Porchfest returns with free concerts throughout West Philly

 The Settled Arrows perform during the 2016 West Philly Porchfest. (Ross Hoffman)

The Settled Arrows perform during the 2016 West Philly Porchfest. (Ross Hoffman)

On Saturday, homeowners in West Philadelphia host Porchfest, where 140 music acts are scheduled to perform free mini-concerts on 70 porches throughout the neighborhood.

The second annual Porchfest doubled in size from its inaugural year. The concept is pretty simple: porches are used a stages for free performances, self-organized between individual homeowners and bands.

A coordinating committee provides an online scheduling platform, but does not book the acts. Coordinator Owen Lyman-Schmidt (who also performs as half of the folk duo Driftwood Soldier) said West Philadelphia is perfect because it has a lot of porches and a lot of bands.

“Whether jazz in the park, punk basement shows, folk in the living room, or son jarocho,” he said. “Often those are somewhat exclusive spaces because you have to know about them. Porchfest is an opportunity to take that diversity in this neighborhood and share it together.”

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As a notably laid-back festival, much of the music in Porchfest is of the folk variety, often pick-up bands or casually jamming friends. A seven-piece band called How to Trick a Bear formed just a few months ago by people who met at an open folk jam, and thought they sounded pretty good together. Most of them had never performed in front of an audience.

“How to Trick a Bear” plans to play for two hours, performing bluegrass standards, and 1980s pop songs set to bluegrass arrangements.

“Bluegrass is really about a strong backbeat,” said Ben Le, who plays guitar when not teaching psychology at Haverford College. “So pop songs and rock songs with a strong backbeat work really well.”

There are also rock bands, DJ, hip hop acts, the West Philadelphia Coalition Against Islamophobia All-Star Jam, and Wookiedelphia, Philadelphia’s only Star War brass.

Wookiedelphia, which always performs in costume, is a four-piece spin-off of the West Philadelphia Orchestra. It arranges and performs themes from Star Wars movies, even the lousy ones.

“I could have done without the first movie [Episode One: Phantom Menace]. I thought it was redundant,” said sousaphone player Dan Nosheny. “In Episode Two I could have done without the whole love story. But if you’re looking for a lava light saber fight and wooden acting, that can be your jam.”

Nosheny said the song, “Duel of the Fates,” is the only saving grace of Episode One. “That made up for a lot of the prequels. I’ll put it that way,” he said. Wookiedelphia performs it in a more rollicking style that John Williams intended.

To find out on which porch Wookiedelphia will be performing this weekend, and the one hundred and forty other acts, go to westphillyporchfest.com.

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