PorchRokr — the day when musicians, artists, dogs and the people who love them come out to frolic and celebrate in Akron’s Highland Square — has earned a special status at the Hopkins house.
Every January, the family of four waits impatiently for organizers to announce the date of the annual festival. The moment it happens, they block off that date, invite family and friends from out of town and then count down the days, like others might for Thanksgiving or New Year’s Eve.
“PorchRokr is now our favorite holiday of the year,” said Cheryl Hopkins, whose Morningside Drive porch Saturday hosted four bands, ranging from Miss Dreadful — which bills itself as “horror rock for the whole damn family” — to The Baker’s Basement, which described its latest album, “Seasonings,” as “rain, snow, sunshine, runny noses … absent-mindedness, nostalgia, and sprinkles.”
By 10:30 a.m. Saturday, scores of people were finished with the PorchRokr 5K and a free outdoor yoga class when the smell of bacon from nearby food trucks floated across the northeast quadrant of Highland Square, which hosted the eighth PorchRokr Music and Art Festival.
When it began, PorchRokr was small and drew mostly neighborhood residents. This year, about 15,000 people were expected at the festival, which now boasts 170 bands.
“The cool thing is [PorchRokr] has never lost its grass-roots foundation,” said Jeff Klemm, a local musician who leads the pop rock group Diamond Kites.
“It still feels like punk rock because you’re on a porch, you have a hodgepodge system and you rock 'n' roll with it,” he said.
The porches are exhilarating for bands, Klemm said, but PorchRokr also provides musicians another unusual opportunity — a chance to see their friends, other musicians, play.
“If you’re working like me, always gigging, you don’t see other bands,” Klemm said.
Diamond Kites played a porch on Kuder Avenue at 2 p.m, but Klemm planned to arrive at the festival earlier and stay into the night.
“If you’re new to PorchRokr, get a map, plan ahead, know what bands are playing, but don’t stick too closely to that schedule because I guarantee you, you’re going to turn a corner and hear a band that's going to blow your mind,” Klemm said. “Akron is that talented. We have that much talent.”
But PorchRokr is more than music.
“What’s your dog’s name?” Maya Jones asked a man walking his golden retriever on Edgerton Avenue on Saturday morning.
“Max,” the man said, pausing so Maya, 11, could run her hands through his dog’s silky fur until Maya spotted a Great Dane and headed toward that dog, which was bigger than her.
“I like the music,” said Maya, whose uncle was playing in one of the bands. “But there are so many dogs, I want to pet them all.”
Several blocks away, Tiffany Jacobs was setting up her Blimp City Gifts booth at a vendor area on Merriman Road, where people were selling everything from soap and upcycled clothing to addiction recovery services and trampoline park passes.
Jacobs, who lives at Highland Square and teaches marching band at Ellet high school, makes and sells collages, ceramic tiles and jewelry made from the used guitar strings of Akron-area musicians.
The first year she sold her wares at PorchRokr, vendors were assigned to people’s yards, she said. Now, organizers have designated vendor areas with assigned spaces and maps so shoppers who visit PorchRokr know how to find what they’re looking for, including her Blimp City Gifts.
Everyone wants to find a blimp, said Jacobs, who grew up in Akron.
“It doesn't matter how many times you see the blimp fly overhead, you stop whatever you're doing and look up,” she said.
Down the hill for the vendors, not far from Mount Peace Cemetery, the Hopkins' family yard — a lush mix of hostas, ferns and shade garden plants — looked coiffed for a home magazine shoot.
Cheryl Hopkins said they spent the day before mulching and tidying up since Saturday was their first time hosting bands, an opportunity that comes only once every four years because PorchRokr rotates among Highland Square’s quadrants.
When PorchRokr started, it was in another part of Highland Square and Hopkins, husband Andy and their kids — Quinn and Kira — went, expecting to spend about an hour.
“But we stayed seven hours,” Cheryl Hopkins said. “It’s like a really big neighborhood meet-and-greet, including people you rarely see. It’s just the best.”
Since then, they’ve noticed the crowds have grown.
“But the vibe has remained the same,” Hopkins said. “It’s laughter. It’s safe. It’s fun. It’s just a chill day, our favorite holiday.”
Amanda Garrett can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @agarrettabj.