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New Jersey Porch Fest Season Promises Fun for All

By Zachary Klein,

originally published: 04/14/2023

New Jersey Porch Fest Season Promises Fun for All

Photo above: A group performs on the front patio of the Arts Council of Princeton and The Sawmill Run Old Time Band performs on the porch of a Princeton home during the 2022 Princeton Porch Fest. (Photos by Sameer A. Khan)

A large map of Princeton sits on the wall of the second floor of the Arts Council of Princeton. On it, there are diagrams, thumbtacks and drawings penciling out an upcoming event that the Arts Council is holding. The event they are planning is called a Porch Fest, and ever since the first one occurred in Ithaca, New York in 2007, the number of these homegrown musical festivals have grown rapidly in communities around the country. Princeton is hosting this event for the second time and is one of about a dozen New Jersey communities to have a similar event scheduled in the next few months.

Porch Fests can be described as a type of festival that brings the local communities together, promotes live, local artists and enhances neighborhood relationships. Residents apply to host local bands or other acts on their porches and then community members can walk from house to house and experience this homegrown talent.

New Jersey Porch Fest Season Promises Fun for All

Princeton Porch Fest 2023 logo

One of the first Porch Fests to take place in New Jersey was in Asbury Park, which hosted its sixth event in 2022. From its inception, Asbury’s festival has grown exponentially, and the Princeton team wants to get to that level.

“That really was our inspiration and who we called to seek advice on how to start ours,” said Arts Council of Princeton Executive Director Adam Welch, “but our goal was to create something by locals, for locals to help our community and the businesses in it.”

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Melissa Kuscin is the marketing and program manager for the Arts Council of Princeton and is tasked with planning this year’s Porch Fest. She said the goal for the Apr. 29 event is to enlarge it so more people can participate.

“Quite literally, we’re making it bigger,” Kuscin said. “We had a total of 11 porches last year and are going to have 18 this year, which is pretty significant in terms of growth.”

That participation relies upon talent availability, but groups such as the Sawmill Run Old Time Band have thrived performing at various Porch Fests. The band, which describes itself as continuing the living tradition of acoustic string music, appeared at the 2022 Princeton Porch Fest and will be returning this year.

“We really enjoyed playing outside for the community,” band member Denise Warren said. “The energy of the crowd fed back to us and we were all dancing!”

Communities around New Jersey have started Porch Fests bursting with talent based on the mission of being local and having a place for communities to gather together and unite regardless of background.

New Jersey Porch Fest Season Promises Fun for All

Spectators gather outside a Newark home to listen to a live band at the 2022 Newark Porch Fest. (Photo by Jackie Jay)

In North Jersey, one of the most diverse Porch Fests takes place in the Forest Hill neighborhood of Newark. Sept. 23 will mark this community's fourth year of participation; the event has grown significantly since it first started during the pandemic in 2020. Jackie Jay is the president of the Forest Hill Community Organization and bears the responsibility of organizing the event.

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“I would describe Newark Porch Fest as diverse and inclusive,” Jay said. “We look to recruit artists and musicians and some other forms of art such as performance and dance. But we look to recruit as local as possible so that we are staying within Newark or Essex County.”

Because of the city of Newark is so large, Jay emphasized how the talent in her neighborhood’s Porch Fest would be representative of the diverse culture of the city. It’s also her way to invite other parts of the city to come to Forest Hill and go to an area of Newark they may not be familiar with.

New Jersey Porch Fest Season Promises Fun for All

Residents brought lawn chairs of all colors to enjoy a beautiful day of live entertainment in the Forest Hill neighborhood of Newark during the 2022 Newark Porch Fest. (Photo by Jackie Jay)

“When you live and breathe in Newark, that vibrancy begins to happen,” Jay said. “You see a lot of the festivals occurring in Downtown, so this is our way to get those people to come check out our part of the city.”

Some of the towns hosting 2023 events, like Maplewood, are seasoned veterans of preparing and hosting this type of arts festival. They are in their seventh year and hope to exceed their 2022 number of 37 porches. No date has been announced yet, but in 2022 it was held Labor Day weekend.

Others, like the Monmouth County community of Freehold, will hold their first Porch Fest. This will occur on May 21 at 12 p.m. Freehold Borough Arts Council President Jeff Friedman promised that his event will be different as his 25 participating porches will showcase visual art in addition to live performance.

New Jersey Porch Fest Season Promises Fun for All

Social Media image for Freehold Borough Arts Council’s Porch Fest which reads, “You’re invited to my yard.”

“Our thought was one of our members had the idea of seeing if we could take what we do downtown with concerts and spread it more into the to the rest of the neighborhoods and create a Family Fun Day,” Friedman, said. “We just created a great day of the community go in and meet their neighbors and enjoy all the different neighborhoods in Freehold Borough.”

A more unique offering is held in the small Middlesex County community of Cranbury, where mini block party-style Porch Fests are hosted in different areas each Friday of the summer from Memorial Day to Labor Day. This event is designed for Cranbury residents to get together and enjoy company while listening to live entertainment. The events begin at 6 p.m.

Additional Porch Fests in the state include Red Bank, which will host its second annual event on Oct. 1 from 12 to 5 p.m. and Lambertville, whose third annual Porch Fest will occur this fall. Both hope to expand their footprints after previous events were deemed successes.

New Jersey Porch Fest Season Promises Fun for All

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Kuscin was confident that Princeton’s 2023 event will be even more successful than it was in 2022 and hopes people even from outside the Princeton community will come and enjoy great live entertainment in this evolving way.

“All I hope is that the business side of town is happy, the residents are happy and that visitors feel welcome,” she said. “Because if you like music, you’re invited. Even if you don’t, we will try to convince you.”

About the author: Zachary Klein is a journalism major at Rider University who has a passion for telling stories about the arts and those who make them. He currently serves as a house manager at McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton and when he's not working there or on stories, he is probably at a theatrical production somewhere in the tri-state region. His work includes theater reviews and feature stories for Rider's college publication, The Rider News, as well as theater reviews for his own personal website, Zach resides in Princeton with his family where he has lived for eighteen years. He is thrilled to join as a feature writer in his first professional writing credits.

Content provided by Discover Jersey Arts, a project of the ArtPride New Jersey Foundation and New Jersey State Council on the Arts.



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