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Porchfest starts a conversation in a Salt Lake City neighborhood

Published August 25, 2013 10:27 am

Music • University Gardens residents open the front of their homes to local talent.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

For one day, residents near the University of Utah put aside the assumption that a front porch is simply an entryway or a quiet place to watch the world.

Instead, the stoops of the University Gardens neighborhood temporarily transformed Saturday into music venues and art galleries, all part of a hometown street festival called Porchfest.

Organized by the East Central Community Council, the event was designed to celebrate local music, art and food, but its grassroots approach also fosters a comfortable arena for neighbors to get to know one another, says council co-chair Esther Hunter.

"We have a lot of concerts on stages in this community, but this is different in the sense that you're in the neighborhood, you're mingling," Hunter said. "We wanted it to be down-home."

Hundreds converged on 1200 East and Douglas Street between 200 and 400 South, from middle-aged couples with folding chairs slung over their arms to hipsters making their way to the concessions. A pair of young boys took advantage of the road closures, zipping by on skateboards.

Salt Lake City joins a number of communities sponsoring Porchfests, a concept that blossomed in Ithaca, N.Y., seven years ago and has spread from Cleveland to Napa, Calif., to Somerville, Mass. Salt Lake City's version featured not just porch concerts, but art in the garden exhibits and about a dozen food trucks.

The combination of community, culture and fresh air appealed to Avenues resident Emily Chang, who brought her 18-month-old son to the event with her husband and mother-in-law.

"It's something to let our little guy burn off a couple hours worth of energy while we listen to some music," she said.

From indie rock to jazz to folk tunes sung in French, 71 local musicians jammed on 61 porches throughout the day as community members stretched out on grassy parking strips to listen, chatted with friends or turned their heads to experience the act next door.

Kim Natural, a nursing student at the University of Utah, stopped with Daniel Hewitt to listen to guitarist Bryan Frates play on the porch of 224 S. 1200 East.

"This is nice right before school," which starts next week, Natural said. "This is awesome."

A couple doors down, Igor Iachimciuc set up microphones, speakers and a cimbalom, an ornate, 4-legged wooden stringed instrument that looks like the inside of a piano but is played with mallets. The music composition professor at the University of Utah said he's played the cimbalom for more than 30 years, but never on a porch.

"It's the right environment and the weather is good and the people are friendly," he said. "It should be fun."

Iachimciuc's stage was the front walkway of homeowner Margy Batson. She welcomed the opportunity to be part of the second annual Porchfest, even as she prepared to move from the home where she's lived for the past 26 years.

"We were flattered to be able to do it because it's such a great community event," Batson said. "It really brings a sense of community."

jnpearce@sltrib.com

Twitter: @jnpearce