Year after year, Porchfest has gotten significantly bigger. This year, event leadership scaled it down, or at least slowed its expansion. They’ve been successful to a large extent, shortening the hours, keeping the number of bands at last year’s level, while improving access to a number of services.
Porchfest 2018 will take place in downtown Napa from 12:30 to 5 p.m. this Sunday, July 29. Event headquarters, with food trucks, merchandise, medical services and toilets, will be at Fuller Park.
Musician coordinator Micah Malan talked about the rationale for interrupting the relentless growth of the town’s popular annual musical celebration. “Porchfest naturally grows organically; every year it gets bigger,” he said. “We get bigger with bands, we get bigger with porches. We get bigger with attendees, we get more food trucks. We get more publicity. Everything about Porchfest naturally grows.”
“That’s what I think events of this nature want to do. That’s what success feels like. But for us, there’s a different dynamic here. We have to consider people’s lives. Not everybody in that neighborhood enjoys Porchfest. It would be a wonderful thought, but no, it’s not everybody’s cup of tea.”
“We have to be considerate of the people that live around there, because they’re being considerate to us by giving up their neighborhood every year, once a year, for us to do our event. We knew that it was going to be hard to cut back and stop what was happening. But we were able to pump the brakes and slow it down, and I think that’s where we succeeded.”
This year, there will be 125 bands, essentially the same as 2017, fit in to a schedule – 12:30 p.m to 5 p.m – that reduces the event by 90 minutes from previous years. Porchfest lead chairperson Jamie Cherry said organizers hoped fewer hours would reduce the number of bands. Ultimately, that did not happen.
“We tried to accommodate all the people, all the porches that came to us,” Cherry said. “It really was a matter of the people’s requests. We did have a cut-off date of April 1. Only a few exceptions were added after that.”
Cherry’s principal focus, aside from overall coordination of the event, is the relationship with the city and the police department, with an emphasis on overall safety and the maintenance of a family-friendly, alcohol-free (well, almost) environment. “We appreciate the support we’re getting from the police,” he said. “We want to have this event for many years to come. We don’t want it to be marred by people who are drinking too much.”
Napa Police Lt. Chase Haag talked last week about the role of law enforcement at Porchfest. “We understand that people are there to celebrate music and have a good time,” he said. “That’s Napa. We’re not naive enough to believe that there is no drinking going on. The big concern is when it’s blatant drinking in the middle of the street. Sometimes people need to be reminded that, ‘Hey, this is supposed to be an alcohol-free event. It’s about the musicians, about downtown, it’s about experiencing it with your neighbors.’
“Our officers have discretion. I think our officers are savvy enough and experienced enough to know when it’s simple just to give an extra look. The crowd’s behavior really dictates our response to it.”
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“Alcohol is on our mind, but that’s not the primary concern,” Haag added. “The primary concern is safety, making sure that there’s no vehicle traffic coming in those pedestrian areas, and making sure that people are not taking advantage of the houses in the neighborhood.”
In his first year as the event chairperson, Cherry is pleased with the enhancements to this year’s event – more food trucks, more toilets (including more “handicapped” toilets) and more accessible medical services. As the co-owner of The Inn on First in Napa, he has been an event volunteer since 2012 — “a good worker bee,” he said — until accepting the leadership role this year.
He said that when all the planning and preliminary tasks are done, he looks forward to cruising the event on his bicycle, trouble shooting and, most enjoyably, being in touch with the crowd.
“When we’re wearing our volunteer T-shirts,” Cherry said, “we get so much affirmation from everybody, how much they enjoy the day. That’s what makes it worthwhile.”
See NapaPorchfest.org for map and schedule of bands and porches.
More than Porchfest this week:
—Thursday, July 26, 8 p.m. Phillip G. Smith and the Gentlemen of Jazz. $10-$15. Silo’s, 530 Main St., Napa.
—Friday, July 27, 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Doyle Bramhall II. $25-$45. Blue Note Napa, 1030 Main St., Napa.
—Saturday, July 28, 8 p.m. Tig Notaro. $35-$60. Uptown Theatre Napa, 1350 Third St., Napa.