Philadelphians feel the rhythm at Porchfest, park party

Porchfest 2
Jason Peters

On Saturday, June 5, the arts came back to life in Philadelphia after a year and a half of crowdless solitude and virtual concerts. Throughout the city—whether you were in West Philly or Fairmount Park—hundreds congregated to the sweet sound of funky beats and to replenish their spirit with great vibes. 

From 42nd to 52nd streets along Baltimore Ave, more than 100 porches and stoops participated in the burgeoning West Philly tradition known as Porchfest. Porchfest is an open-source, volunteer organized, decentralized and autonomous music festival that has been operating in West Philly since 2016.

Attendees of Porchfest can expect to see any and every genre of music performed. Around 2:45 p.m. rapper Lbs. (pronounced pounds) performed his first live show since before the pandemic. Most of the performers said this was their first show in front of people since the outbreak of COVID-19.

Jason Peters

“It’s great to be out here in the sun,” Lbs. explained, “even better that it’s an open-air environment so people feel comfortable and safe.”

After Lbs.’ set, just a few hundred feet away, was the soothing sounds of Jay Klales and the Objective Perspective Band, who had about a hundred people gathered along the sidewalk to listen to jazz. 

Along the concert route sat economic opportunists. Mr. Softee had a consistent line of patrons and children sold lemonade for $.50 as the sun beat down on the wandering attendees. A garage sale of vintage goods and small businesses lined Clark Park, and a man set-up tables of books and records for sale along Baltimore Avenue. 

Different porches had different amenities—some provided free PBR, others provided a place to sit. Some porches were three feet away, others were 18-feet away and up a steep hill. 

Jason Peters

Artists battled for the public’s attention in the open-market of sound. Around 3:20 p.m. a two-person acoustic act was entirely drowned out by the thunderous drumming of Stephen Young and his funk band New Pony Funk. Young described Porchfest as a great way to “knock the rust off.” 

Aaron Salsbury, a writer and producer for Grid & Decibel Magazine, hosted a concert on his girlfriend’s porch consisting of Trip-Hop DJ Shine Robbins, boombap jazz-rap group Mobbluz, and the Reggae-inspired Rockers Galore.

“Each artist had a packed crowd and a great mix of old friends, passerbys, dogs, kids and random porchfesters in attendance. The response was astounding,” said Salsbury. “The Porchfest organizers really killed it this year: everything was so on point and organized.”

The infrastructure of Porchfest was impeccable—the Porchfest website includes an interactive map of each concert, color-coded by timeframe with links to the artists, and flyers with descriptions and times of each act were readily available. 

Jason Peters

Philadelphians wandered from porch to porch enjoying the sounds of their artistic neighbors. The official festivities ran until 6 p.m., but the party-like atmosphere remained into the night. 

Beyond West Philly, another free concert was slated for 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. in the woods of Fairmount Park. This unsanctioned rave and rap concert was titled “Where the Wild Things Are,” styled after the popular children’s book.

One stage sat partially visible from a rarely frequented road within Fairmount Park, and the other stage was buried deep into the woods only to be found by a glowstick path.

When asked why they threw a free party and concert in the woods, an organizer of the event and artist keenan from limbo explained “for a lot of different reasons. I want to provide a place where people can have fun, it’s therapeutic.”

Jason Peters

By midnight more than 1,000 people had migrated into the woods listening to a DJ by the name of pumpfake. The sense of community was incredibly positive. At one point a blue iPhone was turned into the DJ stand as “lost,” prompting rappers to begin freestyling about the iPhone to inform the crowd to retrieve their phone. “We don’t want your iPhone!” the crowd chanted in unison with anonymous rappers. 

Alongside DJ’s, experimental deep-bass rappers like Coolaidhippy,Cowboykillerr, and Tethra64 took their turns performing. When interviewed, many partygoers said they heard about the rave on Instagram, some had only heard about it from friends. 

Jason Peters

“It was more of a social experiment than a turn-up,” remarked keenan from limbo.

Both Porchfest and the Where the Wild Things Are were entirely free of charge and open sourced. There were no corporate sponsors. Groups of people wandered through the woods with their phone lights on, excited to see what was next. People traversed through West Philly discovering new music amongst neighbors. 

After a tense year marred by political controversy and a pandemic, Saturday felt like a changing of the guard towards a more positive and collective future. And while the major concert venues are planning their paid gigs, grassroots outdoor shows will continue to provide the escape that Philadelphians crave.