PorchFest 2021


Hannah Cohen

The audience for former Panther Derek Dames Ohl’s set was rapt.

On Sunday, September 19th, neighbors and visitors flooded the streets of the Mapleton Hill neighborhood to enjoy the annual “PorchFest” event, where local musicians played sets on resident’s porches.

Bands and artists played a mix of originals and covers, ranging from improv jazz to “The Beatles” to ballads about Flagstaff. However, the music itself played a lesser role this year; the simple fact of playing music for an audience felt like a homecoming after a year and a half of Zoom concerts. Dawnia Dresser, vocalist of the band “The Middle Mile”, said, “Live music has a different meaning now than before the pandemic,” Tim Merkel, an artist from Longmont, agreed.“Something about a day like this, listening to the breeze… I’ve played a lot of inside venues, but it doesn’t compare to this.”

For other musicians, PorchFest was simply an excuse to gather and celebrate community. “I don’t [value PorchFest differently now]- I love it all the same,” explained Derek Dames Ohl, self-described “American Outlaw/Cosmic Country” musician and alum of Boulder High. He described how Boulder lacked spaces to hear local music. “Boulder has lost a lot of its local venues and places where bands can come and really get a good audience… PorchFest is an awesome, community-driven event, and I think Boulder’s in need of those things.”

The newly named Middle Mile played a mix of acoustic covers and originals. (Hannah Cohen)

Indeed, community is the central facet of the event. Mapleton Hill first began the extravaganza —which is practiced in neighborhoods around the country— in an effort to bring the local music scene to the neighborhood for free in 2011. “It’s so clearly a community event!” relayed Dresser, “I mean, we’re on people’s porches and lawns… it’s just the perfect way to bring people together and have so much fun.”

Included in the festivities was a radio broadcast from KGNU, which drew a large crowd. (Hannah Cohen)

This year, it was celebrated with a variety of food trucks, popcorn stands, and artisanal beehive crafts. Dogs and kids roamed through the blustery streets, whether by foot or by scarily fast Razor scooters. Listeners wandered from porch to porch, staying to listen to the ones they found especially invigorating. “You can just go wherever you want and listen in on what you like, and what you don’t you pass by. I think it’s wonderful,” said Merkel.

The event is free to all, although it’s sponsored by a variety of local groups. “Most of the people who sign up for this thing, they just want to get out and play music; they’re not really trying to make a million dollars or anything,” explained Ohl. Most musicians conveyed the same sentiment— although the local music scene is in need of support (and not streaming apps), the nature of the event was more important than monetary gain. 

“There’s no substitute for being with real people,” said Dresser. “I love to be inspired by musicians, feel their energy… it’s so invaluable as we’re moving into the fall, with COVID. I feel my heart breaking a little bit, wondering if I’m going to be able to [keep doing] this.”

While most of the music is of previous generations, kids still found ways to enjoy themselves. (Hannah Cohen)

For now, patrons and musicians alike can unwind after a lovely afternoon filled with music and friends as they eagerly await PorchFest 2022.