Five years ago, Spokane photographer Marshall Peterson decided it was way past time for Americans to stop “cocooning.”
“It feels like we feel like being by ourselves surrounded by comfort food and comfort screens will somehow make us happy,” he said. “It’s not doing that.”
Seeing music as a way to build community, Peterson planned the first PorchFest, modeled after similar event in Ithaca, New York.
That first year featured performers spread out on 11 porches in the West Central neighborhood.
At the time, there were 10 other PorchFests across the country. Peterson checked recently, and there are now 100 PorchFests in America.
The West Central PorchFest is growing too. This year’s event, 3-7 p.m. Saturday, features about 30 musicians and poets performing on 15 porches.
Peterson hopes attendees make it to at least three or four porches to see both a variety of performers and more of the West Central neighborhood.
Many porches are in Kendall Yards, with some as far north as Shannon Avenue and as far east as Jefferson Street.
Peterson doesn’t have a specific genre or sound in mind when curating the PorchFest lineup. Rather, he looks at each performer’s heart and willingness to engage with the community.
“Do you care about the concept of community?” he said. “Are you willing to place your time and energy and effort promoting the event? Being accessible to other people and then, of course, playing?”
Likewise, a PorchFest porch doesn’t need to be an actual porch, per se, with Peterson noting that many houses don’t have porches these days.
“The porch is in your heart more than anything,” he said. “It’s your willingness to volunteer and participate and put yourself out there and be that person who’s saying ‘Come on over’ and smiling and shaking hands and hugging people you know.”
In the future, Peterson would love to have 35, and eventually 50, performers on 50 porches to really maximize the impact of the event.
“I hope people are watching from other neighborhoods, because also while I’m doing this, I’m modeling behavior,” he said. “As I’m doing this and people are loving it, I’m saying ‘Why don’t you guys do this in your own neighborhood? Why don’t we do this in all the neighborhoods?’ ”
While the event is currently only held in the West Central neighborhood, Peterson wants to make it clear that everyone is welcome.
He said the first introduction many people have with each other at PorchFest can lead to a more communal neighborhood in the future.
“I think for many people it’s been the first time they’ve opened their porch and opened their heart and shouted to their neighbors ‘Hey! Let’s get together,’…” he said. “I think it helps us to be a healthier neighborhood and I think that people, when they see each other, they’ve met, they’re like ‘Hey, I kind of know you.’ That’s a bridge right there.”
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