What's better than listening to music on your front porch, sharing brews with your friends and neighbors? How about putting live performers on the porches of your entire neighborhood and inviting all of Cleveland to join you?
That's what's happening in the Larchmere neighborhood this weekend. Inspired by a similar festival that started in Ithaca, New York, three years ago, residents of the east-side neighborhood have surrendered 20 porches to musicians from all over Northeast Ohio. From 2-6 p.m. Saturday, more than 30 acts will be playing acoustically throughout the neighborhood, culminating in plugged-in performances by top area bands — including the Other Girls, JJ Magazine and Good Morning Valentine — on a Shaker Square stage from 6-10 p.m.
"There was a group of us sitting in the backyard chatting one summer night," says Jason Linder, one of a half-dozen Larchmere residents who organized the festival. "One person had been to the thing in Ithaca, and he was talking about how great it was and how much fun it was. He said, Wouldn't this be something cool to have in our neighborhood? It just grew from there."
Many area restaurants will be opening early to serve the influx of patrons. Some will offer take-out so you can enjoy your lunch on someone's front lawn, while others are hosting their own bands. Other area businesses donated money and services, which are being recognized with sponsorship placards on many of the porches.
One of the biggest sponsors is the Neighborhood Connections, a grant-making affiliate of the Cleveland Foundation, which donated $4,000. The program, which works with neighborhood groups on community-building projects, considers the Larchmere effort a perfect example of what they're all about.
"The idea is to get residents involved in the community and get them active in a positive way, to be a catalyst toward doing something that will improve their neighborhoods — and help reweave the social fabric," says program director Thomas O'Brien. "It's a really creative, community-building event that brings people out of their houses and porches, and people from outside the area to see this thriving neighborhood."
The event's organizers are working to make this an annual event without having to go through the uncertainty of the grant process. So they've been collecting songs from the performers and plan to put together a CD, with proceeds going to next year's Porchfest. They're also considering selling a commemorative T-shirt.
"The idea is, [the festival] is free, but if someone wants to support the idea and see it happen again, there's an option to buy a T-shirt or CD," says Linder. "We're trying to make it a self-sustainable festival."
Linder, who plays in Rambler 454 and works at jazz and classical record label Telarc, believes Porchfest is an ideal showcase for Larchmere.
"Architecturally, most of the houses have large front porches, so that lends itself," he says. "Secondly, it's one of the most walkable neighborhoods in Cleveland. We've got around 20 porches scattered through the neighborhood, and there are a lot of restaurants and bars, which give a cool feel to the neighborhood. It has the potential to turn people onto different music and bands, the neighborhood and its different restaurants that people may not know about."
Among the variety of terrific performers participating are roots-rockers Roger Hoover of the Magpies, Brent Kirby of the Jack Fords and Dan McCoy of Rambler 454; old-time country string band Waxwings; the classically inflected Russian gypsy folk of Russian Duo; the jazzy, fingerpicking minimalism of Jesse Barnez; the whiskey-fueled hillbilly hellions from Church of the Lazy Bastard; and talented instrumentalist Ryann Guitar Anderson, whose folk-inspired compositions recall Leo Kottke and Nick Drake.
"It seems a very laid-back, relaxed kind of lazy spring attitude to sit in someone's yard listening to someone play, then walk a block and see something completely different," says Linder. "I'm just hoping the midges stay away."