Porchfest gives local artists a stage

Community-oriented initiatives like Porchfest (and Localify.org) boost the visibility of local artists

It’s an exceptionally warm Sunday in September, and the central neighborhoods of Ithaca, NY are more lively than usual. Shirtless toddlers dance barefoot on the warm pavement as college students cheerfully sip iced coffee in the shade of nearby trees. Elderly couples lounge in lawn chairs and families parade down the streets, singing and dancing to live music. Around them, the entire neighborhood pulsates with the sweet, jubilant sounds of local performers. 

Local Hip-hop stars The Gunpoets stop traffic with a big crowd to close out Porchfest Ithaca 2019

This was Ithaca’s 13th annual Porchfest. Every year, homeowners in the city’s Fall Creek and Northside neighborhoods dedicate their porches as stages for local artists. This year, local bands and musicians populated over 100 porches to share their music with the community, representing an extremely diverse range of genres including 60s Motown, Americana vocal soul, and improvisational funk- jazz-rock (just to name a few.)

Throughout the last decade, Porchfest has become one of the most anticipated events in the Ithaca community. It began in 2007, when two Fall Creek neighbors spontaneously raised the idea of bringing a local music event to the area. They gathered approximately 20 performers to play in the neighborhood, launching the first-ever official Porchfest event. Now, over a decade later, the festival consistently draws hundreds of acts. This year, over 170 musicians performed.

What began as a small festival in a relatively small town has inspired a widespread appreciation for local music; not just locally, but worldwide. 

Porchfest is all about giving a stage  to the next generations of musicians.
Porchfest is all about giving a stage to the next generations of musicians.

In the last decade, Porchfest has spread to over 130 cities in North America. From Montreal to Sacramento, communities all over the continent have adopted the event as a platform to celebrate local music and community. This year, it even debuted in Morpeth, Australia! If you do the math, this means that Porchfest gives a stage to over 10,000 artists per year.

I attended Porchfest for the first time in 2017, when I was a freshman at Ithaca College. As a native midwesterner, I barely knew anything about Central New York, let alone Ithaca. I wanted to get to know the community I would be a part of for the next four years, and I figured attending Porchfest would be a great place to start.

Oll’ time bluegrass at Porchfest Ithaca 2019.

The festival was nothing short of magical. Not only was I impressed by the abundance and variety of local artists, but also by the locals’ engagement and pride in their community. The festival opened my eyes to the presence of local art and music initiatives in Ithaca, and how they help cultivate a creative community like no other.

Ithaca has many organizations that support local artists.

Ithaca is known for its commitment to community-centered art; Porchfest is just one example. The town is also home to Ithaca Underground, a local nonprofit that aims to empower local artists, organizers, and community members by providing communal resources and support. The organization encourages locals to tap into music outside the mainstream and stages over 60 local shows a year. 

The city also houses events and collectives that provide opportunities for community members to engage with visual and performance art. The Cherry Arts Collective is a not-for-profit organization that supports a wide range of artists in a variety of disciplines. Recently, the Quinfolk Festival, a new film, arts and mental health festival dedicated to the celebration of queer and trans people of color, offered a respectful space for community members to engage with queer and trans artists. These don’t even begin to cover all the opportunities for community members to engage with local creatives — but they are a few great places to start. 

The presence of local creative spaces not only helps people find ways to engage with art but helps local artists themselves authentically engage with audiences and find their footing in the industry.

Localify.org is a “digital stage” for local artists

Today, streaming platforms dominate the way we consume music. They constantly introduce us to the latest “hits” and curate playlists to our liking. However, popular Spotify playlists are primarily dominated by commercial, mainstream artists. Many of these artists are already prominent in the music industry and have the financial backing of big record labels, leaving little space for local artists to be heard. 

This is exactly why we decided to create Localify. The app is similar to Spotify-curated playlists in that it uses your listening history to create personalized playlists and introduce listeners to music they might be unfamiliar with. However, unlike Spotify playlists that are dominated by mainstream artists, Localify gives local artists a chance to really gain visibility and be discovered within the Spotify ecosystem.

With the support of these audiences, smaller artists can really begin to gain traction. Wider audiences translate into more performances, bigger venues and subsequently bigger paychecks, making it more likely that performers will be able to financially sustain themselves through their craft. 

Events like Porchfest also help to bridge this gap. They provide an opportunity for locals, students and visitors alike to unplug their headphones, turn off their Kanye West or Rihanna-inspired Spotify playlists and get to know the very people who pour their heart, soul and music into the community. 

Dickie Starfish at Ithaca Porchfest 2019
Dickie Starfish Allstars featuring Doug Turnbull (Localify.org Founder) on electric guitar at Ithaca Porchfest 2019.

Porchfest’s international reach demonstrates just how important local music communities are not just to people in our own community, but to thousands of others. The need for local-music oriented communities exists everywhere; we must just take steps to either find them or create them ourselves. 

Listen to Local Music!