Small neighborhood meet-and-greet music festival now attracts crowds the size of Blossom
On Saturday, the eighth iteration of PorchRokr in seven years will take place, and at this point in the event’s timeline, it’s fair to say the little neighborhood festival that could definitely has.
“It’s hard to believe, when we think about it that it’s been that long,” said Katie Carver Reed, president of the Highland Square Neighborhood Association and co-chair of the festival.
Looking back, Carver Reed said that the association didn't bother to think too far ahead in the first few years.
“We were all just like, ‘OK, I guess we’ll do this again,’ and we just kept doing it. I don’t know that we had a vision for PorchRokr 8 but here we are and we’re excited about it.”
According to Akron police, the 2018 edition drew more than 15,000 people to the quaint West Akron neighborhood of Highland Square, a tenfold jump from year one’s estimated 1,200 to 1,500 attendees.
With a crowd the size of a good night at Blossom, that means the organizers' focus can change from just spreading the word and establishing the festival (and hoping to get enough band submissions and friendly folks to volunteer their porches), to safely managing the crowds, whittling down a list of nearly 340 band submissions and not just relying on the proven formula and format.
“It’s the same PorchRokr people know and love but we always try and find ways to tweak and change a little bit so it’s not stagnant,” Carver Reed said. “We try and add little things here and there. But it’s a lot about managing and making sure we keep enough different stuff going on, especially with the music, making sure that there’s a good amount of representation of different genres.”
This year, PorchRokr will have 170 bands, the most in the festival’s history, and they are bands coming from as far as New York. (A band all the way from California also applied.) The festival will be spread around a section of Highland Square with its borders on Aqueduct Street, Hurlburt Avenue, West Market Street and Edgerton Avenue. So many denizens of the Square wanted to play host, they had to turn some folks away.
For fans of day drinking, the all-important and ever-popular beer garden will be tucked away on Sherwood Drive.
“I’m excited for people to see that because it’s this really cool brick, interesting street,” she said. “The whole point of the festival is to get people to walk down a street they wouldn’t normally walk on and maybe run into a resident that they wouldn’t know otherwise, so I’m excited for people to go check that out.”
Additionally, the committee heard feedback from 2018 attendees that the mobile bathroom situation was ... lacking.
“We heard a lot about the Porta-Potties and so we have plenty of those spread around the festival this year,” she said laughing.
Also tweaked is the kids area, which has been expanded into a full family-friendly zone. Marshall Avenue will have a variety of activities for kids, as well as the emerging artists stage where the very young bands get to play for their peers and parents.
Back for more
Among the returning PorchRokr traditions are the opening ceremony at 10:30 a.m. featuring the Highland Square Guitar Orchestra, composed of a gaggle of guitarists of varying skill levels, at the Ray’s Pub Stage on Merriman Road. The 5K run/walk also returns, as does the festival's fleet-footed epilogue, the Silent Disco, with DJ Vinny G, Kevin Tichards and Zod1ac happening at 9 p.m. at the Mustard Seed Market and Cafe.
This year’s headliners are Nathan-Paul & The Admirables, the locally based instrumental soul, jazz, funk, trap band led by saxophonist/flautist Nathan-Paul Davis.
Carver Reed said that despite the many out-of-state submissions, it’s important to the committee to locally source the headlining act. “For years, we’ve been talking about having an instrumental band be a headliner. Nathan-Paul is a very vivacious guy and he can lead a crowd and his saxophone playing is just amazing.”
In the past year Davis signed with the respected, eclectic indie label Ropeadope, which has released several singles on streaming services including Spotify and Apple Music, including the funky and propulsive “Catch Me If You Can” and, more recently, the live, jazz-funk tune “Flute-A-Loo.”
Davis hopes to release a full album sometime in the fall. Onstage, Davis and The Admirables aren’t just there to show you their considerable chops. Davis wants folks dancing and the grooves and melodies may vary in tempo and styles, but The Admirables always play dance music.
“Our committee members will go out to local shows as we’re deciding who our headliner should be or who the main stage acts should be. And they’ve been near the top of our list for a while," said Carver Reed. "They have some new music they’ve been putting out and we always want the end of the day to be a party. We want dancing at the main stage and we think the Admirables bring that energy.”
So, with PR8 almost in the books, what’s in store for PorchRokr 9?
“We don’t know. Some of our committee members say we can’t add anything else, this is everything,” Carver Reed said laughing.
“We have a 5K. We have the yoga. We have the guitar orchestra at the beginning of the day. We have the silent disco at the end of the day. We have a karaoke porch now so anybody can be a performer at PorchRokr. So we just don’t know, but we’ll figure it out when we get to PorchRokr 9, I guess.”
For a complete list of performers, show times and porches: www.highlandsquareakron.org/porchrokr/lineup.aspx
Malcolm X Abram can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3758. Like him on Facebook at http://on.fb.me/1lNgxml, and follow him on Twitter @malcolmabramABJ.