. Your neighborhood obviously should have many houses containing front porches large enough to accommodate a live band. Your neighborhood should be compact enough that the homes are relatively close together so that it is a short, easy walk from home to home. It certainly helps if there is a nice tree canopy in the neighborhood, and streets do not contain high speed traffic.
  2. Your next step is to seek out volunteers to serve on an organizing committee (OC). In the case of the Mapleton Hill neighborhood experience here in Boulder CO, we were able to send out a query to a neighborhood email listserver to ask if there was any interest on the part of those living in the neighborhood to serve on an OC. It is usually best to find OC members who live in the neighborhood. You should strive for an OC that is between about 7 to 10 members. Any less can mean too much work for individual members. More than that can mean monthly meetings that are too long and meetings where it is too difficult to make decisions. Larger numbers of members are also more difficult for finding a mutually agreeable meeting date. Other things to keep in mind in recruiting OC members: It probably goes without saying that members should have a fair amount of time available, as members end up putting in a not insignificant amount of time into the planning effort. Also, a prospective member should be online and be willing to regularly communicate with others on the OC by email (it is very detrimental to the operation of the OC if a member rarely engages in email conversations the OC needs to have fairly often).
  3. Once you have found a good number of members, you will need to designate a chair who is in charge of putting together monthly planning meetings, an agenda for such meetings, running such meetings, and “nagging” other members about needed tasks. At your first meeting, you can ask for volunteers to serve on subcommittees such as Treasurer, Secretary, Fundraising, Computer Graphics, Food/Drink, Porches, Bands, and Public Relations.
  4. The Mapleton Hill porchfest, over our six years of existence, has found it best to start planning for an upcoming porchfest about eight months in advance of the event. In our case, we tend to start our monthly OC meetings in February and hold our porchfest on a late Sunday in September.
  5. At each meeting, the Chair runs through an agenda (submitted in advance to other members, along with minutes from the most recent meeting). Mostly, the agenda consists of getting a status report from each of the subcommittees. Meetings should last from one to two hours. Shorter meetings are better, as they are less likely to discourage members from leaving the OC.
  6. We have found that for the event itself (and given the size and population of our neighborhood and city), it is best to have about 20 bands and 18-20 porches to host the bands. We split up the event into two sets of 10 bands each. Each band performs for about 90 minutes on a Sunday afternoon.
  7. Note that your computer graphics person is very important. That person should either have their calendar wide open for a month or so before the event (to deal with the many last minute changes to maps), or be a person paid for their work so that they can be counted out to make such changes.
  8. Having an online presence is important. We use wordpress for a free web host, and also use a Facebook page to keep people informed. Our Mapleton Hill Porchfest website: https://mapletonhillporchfest.wordpress.com/
  9. You should be careful about possible difficulties and expenses associated with navigating the possible rules and regulations of your local government. Often, local government will require difficult or expensive supplements – particularly if your event is large enough to trigger certain local government requirements (such as the need for law enforcement or Porta Potties). Street barriers or permits can also be required if you opt to close one or more streets during the event. We strive to be small enough to avoid triggering local government thresholds, and have opted not to close any streets. You might also run afoul of local noise regulations – particularly if amplified music is allowed. We also chose not to obtain a Charitable Organization designation [501(c)3]. While that designation can certainly help with donations, we found that the steps and cost to obtain such a designation are rather difficult.
  10. For our Boulder porchfest, we initially opted to hold an “after-porchfest appreciation party,” where we provided finger foods, beer, and wine at a porch in the neighborhood. We invited porchfest Committee members and band members to attend. However, we eventually decided not to continue this, as the expense was relatively high, and we had poor turn-out by band members.

Subcommittee Job Descriptions

Chair

  • Maintain an up-to-date list of porchfest committee members, including name, address, phone number, email address.
  • Create an email distribution list that contains the email address of each porchfest committee member (to make communication with members easier).
  • Select date, time, location for next committee meeting based on an open date for largest number of members. For us, meetings run from February through September each year on a monthly basis. Two meetings in September to finalize preparation.
  • Edit the minutes from the previous meeting for corrections/additions, if necessary, that are sent before the next meeting by the Secretary.
  • 2-4 days before the next committee meeting, email a reminder about the meeting to members. Include proposed agenda (sample below) and minutes from most recent meeting.
  • Read the minutes just prior to each committee meeting in order to better prepare for the meeting.
  • At the committee meeting, serve as chair of the meeting. Have a copy of the agenda to go through in order. Moderate discussion.
  • Periodically contact subcommittee members to check on how they are doing in completing their tasks – particularly those tasks called for at the most recent meeting.
  • Create a “punchlist” of minor tasks needing completion just before, during, and after the event, person(s) assigned to the task, and due date. Share with committee.
  • Visit each porch during porchfest to confirm that all is well at each porch.
  • Ensure that porchfest banners, signs, flyers are stored for future porchfests.

Porch Organizer

  • Do a neighborhood walk-about to identify suitable porches (large enough for a band and close enough to the street) so that you can develop a good porch-pool.
  • To recruit suitable porches, consider placing a hand-written note on or near the front door explaining the fest and asking if the occupant would be interested in participating. It is helpful to include your phone number in the note.
  • Work with the Bands coordinator (see below) to assign bands to porches. Take care to create enough distance between each porch so that there is not excessive sound spillover to other performance porches, but strike a balance between adequate spacing and the need to cluster porches so that there is a “critical mass” that creates a festive atmosphere in the neighborhood.
  • Be clear with bands about your amplification policy. For Boulder, we adopted the following policy: “We prefer bands be fully unplugged, but have in past years acknowledged that some bands or instruments don’t work unless they have some amplification (bass guitar or keyboards, for example), and have therefore allowed some amplification in the past. If we mutually agree that amplification is necessary for special situations that the amplification must be relatively discreet and not cause spillover noise problems for nearby performers on nearby porches.”
  • After your first year or two of porchfests, your first task is to contact, preferably by phone, all participating hosts from the prior year to determine who would like to commit for the present year. Begin this procedure in the Spring, even though some may reply:  “Don’t know yet.  It’s too far in the future”. Caveat:  “future” becomes “present” very quickly!   Just be patient.  The majority of last year’s hosts were eager to repeat.

Band Coordination/Organizer

  • Recruit bands: word of mouth, Facebook posts, finding bands who are performing at various venues in your community (such as nightclubs or public plazas), contacting the music departments of local schools and colleges, Google search for regional bands, and recruiting through neighborhood email list posts.
  • [After your first year or two of porchfests], using the most recent inventory of bands and band contact information, contact each band to find out if they are interested in performing this year.
  • Research and book bands.
  • Inform bands of your amplification policy.
  • Create contact info with band contact person, email, phone, and street addresses. We use an Excel spreadsheet to do this.
  • Work with Porch Organizer to match bands to porches.
  • Be a contact person for the bands prior to and on the day of the event.
  • Work with Porch Organizer make a schedule for the band performances for the event.
  • Communicate with bands twice to confirm their performance and to find out if they need any help: 3 weeks out and 1 week out.
  • Respond to queries and concerns from bands.
  • Scout out any bands that are too loud and firmly explain to band the porchfest amplification policy.
  • Be present at performance porches on the day of porchfest, observing, thanking bands, etc.

Marketing Coordinator

  • Decide how large you want your event to be. Here in Boulder, in our first few years we opted to try to limit our attendees to those living in the neighborhood. Over time, we started to reach out to the larger community (it was only in our sixth year that we submitted a press release to the local newspaper to have them publish an article about our porchfest).
  • In general, your porchfest will draw an audience from the general neighborhood area. Have these residents also invite their friends to participate or attend. The goal is to have a festive number of people come listen at your host porches.
  • Marketing is conducted primarily through 7 mechanisms:
  1. A neighborhood email listserver
  2. A porchfest Facebook Page.
  3. A porchfest website. We use the free WordPress website provider.
  4. Distribution of porchfest maps to neighborhood homes the week before porchfest through the mailman. Streets mailman does not deliver to are hand delivered by porchfest committee members.
  5. Posting/stapling of maps/schedules on poles as well as putting up reusable, durable porchfest banners we created at the gateway street entrances to our neighborhood.
  6. Asking bands to advertise through their own approaches.
  7. Word of mouth and committee members inviting friends and family.

The vast majority of “push” marketing that we have done (that is, pushing info to people, as opposed to making them go somewhere to see info) is through listserver emailing. We have sent out emails with a variety of descriptions for porchfest through the year/summer/fall. Samples of these emails from 2015 are included below.

Timing of Emails. We spaced this out to be when we think they would be useful. For us, that meant a “save the date” in early summer; one a month through summer; late summer with band lists; early September; the Wednesday before the event.

Marketing Success. To determine success, one method is to simply count how many people actually come to porchfest. In 2014, we estimated that about 600 people attended as the audience, and possibly another 100 or so were involved as band members. These counts were taken during the peak time, which trended both years towards the middle of the time of porchfest (around 2:30 p.m.).

Competition for Audience. Each year, there is some concern about what events could take away our audience. We strive to avoid these events to the extent possible. Competition could include professional or college sporting events by teams in our local area, local festivals, etc. For us, we concluded that there’s no way to have a Sunday in September without competition from something, and that those attending one event may synergistically attend our event as well.

Broadening the Audience. Discussions have taken place often at our porchfest committee meetings regarding the expansion of porchfest to outside of the neighborhood. These discussions are usually intertwined with issues such as liability, parking, permits, and toilets.

Sample Emails. Below is a sample of the emails our marketing person wrote for for 2015 and 2014.

A few notes to make this work better: (1) The SUBJECT line is really, really important!!, (2) Use PICTURES of porchfest with lots of people in them! This makes it look like they’ll miss out on a big event if they don’t come (3) Make it sound FUN!, (4) Don’t forget to say it’s FREE!

 First Email: Your porchfest Music Event is Coming Again! ‘Like’ Us on Facebook to get more News….

The date is set! Mark your calendar for SEPTEMBER 20th to enjoy the 4th Annual Mapleton Hill porchfest, the musical walkabout that is the envy of all the other neighborhoods. Like last year’s event which drew nearly 800 people, we’ll highlight about 20 different bands of many styles, playing their hearts out on local porches. Do you like bluegrass? Jazz? Classical? Blues? Folk? Of course you do.

So take out your smartphone right now, put Sept. 20th on your calendar, and like us on Facebook! (link)

So far, the following bands have already committed to porchfest 2015.

[list of bands with links]

Second Email

Subject: Mapleton Quiz: Henscratch-Beans-Commandos-Mayhem-Honey Dews?

Congratulations if you said “Mapleton Hill Porchfest band names”!  You are “in the know”. If not, check us out and carve out time for what really is our very own neighborhood “musical walkabout”. A wide variety of genres is sure to please everyone: bluegrass, jazz, blues, folk, rock, a cappella and others will be featured with 10 bands playing simultaneously in different locations around the Historic District.

So plan on spending Sunday afternoon, Sept. 20th, by inviting some friends, enjoying some music, and eating some tasty food-truck snacks. Bands start at 1pm for the first set until 2:30, and then 10 new bands start up for the second set that goes until 4pm.

Details are here: http://mapletonhillPorchFest.wordpress.com/

And please Like and SHARE our Facebook page! https://www.facebook.com/MapletonHillPorchFest

Third email (a few weeks before the event)

Subject: What’s the Buzz About? Music right outside your door….

Countdown to the Mapleton Hill Porchfest has begun…It’s happening on Sunday, September 20th from 1-4pm, and we can’t be more excited about this year’s lineup of bands! Check them out below. Never been before? You just need to go outside, follow the crowds and the music, and enjoy one of the 23 bands with every style imaginable. Cost? Nada, nothing. Thank the bands for their time and talent.

So put it in your calendar now so you don’t forget. There’s no Broncos game that day, either.

Details are here: http://mapletonhillPorchFest.wordpress.com/

And please Like and SHARE our Facebook page! https://www.facebook.com/MapletonHillPorchFest

Week before Event Email

Subject: What are your Sunday Afternoon Plans? Do They Include the Mapleton Hill PorchFest?

Hike or have brunch in the morning, but don’t miss Mapleton Hill’s own PorchFest, the neighborhood (free) musical walkabout that brings together local musicians and your neighbors’ porches for your enjoyment. So get your family and friends together and enjoy the great weather and fantastic setting. Music Set One goes from 1:00-2:30 and Set 2 from 2:30 – 4:00pm. That’s right, 23 bands, 23 porches. Some of your favorite bands from last year are returning, plus a whole group of new sounds. The line-up and details of the Event are at the links below.

Tell your neighbors about it! Not everyone is on this Listserve.

Details are here: https://mapletonhillporchfest.wordpress.com/musical-acts-2015/

And please Like and SHARE our Facebook page! https://www.facebook.com/MapletonHillPorchFest

{{{{{don’t forget to list SPONSORS}}}}}

A few days before the event Email (best one!)

Subject: The Noise You WANT in Our Neighborhood: PorchFest 2014 is September 14th!

The noise you DON’T want in the Mapleton District includes loud drunken parties, sirens, and cement trucks. The noise you DO want is fabulous local bands playing on your neighbors’ beautiful porches on a wonderful Sunday afternoon. Carve out time for what really is a “musical walkabout” called the Mapleton Hill PorchFest. A wide variety of genres is sure to please everyone: bluegrass, jazz, blues, folk, rock, a cappella and others will be featured with 10 bands playing simultaneously in different locations around the Historic District.

So plan on spending Sunday afternoon, Sept. 14th, by inviting some friends, enjoying some music, and eating some tasty food-truck snacks. Bands start at 1pm for the first set until 2:30, and then 10 new bands start up for the second set that goes until 4pm. AND, this year, we are starting with a festive Bagpipe Parade at 12:30.

Details are here: http://mapletonhillPorchFest.wordpress.com/

And please Like and SHARE our Facebook page! https://www.facebook.com/MapletonHillPorchFest

Funding Coordinator

Porchfest needs funding each year, and there are a number of ways to get money. In 2014, there was a City grant, and in 2015, after a LOT of discussion, we decided to get money through sponsors. In our first try at raising money, we decided to try to raise $1000.

Sponsorship. We established a sponsorship structure with Gold sponsors at $100 and Silver sponsors at $50. Benefits would be in the form of exposure for the sponsors (via their logo) in the variety of communications we had (flyers, maps, schedules, our website and Facebook page, emails).

To start with, we walked around with a sample of our flyer/map/schedule in nearby commercial areas, going to shops and restaurants. This did not yield very good results, although we did receive a sponsorship from a used goods store, and an in-kind sponsorship from a printing shop.

The next plan was to send out a request for sponsors via the neighborhood email listserver. We did this twice. This yielded much better results. We received 7 or 8 sponsorships (all Gold) through this method, with real estate agents seeming to be the most interested group. A sample email is below.

In addition, we had some committee members who knew people who wanted to sponsor. These personal contacts yielded another couple of real estate agents, and a developer. The developer was asked to pay $1000 (the personal contact suggested that they would pay this much), so a new category was established for this sponsor called Platinum.

Problems Encountered with Sponsorship Process. Given our first year of trying sponsorships, this went pretty well. But there were a few bumps described below:

  • It was tough to get logos in the right format in a timely fashion from some of the sponsors. In particular, real estate agents wanted their company logo along with their name, but did not have their own graphics to do this, requiring our porchfest graphics person to do this work. We may opt in the future to NOT do logos, just names/companies, although I do believe they like having their logos.
  • At first, we decided we needed more room on the porchfest Map for the sponsors to be on there. We put them on the back of the Map page this time, which may or may not be the best solution. It seemed to work fine this year.
  • Collecting the checks was a little problematic. We would suggest having a sponsor deadline a month ahead of the porchfest event, where the check and the logo would need to be in.

Sample Email

Subject: Porchfest has a few openings for business sponsors! Please help.

Porchfest is our neighborhood musical walkabout coming soon on Sept. 20th (20 local bands, 20 porches). Do you have a local business that could use some great exposure to our whole neighborhood? Great, because we need a few more sponsors. We have only five spots left for Gold sponsorships. Home construction, Real estate agents, lawyers, home services, repair, architects, shops, restaurants…can all benefit from being a sponsor. Please send me an email (johndoe@yahoo.com).

PLEASE pass this on to people you think would be good sponsors!

Our website: https://mapletonhillporchfest.wordpress.com/

Here are the details.

Our porchfest has limited openings for sponsorships. Last year, almost 800 neighbors enjoyed local music on beautiful porches. Please consider supporting this neighborhood event through your sponsorship at a Gold or Silver level.

Gold Sponsors ($100) receive:

  • Logo on the Porchfest map (all spectators have this map for the entire time they are at the event, and it’s passed out to the entire neighborhood ahead of time)
  • Recognition as Gold Sponsors on the Porchfest website and Facebook page
  • Recognition as Gold Sponsors in emails to the neighborhood Listserve

Silver Sponsors ($50) receive:

  • Recognition as Silver Sponsors on the Porchfest website
  • Recognition as Silver Sponsors on the Porchfest Facebook page
  • Recognition as Silver Sponsors in emails to the neighborhood Listserve

Sponsor checks are to be made out to our treasurer [John Doe], and mailed to [Treasurer Name, Address]

Our porchfest is an all-volunteer-led event; please help us make it a reality!

Secretary

  • Create, distribute, and maintain committee contact information list.
  • Attend Committee meetings and record minutes. Publish promptly via email and solicit corrections, additions, etc.
  • Write and send thank you notes and other occasional correspondence to bands, porch hosts, sponsors, and other volunteers.
  • Monitor and report on porchfest activity in other geographies via Facebook, direct email, etc.
  • Create and maintain archival information in hard copy and electronic format.

Treasurer

  • Deposit and retain porchfest funds in a secure bank account.
  • Maintain on-going account of porchfest financial assets and report to the organizing committee as needed.
  • Help the organizing committee create a budget based on retained records from prior porchfests.
  • Disburse payments for porchfest expenses, typically as re-imbursements to organizing committee members for expenditures they make for porchfest, such as printing or food purchase.
  • When required, e.g. for grant reporting, account for porchfest expenses by category and amount.

Printing Coordinator

  • First, a date needs to be determined for when the porchfest map/schedule flyers need to be in the mail person’s hands for delivery to the houses in the neighborhood. That date determines when final changes can be made to the materials and when they materials need to be printed. Our printing company need at least 4 working days.
  • When the deadline for changes to the flyers (as well as yard signs) has passed, the PDF files need to be sent to the person who will deliver them to the printer.
  • In 2015, we printed 1,400 black and white flyers, of which, 460 were tri-folded.(Z-folded).
  • 400 of these folded flyers were given to mail carrier, the remaining folded flyers (60) were divided among 3 volunteers to deliver to streets that the mail carrier did not serve.
  • The remaining unfolded flyers were distributed to the porch hosts the morning of the event. In our first few years, about 40 copies of the map/schedule were placed on each performance porch. This year, we started using a Realtor flyer holder to post in the front yard of each performance porch (each holder would hold about 40 maps/schedules).
  • In addition to the black and white flyers, we had 40 color flyers printed for telephone poles.

They were posted on the day of event as well.

  • The PDF file for the yard signs for each porch (including band name and map locator info) were printed from a separate file. The number of flyers needed for the individual porches depends on number of bands. In 2015, we ordered 46 yard signs of 11×17 size. This was for 23 bands with 23 yard sign frames (one sign mounted on each side of the foam board).

Graphics Coordinator

The PorchFest Graphics person:

  • …Has software that is compatible with porchfest electronic documents from previous years, and the knowledge needed to use the software to make changes to these documents. Our porchfest electronic documents are in jpeg, PDF, eps, quark, and psd formats. Some documents are in multiple formats, so it may not be necessary to have the capability to handle all of these formats.
  • …Is able to create camera-ready versions of these documents (either hard copy or digitally) so that they can be photocopied or printed by a local printer.
  • …Creates a draft map/schedule, yard signs, flyer advertising, and sponsorship logo pages for review by the Committee. For our September event, the first draft of these documents is generally expected in June or July. Each of these items are available electronically, which means that the Graphics coordinator would simply be editing these items based on changes to porch locations, bands, and flyer/yard sign changes.
  • …Makes the hand-out maps/schedules for porches. This document is generally produced about a week before our September porchfest event. Again, we have this item electronically, so the Graphics coordinator would simply be editing it.
  • …Is available for regular editing of the electronic documents from early June through the September for our September porchfest event. Note that there are typically a number of changes that need to be made to the documents in the final month before the event, as there are typically a number of porch hosts and bands that change their plans or their names (in the case of bands). It is therefore essential that the Graphics coordinator be on-call to make these changes on a regular basis – particularly in the month before the event.

 Food Vendor Coordinator

  • Our porchfest event, in our first few years, was able to recruit food truck companies to provide food during the event. More recently, we have chosen to recruit food CART companies, since they could be located within the street or sidewalk (our city requires food trucks to be located in a house driveway, and it is sometimes difficult for us to find a homeowner to volunteer their driveway).
  • As soon as a date is selected for the porchfest event, prospective food truck/cart owners should be contacted to see if he/she wants to serve at porchfest and if he/she has our dates available. We have found prospects at local music events, online, and other public gathering places where food vendors are often found. In future years, this process is easier, as many food vendors are interested in again being at our future porchfest events.
  • As soon as a date is selected for porchfest, a central, highly visible location should be selected for the food vendors (vendors obviously prefer such a location). With multiple vendors, this can be a form of “food court.” Some vendors find it very helpful to have, if possible, an electrical hook up.
  • The food vendor coordinator needs to be sure the food vendor location is known by the map maker so the food vendors can be shown on the map.
  • Food truck directional signs, if used, need to be placed the morning of porchfest.
  • Note: Our porchfest event has opted not to provide Porta Potties or waste receptacles, but these two items are very helpful if they can be provided fairly easily and at an affordable cost.
  • Given the size of the our event (600-800 people), one food truck (or two or three food carts) is adequate.

Sample of Committee Meeting Agenda

I.     Call to order and introductions.

II.    Approval of agenda.

III.   Welcome new committee members and provide overview of committee.

IV.   Initial thoughts on tasks to be completed for PorchFest  2014.

V.    Status of funds for porchfest.

VI.   Status of porches, bands, food.

VII.  Date and location for next committee meeting.

VIII. New agenda items.

IX.   Adjourn

Suggested Subcommittees

Bands

Porches

Treasurer

Secretary

Communications

Mapping/Signs/Graphics Coordinator

Fundraising

Food/Drink

City Liaison

Advertising/Marketing

Coordination with other American Porchfest Groups (Facebook Page Available for This)

 

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