Oakhurst Porchfest grows into a local favorite for musiciansMetroscene performs during the Oakhurst Porchfest 2015. File Photo: Jonathan Phillips
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Editor’s note: The author of this story is a journalist who is also a member of The Bitteroots, one of the bands performing at this year’s Porchfest.
By Michael Davis, contributor
The idea behind Porchfest has always seemed simple enough: Performers take over porches and audiences take over yards. But what started out as a way to revamp the Oakhurst Arts and Music Festival has almost doubled in size since the inaugural event in 2015.
Oakhurst Porchfest is back this Saturday, Oct.14, for its third year and will put nearly 220 groups and solo performers on the doorsteps of nearly 220 homes in the one square mile of Decatur’s Oakhurst neighborhood.
It’s free. It’s fun. It’s local. And it’s about members of the community creating something of their own.
“The premise of the event is to have what we call a day of radical generosity and goodwill,” said Scott Doyon, one of Porchfest’s primary organizers. “We put out that any genres are welcome. Anybody that signs up, we’ll find them a place to play.”
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While the festival is organic in nature, organized and operated by residents of the neighborhood who offer their porches as stages, Doyon is quick to point out that the idea was not all his. The first Porchfests were held in Ithaca, N.Y., and the festival has been replicated dozens of times around the country.
In 2015, with the Decatur Arts Alliance’s Oakhurst Arts and Music Festival scrapped because of renovations to Harmony Park, Doyon said he proposed hosting a Porchfest instead.
My own band The Bitteroots, having formed in Oakhurst on Hill Street, had played the arts festival several times over the years and we were intrigued with the new approach. Other artists were, too.
“People make a plan” to attend Porchfest now, said Jeff Evans of Chickens and Pigs, a group with a 20-year history in Atlanta that is playing Porchfest for the third year. “It’s part of the musical landscape. I can’t imagine not playing one.”
Part of the festival’s success, he said, comes from Oakhurst residents taking ownership of their one-hour stake in it. “It works because everybody takes care of their corner,” he said.
While not exactly on a corner, Chickens and Pigs will be playing at 1 p.m. at 229 Mead Road.
Indeed, the general cohesion of the neighborhood is probably what makes the event possible in the first place. That and an abundance of porches situated in a walkable and reasonably dense community.
“People who choose to live in Oakhurst choose community,” said Alice Reeves, who is the executive director of the Oakhurst Community Choir, which is performing at 4 p.m. at 320 Fayetteville Road. “The fact that so many people have front porches facilitates the neighbors getting to know each other. … It’s building on something that’s already there.”
The choir itself has an ethos that aligns with the festival’s spirit of inclusion. As a non-auditioned group, it welcomes anyone in their teens and older who would like to sing. It’s grown from around 30 members since its founding in 2013 to nearly double that size. The choir will be performing songs from its spring repertoire, which includes pop hits from every decade from the ‘40s to the 2000s.
After sitting out last year’s festival, Jackson County Line is set to make its return to Porchfest Saturday. The Americana group fronted by Kevin Jackson was among the 130 bands that played the event’s inaugural year.
The band has been around Atlanta’s music scene since 2006, with a one-year hiatus in 2014.
At Porchfest, that next year, Jackson said he was surprised at the response the band received.
“We had a blast. I just couldn’t believe it,” he said. “People were standing in the street, and I’m going, ‘This is pretty cool.’”
With four records under their belts over the past decade, Jackson County Line’s set Saturday will likely pull heavily from 2016’s “January,” but you might also look for some songs from this year’s five-song EP, “White Flowers.”
Jackson County Line will play 5 p.m. at 712 S. McDonough St.
When The Bitteroots hit the stage, er porch, at 3 p.m. at 1515 Oakview Road, we’ll be pulling from our catalog of material that’s nine years in the making, plus trying out two or three new songs we’ve been working on over the past few weeks. We’re tooling up for our headlining set Nov. 11 at Smith’s Olde Bar, and offering a free T-shirt to anyone who buys two tickets to the show.
We’re excited to be returning to Porchfest after sitting out last year due to schedule conflicts. One of the reasons it’s such a good time for us is getting to see many of our friends’ bands and groups play throughout the day.
With roots like ours right in Decatur, The Dammages are kindred spirits in the musical community. Fronted by the husband-and-wife team of Tammy and Sean Damman, they’ve been making music together since 1990. The couple moved to Decatur in 1994 and married at the historic courthouse. A former bandmate gave them the name, which they use when playing as a full band or as an acoustic duo.
The Dammages are playing in their usual spot in the cul-de-sac on North Fourth Street at 5 p.m. and on Nov. 2, over at the Avondale Towne Cinema for the Rock 4 Relief benefit for hurricane victims. On Nov. 5 you can catch them at Smith’s Olde Bar.
One of the best things about playing Porchfest, according to Tammy, is “seeing good friends and other musicians we enjoy.
“Decatur has so much musical talent that you can’t go wrong,” she said. “It’s awesome to just grab a beer and stroll from porch to porch listening to others before our show. We almost missed our starting time last year because we strayed too far from our location and had to hustle back.”
Other acts to look out for include our friends Blackfox, which released its first EP in 2012, though some of its members have been playing together in various groups since the 1990s.
Starting out as a four-piece, the band has honed its sound over the past couple years, adding four more members and focusing more on songwriting.
“It went from a band where it was all about instrumentals… to having a lot more of a vocal approach,” said multi-instrumentalist Ryan Taylor, adding that as many as five of the eight band members contribute vocals. “The melody and the songcraft are a lot more at the forefront,” Taylor said.
Blackfox is playing at 2 p.m. at 334 Greenwood Ave.
Another 20-year music scene veteran with local roots, Heather Luttrell is bringing the Possumden to Porchfest.
The band takes its name from her dad’s old band, Possumtrot.
“My uncle, who was also in that band, is now my bass player and my father plays resonator in my band as well,” Luttrell said.
With six albums to her name, Luttrell has taken up banjo in the past few years, driving her sound more toward blues and bluegrass.
Heather Luttrell and the Possumden play at 3 p.m. at 433 Third Ave.
Fans can catch her next big show Dec. 8, when she celebrates her 40th birthday at Darwin’s in Sandy Springs.
Making a rare return to Oakhurst is Decatur’s own Blake Guthrie, who since moving out of town has trimmed his performance schedule back considerably.
Guthrie is known for his sense of humor and was a fixture around the Atlanta music scene in the late ‘90s and early 2000s after relocating from Athens. Up until five years ago he was an Oakhurst resident, but he said the country life beckoned.
“I only play like two shows a year, and this is one of them,” Guthrie said of Porchfest. “It’s kind of a reunion when I come back.”
He’ll be playing at 3 p.m. at 107 Second Ave., “exactly a block away from my old apartment,” he said.
Like Tammy and Sean from The Dammages, Jared and Amber Humphries are a married couple, making music together and calling Decatur home.
They play as Jared and Amber, and have been playing shows for about five years, including a number of runs at Eddie’s Attic, where I first saw them and where they’ll be holding it down on New Year’s Day again for the third year in a row.
The porch they’ll be playing on during Porchfest, at 3 p.m., is at 726 McKoy St., and is sponsored by their church, Decatur City Church where Jared is music director and Amber works as well.
She said they are sometimes labeled an Americana duo because of their stripped-down live sound, but listeners will hear much more lush arrangements on their recorded music.
“Taste-wise, we come from such different musical backgrounds,” Amber said. While they focus their showcase shows on originals, Saturday they’ll be performing “our spin on a lot of our favorite covers, which are pretty random so it totally suits our personality,” she said.
If husband-and-wife duos seem to be a theme for your schedule, you’ll also want to check out he sang she sang, made up of Bronne and Alma Dytoc. He teaches architecture and she teaches piano and voice.
At noon at 119 Madison Ave., you’ll catch them playing Porchfest for the second year in a row, with Alma on keys and percussion and Bronne on guitar.
Last year they played an equal mix of entertaining cover songs and originals that’s worth checking out. They’ve been playing shows for about three years and if you like what you hear, check out their Facebook page for upcoming gigs.
Another acoustic duo to look out for is Dufrane, Party of Two, which takes its name from a Mitch Hedberg joke about a couple who makes dinner reservations but doesn’t turn up.
But Beth Kelhoffer and Brian Easton will definitely turn up at 4 p.m. at 249 East Lake Drive.
With a repertoire of unexpected cover songs, the duo has been gigging regularly for the past three years.
With roots in Decatur, Kelhoffer will also be playing in Flock of Eagles, an elementary parent band playing a set at noon at 326 Adams St.
She said the manner in which Porchfest is organized gives participants a big sense of ownership and a stake in its success.
“Everybody just geeks out about it,” she said. “Oakhurst just sort of opens its arms and welcomes all the musicians and all their friends for the day.”
More than 200 acts have signed up to perform at Porchfest this Saturday. The event is free to attend. Here’s a map showing the schedule and location of each performance.
For additional information visit: https://www.oakhurstporchfest.org/
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