May 20th was the 3rd Annual Porchfest on the streets of the Mission district in San Francisco. Over thirty bands and musicians took to porches, backyards, storefronts and street corners for an afternoon of free live music on one of the hottest days in The City all year. Porchfest started in Ithaca, New York, and has now spread to over twenty cities in the US and Canada since the first one in 2007. Organizers of the San Francisco iteration, Beth Gould and Liz Pittinos, were inspired by a friend who co-produces a Porchfest in Boston.
My first stop was a backyard just off Mission to see Amity Rose sing some jazzy blues. The vibe was cordial among the twenty or so people sparsely filling the space in the garden. There were even home cooked delights being handed out to a lucky few of the assembled guests as her band jauntily played. After about 20mins of her set, I made a quick wander down Osage Street to check out the murals before stumbling upon my next stop which was on Valencia where the Parlor Tricks caught my eye. Lead singer Melina Selverston was charismatic and charming as she performed in front of the Bethel Christian Church.
The spontaneity of Porchfest is one of its key strengths. Some of those who stood watching will have been going about their day and happened across the festival by chance. You can easily imagine how an ordinary Saturday may become a bit of an adventure with people searching for the next performance location.
In many ways though, this beautiful spontaneity can also be one of Porchfest’s catch-22s; there is just too much going on! With the festival spread throughout the entire Mission District, there is a lot of ground to cover. I was there for about four hours and only caught five bands. It seems the organizers appear aware of this little conundrum and each performer’s set usually lasts around an hour (and in many cases longer). These extended opportunities to perform make it easier to take in a few songs before wandering off to the next. The trouble is that when you come across a captivating performer you can’t do anything but stay in the sunshine and listen.
After watching Parlor Tricks perform a few songs I took a brisk walk, traversing some back roads, and found my next stop which was to see Gutter Swan. I walk past the ever-extending line of hipsters and cool kids buying ice-cream at Garden Creamery and settle in to listen to Loryn and Steve’s inventive acoustic re-imagining of classic, and some lesser known, songs. It’s a fun set, and a few people have pulled up chairs in the shade to listen. I stay for the remainder and see their version of Dolly Partion’s Jolene bring smiles to faces of people watching from the other side of the street.
After a few songs from Night Owl, who took over on Lexington Avenue from Gutter Swan, I make my move down to Mission Street vintage furniture store Harrington Galleries to see Saint Merissa. As I arrive she is already a few songs into her hour-long set and in full swing, her soulful music mystically permeating through the walls of the famous store. I had heard her EP, Off Mulholland, a few days prior and fell in love with a song called Clockwork. It was a magical moment to see her name pop up on the Porchfest line-up. Saint Merissa is still very early on in her career, so it was wholly gratifying to be in a place where you could can settle down and see someone so fresh spending an hour intertwining original music with covers from the likes of Stevie Wonder.
She said she had traveled all the way from L.A., for the show and it was a blessing she did. It was there that I saw the power of Porchfest. Sitting on an old vintage chair, I saw as people who were walking by, then heard the music, and came in. The welcoming atmosphere meant many stayed for the rest of the performance. It was that beautiful moment when music reaches out to touch and capture a complete stranger’s attention.
And just like that, with the sounds of new songs swirling around in my head, I made my move for BART after an afternoon at Porchfest. I had a small spring in my step as I hummed newly discovered music on the way home, feeling good about discovering and supporting new music in such a impromptu way.