Saturday was a good day to be a mail carrier in West Philadelphia. You could walk from block-to-block and listen as a wealth of music enlivened city streets on a muggy summer day. The 2018 West Philly Porchfest was in full swing and the City of Brotherly Love sounded great.
The West Philly Porchfest began in 2016. The free neighborhood festival is a unique event that promotes music and community. West Philadelphia residents allow a band to play on their front porches. Neighbors and visitors can traverse a small area in West Philadelphia and watch an amazing group of local artists. There were times yesterday when I did not even have to take a single step to hear different types of music.
Even though the festival is only two years old, it has grown exponentially in that time. In 2016, the West Philly Porchfest hosted 75 bands. 150 groups were booked in 2017.
Despite the Roots Picnic also occurring on the same day, the festival received a good turnout. Most houses saw at least a small gathering outside of their front porch. Others had a few dozen people.
Near the intersection of Farragut Terrace and Springfield Avenue a small jazz ensemble, a youth music program, and the St. Francis De Sales church choir were all performing in different spots. You could stand in the intersection and be hit with jazz, church music, and even a touch of classical music at the same time.
The choir singing on the steps of St. Francis De Sales church was flanked by the jazz ensemble Red Rose Combo and the youth organization Play On, Philly! The Red Rose Combo played music from the likes of Norah Jones and George Gershwin. Their rendition of the composer’s “Summertime” could not have been a more perfect selection on a humid day.
Play On, Philly! dropped an array of music that included reggae and New Orleans jazz. The range of the young musicians was impressive. Not only did they excel at making Springfield Avenue swing, but they even slowed down the pace of the afternoon and played a beautiful classical piece.
They were not alone in their artistry. Over on the 4700 block of Warrington Avenue the group Bitters & Rye strung together a wonderful set of Jazz Age songs. From that location I heard some Chicago Blues and jazz emanating from Baltimore Avenue and wandered in that direction. In another cool moment, I took in those performers and watched the West Philadelphia Mennonite Fellowship Theology singing in front of Calvary Church.
In each instance, there was just enough space to enjoy the performers near you, but close enough to be tempted by the next group. Even on the return to my car a guy was playing acoustic guitar on his front porch.
While I mostly saw jazz groups, other scheduled participants included an R.E.M. tribute band, indie rock, folk, and black metal. Other artists strewn across West Philadelphia included Wookiedelphia (a Star Wars-inspired jazz band) and the rock ‘n roll outfit Urethra Franklin.
The free-flowing nature of the day was best described by musician Josh Machiz, who just listed “we’ll see” underneath his style on the festival’s website.
The West Philly Porchfest is one of the most fun things that I have experienced in Philadelphia. I was expecting cover bands and a typical street festival, but this was much more enjoyable. With so many musicians playing on front porches and crowds gathered near each house or church, it felt like everyone loved just taking part in a fun festival and was able to enjoy a laid-back afternoon. Just strolling through the area and absorbing the atmosphere gave me a great appreciation of community.
This was the first time that I have gone to the West Philly Porchfest. It will not be my last.
Thank you to Jean Lemke of the bands Jean Therapy and Red Rose Combo for tipping me off about the West Philly Porchfest.