Decatur Porchfest: The “Blockiest” of Block Parties

Decatur, Georgia’s 2019 Porchfest was the nation’s largest, with 240 front porches in the Oakhurst neighborhood hosting bands and neighbors for a fun way to strengthen their community. The neighborhood’s 4th annual festival took place on October 12, with each porch hosting a local band or music act for neighbors to enjoy.

Mayor Patti Garrett, who until recently lived in the Oakhurst neighborhood describes the event as “a real opportunity for people to come together and enjoy friends, neighbors and their neighborhood and really just have a different sort of experience, it’s a great way to experience this neighborhood and Decatur and showcase who we are.”

Local resident Scott Doyon started Decatur’s Porchfest in 2015 after talking to a friend from Ithaca, NY, years earlier. Ithaca is the birthplace of the porchfest concept, and Scott said there are now 140 such festivals nationwide. The basic concept is that neighbors make their porches and front yards available for bands and solo musicians to perform for an hour, with a new set of bands and porches featured every hour. Residents and people from surrounding areas meander through the neighborhood, stopping to set up their chairs or blankets in front yards to listen.

On the afternoon of Porchfest, Decatur’s Oakhurst neighborhood was busy with people walking from yard to yard, stopping to buy baked goods or other food from entrepreneurs, many of whom are kids raising money for a variety of causes. A few yards also had drinks for sale or even a food truck. The bands ranged from a solo teenager on a guitar to a local garage band to more professional-sounding groups, all doing their part for free. Audiences in the front yards ranged from ten to a hundred or so; the overall event attracted several thousand people, many of whom came from other parts of the city or beyond.

Scott organizes Decatur’s festival in his free time, with a few sponsors, like the local business association, providing funding to pay for promotion and a few items on the day of the event. The local Arts Alliance works with street captains to watch for trouble, like people blocking a street, since all the streets are open to local traffic. The street captains interact with local police, who try to be lenient about rules like walking with an open beer.

Scott, who works with an urban design company called Placemakers, said he started Porchfest because it seemed like a good way to encourage neighborliness. “It brings everybody together in a kind of peaceful way and on neutral ground, territory kind of thing,” especially important because of the increasing affluence of the neighborhood. “It creates that kind of neutral ground where people can meet and say, hey, look, that’s my neighbor and they’re nice and we don’t have to have that kind of division.”

Other Decatur residents laud Porchfest as well. “This is exactly the kind of thing that builds community,” said Hugh Saxon, Deputy City Manager. And from resident Ann Laidlaw: “It’s the best essence of our neighborhood. People are out, they’re friendly, they walk around, they go to a street they’ve never been on, they listen to music, it’s lovely.  It’s organized by the residents, and they have a really light touch—nobody is saying “I’m Mr. Porchfest.” And that’s what’s really nice about it.”

Asked how Porchfest compares to neighborhood-wide block parties, Scott Doyon said “this is the blockiest block party there is.”

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