BY HEATHER WRIGHT — Hanging out on a porch, you can watch the life of your neighborhood: kids biking, people walking dogs, teenagers talking to one another and into their phones. And the community can watch you. And listen. On Saturday, Sept. 16, from 2 to 6 p.m., the Hyattsville community can listen to approximately 30 entertainers performing on 13 Hyattsville porches during the city’s first PorchFest.
Hyattsville Preservation Association (HPA) board member Katherine Somok said she had recently enjoyed the University Park Porchfest and proposed a similar event to the HPA board.
“Given that’s it’s Hyattsville and we’re an arts-focused community, it just seemed like a really good fit,” Somok said.
Within 48 hours of posting a late-July request for hosts and musicians on the H.O.P.E. (Hyattsville Organization for a Positive Environment) listserv, Somok was inundated with responses and had signed up enough hosts. “It’s a fun community. People like to host,” she said.
PorchFest venues spread from Crittenden Street up to Queensbury Road, and from Route 1 to Queens Chapel Road. Most are concentrated along, and east and west of, 42nd Avenue.
Entertainers and their reasons for performing are as varied as the instruments they’ll be playing. Adam Watson will perform on Oliver Street with a brass quintet. “This city has provided an incredible sense of community since my wife and I moved here seven years ago — it’s nice to give a little bit back,” Watson said.
Nani Lowery has played the ukelele for more than 50 years. She and her husband Keith’s performance on 40th Avenue will feature Hawaiian and pop music. She said that her music honors her Hawaiian heritage and expresses “gratitude for the Portuguese people who introduced the fun instrument to the Hawaiians.” She said she wants to share her love for the ukulele and hopes to encourage others to play the easy-to-learn and portable instrument.
Although most of the performers are adults, there will be a family act that includes young children, too. Musician Kit Slack said, “We have four fiddlers in our household, ages 4, 6, 7 and 39. My husband Jared [Marx] plays banjo and keys.” She said she likes to think of her family as the kind that plays music together on the porch, but that it’s usually hard to find the time. Slack said she is happy to have PorchFest “as an incentive to get us to work up our best numbers.”
Those involved see it as an opportunity to strengthen community ties. Dale Crowell, of Jefferson Street, said he and his wife, Sharon, had discussed hosting some porch concerts on their own when they read the listserv posting. “This is a great opportunity to open our home to the community, listen to some good music and get to know our neighbors,” Crowell said.
Amy Patten, of Queensbury Road, agreed: “We hope to meet new neighbors and also to appeal to folks walking down the street, who may be down to take a moment and enjoy some local music and raise a glass to this incredible village we all call home.”
Flavia Favali owns a rental property on Oliver Street that she offered for PorchFest. Since moving to Hyattsville in 2001 with her six children, Favali has seen Hyattsville “grow and thrive.” She added, “I think this is a wonderful idea to bring [the] community together.”
Those involved with PorchFest are eager for it to become an annual community event. Watson said, “I hope it indeed becomes a regular occurrence. … Events like these contribute greatly to stronger, more vibrant ties within the city.”
Somok said she hopes the event continues and already has some goals for future PorchFests, including how to make the event more diverse, geographically and performance-wise. She said she’d like to see more representation “closer to the northwestern area” as well as from West Hyattsville. Somok would also like to involve more children as performers and broaden the program to include dancing and other performance arts.
Based on the enthusiasm she’s encountered with hosts and performers, Somok believes that there will more PorchFests. “We’ve had a great response, so I anticipate we’ll be doing more in the future.”
Hosts and performers would raise a glass to that.
For a complete listing of addresses, performers, and times, visit HPA’s website or Facebook page. PorchFest attendees are encouraged to bring their own chairs, beverages and food, as hosts are only asked to provide porches.