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Still time to volunteer your porch for PorchFest, artists needed

Sounds Like Chicken will be among the bands at Winchester Porchfest on June 8. COURTESY PHOTO/SOUNDS LIKE CHICKEN

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Plans for the fourth annual Porchfest are well underway, but there is still one thing that is needed.

“We need more porches,” said Gina Altaras, the performer liaison for PorchFest 2024.

PorchFest will strike up the bands on June 8, from noon-5:30 p.m. Rain date will be Sunday, June 9.

The concept is simple: bands of all shapes, sizes and genres come together and play in various backyards, front yards, driveways, public spaces and of course porches, all over town.

Committee member and performer Shiva Barton said the event includes all and any kind of music. In the past, they’ve had classical, jazz, folk, hip-hop, all kinds of rock, an accordion band and even his band, Sounds Like Chicken. The 12-piece band complete with horn section and backup singers plays rock covers from the 1960s to today, he said. If you want a sneak preview, they will be playing the beer garden the week prior to Porchfest during Town Day.

Sounds Like Chicken performs in Winchester. COURTESY VIDEO/SOUNDS LIKE CHICKEN

But, Barton was quick to stress that people don’t have to be professional musicians to play

“If kids want to play and they only have a song or two, we’ll pair them up with other kids,” he said. “Anyone can play. It’s just for fun.”

And it’s not just music either.

Barton said there have been dance performances in the past and they are open to poetry and storytelling.

“Although I don’t think we’ve had any takers, but I would love to do a poetry slam,” he said.

How it happens

Host coordinator Keith Doo vets the host sites to make sure they’re safe, as in not on a busy roadway or busy intersection, and to make sure they can accommodate the performers. Once there’s a list of performers and a list of host sites, Doo starts matching them up.

“It’s a little like a logic problem,” Altaras said.

Some houses can only accommodate certain time slots or a certain number of performers at a time. Altaras said she tries to place the large bands first because they can sometimes be tough to fit. While she could put them all at the high school, “lately we’ve been putting most of the teen acts at the high school,” she said.

Sometimes she gets lucky, though, and a performer sign-up with a location already locked in.

“Luckily, this year about 30% of the people came pre-matched … those are always welcome,” she said.

In fact, Altaras said ideally, she’d like to see PorchFest get out of the matchmaking game and become more organic with bands finding their own match before they sign up. Other communities have tackled this by setting up a virtual bulletin board for performers and hosts to use to pair up. Altaras said they haven’t gotten that technical yet, but she can dream.

Volunteers

That might be where Omar Baba could help out. Baba works behind-the-scenes on the technical aspect of the event.

For Baba and his wife, Salma Abounadi, PorchFest is a family affair. Baba and Abounadi are committee members, their oldest son Nadeem has been a performer and younger son Kaleem has made PorchFest 2024 his exploratory senior project.

“It’s important for him to know what goes on behind-the-scenes,” Abounadi said.

Abounadi got involved in PorchFest after Barton suggested she join the committee. During one meeting, it was mentioned that they needed someone with a strong computer background, “so as usual, I volunteered my husband,” Abounadi said smiling.

“I was a willing participant,” Baba said.

Baba said he and Abounadi have worked on a number of initiatives in town where they have seen some good and some not so good behavior. What they like about PorchFest is it’s simply a great non-political event to get involved with.

“It brings people together,” Baba said.

Abounadi said she’d also like to see it bring neighborhoods together. She said encouraging entire neighborhoods to organize their own branch of sorts and participate together is a goal.

Baba said the committee works hard to bring the event together, but on the day-of they will be largely hands off. He said they’ll be on hand to troubleshoot and offer support if need be, but that’s it.

“We stay away … it’s up to the hosts and the musicians to get together and figure out how they want to do it,” he said.

Why go?

Barton put it succinctly.

“This is just a joyous community activity and it’s all free,” he said.

Baba likes that with four years under their belt, it’s fast becoming a town tradition.

“People look forward to it as sort of the beginning of summer,” he said. “It brings people together and you get to go to different places all over town.”

Abounadi agreed the goal is to bring people together and connect with the community.

She joked they don’t guarantee anything, least of all the weather but added,  “It’s a free, fun, family oriented event. Musicians play music, you get to walk around town and meet people …there is usually something for everyone.”

Barton said they are very much hoping for good weather this year. Last year, the group grappled with canceling when light showers were forecast for midday. Barton said they decided not to, then a thunder storm broke out in early afternoon.

“We had to cancel, but fortunately, people just ignored us and kept playing after the storm passed,” he said.

There’s still time

If you would like to volunteer your time, your porch or sign up to perform there is still time. May 20 is the cutoff date for performers and hosts and businesses can also host, Barton said. To sign up go to Winchester Porchfest and click on the contact button.

The committee will provide lawn signs for host venues so people know to stop and listen and “we also need volunteers to take videos and then send them to us,” Barton said.

“It’s a fun day,” he reiterated. “You get to enjoy your neighbor’s hospitality and you can have fun playing or just listening.”

Winchester News is a non-profit organization supported by our community. If you appreciate having local Winchester news, please donate to support our work, and subscribe to our weekly newsletter.

This story was updated to reflect corrections to a name and a volunteer position.

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