Walking through Deering Center on Sunday afternoon was like passing through a musical buffet, with dozens of bands serving up the sounds of reggae, jazz, country and western, rap, rhythm and blues, ska and punk.

The Portland neighborhood turned into a giant musical festival for Porchfest, when residents lend out their porches, driveways and yards as sound stages for Portland-area musical acts, some well-known and others just starting out.

“I love it. I think it is great. I wish it would extend out all over Portland. It is a fun way to reconnect,” said Robin Hamilton, who lives on Richardson Street.

Porchfest originated in Ithaca, New York, in 2007 as a way to create a sense of community. It has since spread to neighborhoods in 70 cities across the United States and Canada, said Amy Thompson, who was friends with the original founder in Ithaca, and brought Porchfest to Deering Center five years ago.

The homespun event has grown every year since. Thompson has three co-organizers and this year 39 groups performed over the three-hour event. All events were free.

For-profit activities are frowned upon.

“There is always talk of selling T-shirts, but how to do that? Make it a gift exchange? Sing a song, mow a lawn in exchange for a T-shirt?” Thompson said.

Helpers distributed printouts listing each hour’s roster of musicians and where they could be found. Neighborhood residents gave away popcorn, cookies and sandwiches.

Some set up picnic tables and lawn chairs in the streets. Children wove through on their bikes and scooters and everyone seemed to smile and nod.

Even a major construction project at nearby Woodfords Corner that diverted traffic from busy Forest Avenue down Stevens Avenue in the heart of the neighborhood failed to break the musical spell.

“Organizing Porchfest is a way for me to connect and feel the love that is around us,” Thompson said. “Once a year to really say, ‘Just open your eyes and see each other and take care of each other,’ is great. Once a day or once a minute is even better.”

Porchfest always starts with a ragtag parade around the neighborhood, with bicyclists, skateboarders and stroller-pushing parents helping to fill out the ranks.

Lauren Manganello of Freeport, visiting a friend in the neighborhood, said her children couldn’t pass up the chance to march in what would be their very first parade. Manganello’s daughter Vera, 5, who picked out a sequined dress with matching shoes and bow to wear, said she planned to blow bubbles, while her brother Otis, 7, wriggling a loose front tooth with his tongue, looked worried.

“I just want to march, OK?” he said.

The parade was followed by the Alba Street Piano Orchestra, when musicians up and down Alba Street all play the same tune, composed by neighborhood resident Joy Krinsky. Community spirit, not synchronicity, is the point, Krinsky said. After Krinsky blew four blasts on a bugle, keyboard players struck up the tune on accordions, upright pianos and synthesizers inside and outside homes along the entire street.

Porchfest had begun.

 

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