There has been a growing movement in communities across North America over the last decade. It has especially taken hold in neighborhoods with older homes that feature large front porches and a walkable, friendly vibe. If this craze hasn’t hit your neighborhood yet, it may just be a matter of time. Porchfests are hot!
What is a Porchfest?
A porchfest is a neighborhood party where homeowners open up their front porches to serve as stages for local bands. Neighbors and local music fans walk from house to house enjoying the DIY concerts, meeting neighbors, picnicking, and exploring their local music scene.
Because porchfests typically happen during the day, they are generally family-friendly and are a great opportunity to introduce younger generations to live music. Plus the shows are open to the public and free, so they are great events for families looking for some affordable fun.
Sometimes porchfests include pop-up stores where local artists display their art, or local businesses sell their wares, usually donating the proceeds to a local neighborhood charity. This can make them a fantastic, low-key way to get to know the talented people in your neighborhood and do a little shopping at the same time.
Porchfests are uniting communities, and bringing music, friends, and fun to the ‘hood.
The History of Porchfests
Legend has it that the first official porchfest was held in Ithaca, New York in 2007 by neighbors Gretchen Hildreth and Lesley Greene. The first Porchfest featured 20 local bands, but this number has currently grown to more than 185!
While Ithaca may have been the first festival to coin the term “porchfest,” front porch concerts have undoubtedly been around since the invention of the front porch itself. In the southern U.S., where long summers and mild winters make front porches the ideal place to entertain, musical instruments have always been an integral part of front porch culture.
Here in our hometown of Athens, GA, where indie music thrives and so many of the historic Southern homes have enormous, wrap-around porches, impromptu and planned front porch band parties have been a common neighborhood event since the late 70’s. But even here, neighborhood front porch concerts were usually limited to only a house or two.
In 2019, the first official Athens Porchfest featured 67 bands on 67 porches!
Tips for Attending Porchfest
Not all Porchfests are alike, so do your research before attending a porchfest near you. But it does stand to reason that the porchfest you plan on attending involves some walking. Porchfests are also generally all-day events, so be aware of the first rule of porchfest: Comfort is Everything.
Wear good shoes! We can’t stress this enough! It is likely you will be walking quite a ways and at larger porchfests that cover expansive areas, you may find yourself hiking several miles over the course of the day.
Most porchfests in the U.S. take place in September when things start to cool down after a long hot summer, so fortunately you probably don’t have to dress for weather extremes. But if the event goes into the evening, having a light jacket along can ensure that you stay comfortable and happy.
A breathable rain jacket is a good option here if there is a possibility that you will encounter a late summer shower. If you don’t have a rain jacket, a travel umbrella might be something to consider bringing if a chance of rain is likely.
Drink Plenty of Fluids
Walking in the sun in late summer can be excruciatingly hot anywhere these days, but if you are attending one of the many porchfests springing up the south (especially Florida), make sure plenty of water is available! And don’t underestimate the need for hydration even if you are in a more northern location. Water is especially important if you are drinking alcohol at the event.
Because porchfests are in neighborhoods, often hosts of the bands will provide water to sun-baked porchfest-goers. Even if you don’t plan on carrying water, it is a good idea to at least bring along a refillable container like a Nalgene bottle or canteen.
Take a Seat
Standing during the shows may sound like the way to go, particularly because you can travel light and are more likely to mix and mingle with the crowd. But keep in mind that you will be on your feet all day. It may be wise to at least have the option of sitting comfortably.
Lawn chairs can be heavy, unwieldy things that can be more of a burden than a comfort for events that require walking. Fortunately, technology and innovation has created the perfect solution: the portable camping chair.
These clever chairs break down into a tiny bundle that can be stuffed into a small backpack or just slung over the shoulder on a strap. Weighing only a few pounds, they are the perfect solution for a day of porchfest concerts and neighborhood strolling. They range in price quite a bit, but this one we found on Amazon is an excellent deal for the money.
Another great option if you really want to travel light is a pocket picnic blanket. These handy, ultralight ground cloths, provide a comforting barrier between you and the dirt and wet grass. They are called “pocket blankets” because most will fold up small enough to fit in your pocket! To learn more about pocket picnic blankets, read our indepth article.
Pack a Picnic!
Why not pack a picnic to enjoy while you are watching the bands? Even carrying along a supply of snacks to enjoy and share is a wise move in case you get a little hangry out there. If you are worried about lugging around a picnic basket or cooler all day, there are two different options you may want to consider.
The first is to just leave your picnic supplies in the car and fetch them when it’s time to eat. Because parking is usually right there on the street during a porchfest, you could plan out your day a bit and park close to a house hosting a band during the time you plan to eat. Do a little recognizance beforehand and choose a house with a yard that has a well-manicured lawn or other qualities that would make it a great picnic spot.
The second option is to go ultralight. Adventure picnicking is a fast-growing activity where you carry backpacking foods and a small camp stove and prepare a meal while on a one-day adventure.
Most people who camp a lot or are active in the outdoors may already have what they need to turn porchfest into an adventure picnic, but if you are new to adventure picnicking, our indepth adventure picnicking guide is a great resource for learning about the gear and meals you can cook.
Now that we’ve loaded you down with necessary items, our next bit of advice is to travel light. The good news is that modern technology, space age materials, and clever design have made for ultralight versions of a lot of stuff that used to way a ton. The key is for you to invest wisely in good gear and take only what you absolutely need.
While the porchfest event may be free, there will be things there that cost money and having cash will make navigating these transactions immensely easier on all involved. Even with the modern ease of taking credit card payments on a smartphone, this will not be an option for most of the situations you encounter at a porchfest.
Bringing along a wad of smaller bills will make tipping the bands easier, but it will also come in handy for buying a hot dog or hamburger from a porchfest host who may have fired up the grill to raise money for the band or local charity. Don’t be surprised if a host is providing his audience with free food and drinks. If that’s the case, remember how much money you are saving and tip the band extra well!
Sometimes there may be pop-up stores selling local art or event swag like T shirts and cloth shopping bags. Even in these situations, cash is the way to go. It makes for far less stress on the vendor and saves them exorbitant transaction fees. Cash is simply the way to go for porchfests.
Tip the Bands
Although we mentioned it above, we’re going to say it again: tip the bands! These are your friends and neighbors who most likely are not making a lot of money to pursue their artistic passion and entertain you.
There is no better way to support the talented, giving people of your community than leaving a huge tip for their efforts. A few dollars for each band member is a good minimum starting point, but if you wish or can leave more, it can make a huge difference in a musician’s day when they are loading heavy gear after a long day in the sun playing for you.
Many porchfests feature multiple bands playing in different locations at any given time. You may find yourself pouring over the porchfest schedule in order to plan out your day, but our advice is not to get to attached to a set schedule.
Things like hunger, thirst, rain, and heat can always throw a monkey wrench into your carefully planned out day. But you may run into a friend or neighbor you haven’t seen in years who wants to see a different band than you and you don’t want to miss this opportunity to catch up.
Don’t be afraid to throw your schedule out the window. Porchfests are as much about about exploring your surroundings and getting to know your neighbors as they are about simply watching bands.
Speaking of bands, very few events will offer you the opportunity to explore your local music scene that a porchfest will. And “explore” is the magic word here.
If you plan out an elaborate schedule to see all your favorite bands, you may find yourself running around so much that you will miss all the non-music aspects of porchfest. An alternative to planning your porchfest day around music is to plan it geographically and just see what you encounter along the way.
You also may run into a friend who recommends seeing band that you’ve never heard of before that is playing during the slot of a band you intended to see. Follow your friend’s advice and see something new. Not only will you learn about a new band, but you will also find that your friend is very keen on learning about a band that you recommend.
Unlike a traditional music festival, porchfests are about community and appreciating the people and places that make our neighborhoods special. Explore your ’hood!
Clean Up After Yourself
Lastly but most importantly, clean up after yourself. Leaving trash (or any trace of your presence) in a neighbor’s yard after they’ve opened their property up to the community is just wrong.
Many porchfest hosts will put out their personal trash and recycling bins, but these can be quickly overwhelmed for a larger show. Don’t hesitate to carry your trash (or any litter you find in their yard) to an alternative place to properly dispose of it.
The TL;DR: be proud of your neighborhood and respectful of your neighbors by keeping it clean!
List of Porchfests
The list below is by no means an exhaustive one, but may help you find a porchfest near you. Most of the porchfests on it are either well-established or bigger events that will continue on for many years to come. We’ll try to update it from time to time, but if you don’t see your city on the list it does not mean there is not a porchfest near you.