Atlanta is a festival town and when I was younger, I was a festival guy. Many weekends were filled partaking in the sights, sounds and tastes of our various neighborhood fairs. I’d size them all up as if it were an ongoing contest. The offerings in Inman Park, Virginia-Highland, Grant Park, Midtown and Candler Park were among my favorites. But the chili-cookoff, bluegrass music and early November weather vaulted Cabbagetown’s Chomp and Stomp (Nov. 3 this year) beyond festival champion to “best day of the year.”
It wasn’t until our kids got old enough to air opinions that festival-going became problematic. I gathered such pearls of wisdom as: the sun is hot, the crowds are too crowded, the grass is scratchy, the loud music is too loud. They’d complain that there was nothing for kids to do ,so we’d bring them to some bloody awful “Kidz Zone” and they would declare that there were too many kids.
The crazy thing is, I started to agree with them. The artwork seemed blasé, the music a little uninspired, the lines for food and beverage longer than I cared to wait in. Porta-Potties have always been gross, but the whole festival genre became as appealing as a stale corndog. Maybe I had simply aged out of the demographic that appreciates these things? Maybe my kids were right all along?
Then in 2015 Scott Doyon, a guy in my neighborhood (Oakhurst) proposed something called Porchfest. It originated in Ithaca, NY and has now taken hold in well over 100 other locales. The simple premise is to match up musicians with porches and make a day of it. No entry fee, no parking hassles, no fundraising initiative or competition to speak of. It’s just neighbors and friends, spreading good will and enjoying live music. It seemed an awfully sneaky way to try and solidify best festival status, but I was willing to give it a whirl.
Year one we hosted Dry Gulch, a band that trafficked in Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard and the like. My neighbor and I bought hay bales and dotted them around the driveway for full cowboy effect. Elliott had a baseball game right after the show, but little Porchfest tears welled up in his eyes when it was time to go because he has having so much fun. So we skipped the game, celebrated the breakthrough, and went on to WIN Porchfest! (Just an expression, not an actual contest.)
This year we were hustling to catch Her Majesty’s Request (super-fun British Invasion to Brit Pop cover band) perform several blocks away. In our haste, Elliott tripped and bloodied his knee. The hosts graciously set us up with the first aid we needed. Were this a traditional festival he probably would have been patched up in a tent alongside some vomiting college kid. #Porchfestwinning
For Margo, the day is essentially a walking tour of other kids’ homes and an excuse to wear a sassy hat. Elliott might still bail out on us early but since we are close to home, he can but we don’t have to. A band of 11 year olds called Mammoth covered Nirvana. John Boy and the Surround Sound had a packed yard of folks dancing like they didn’t need to worry about driving home. I missed the trombones and tribulations of the Wasted Potential Brass Band but I hear they exceeded their billing.
I’m not talking smack here, but the Chomp and Stomp might just have a rival. You don’t need to come to the Oakhurst Porchfest next October. I mean, you absolutely should if you want to. According to Scott, it is the largest such gathering in the country and in case it isn’t clear, it is F-U-N. But the sport of festivalling has never been so magnanimous. Permission to steal the idea for your own neighborhood is granted, encouraged even. You may even deem it the best day of the year.
Tim Sullivan grew up in a large family in the Northeast and now lives with his small family in Oakhurst. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.