Since its founding in 2011, Porchfest has become a summertime tradition in Napa, a mass stroll past historic Old Town homes that double as stages for all varieties of live music.
This Sunday, the music crawl will return, much as before – but with a new home base chosen with an eye toward festival guests’ comfort.
For the first time in its seven-year run, the festival of free performances by North Bay musicians will be centered on Old Town’s own Fuller Park, where Porchfest spectators can find food trucks, water-filling stations, toilets and perhaps the most valuable late-July amenities: space and shade.
“Very simply, we outgrew the Napa Library parking lot,” Porchfest’s co-founder Thea Witsil said of the festival’s former home base on Coombs Street. “The library (site) is hot asphalt with very little to no shade. The park is much more family-friendly; there’s lots of room to spread out.”
The Fuller Park hub is one of several changes in store for Porchfest. Some 80 homes in the historic district next to downtown will become venues for an estimated 120 rock, folk, country and other acts, who will perform sets from noon to 6 p.m.
Rising Porchfest attendance has made the Napa County Library unworkable as a venue, according to Katrina Gregory, city recreation manager. Although festival organizers and police have closed some streets to cars starting with the 2014 event, Coombs Street, which runs past the library, is too important to downtown traffic to cut off for six hours, she said.
“It was about community safety; crossing the street at Coombs and Division became unsafe,” said Gregory. “… If there was a band on the corner, you’d have people spilling onto the street, and since they’re used to walking down other closed streets, you had transition zones (outside the no-car perimeter) where people weren’t walking on the sidewalks.”
Although Fuller Park will not host any performance stages, Witsil said the recreation area’s central place in Old Town will give fans easy access to venues outside homes on Laurel, Seminary and Oak streets on the surrounding blocks.
Porchfest’s car-free zone has expanded over the years in step with the growth in attendance, from 2,500 at the inaugural 2011 festival to a reported 15,000 last year.
For this year’s event, the area reserved for pedestrians and bicyclists will form a larger box bordered by Jefferson Street on the west, Third and Fourth streets in the north, Coombs Street on the east and Pine Street to the south.
Napa’s city Public Works department will set up signs and barricades around the festival zone, and Porchfest volunteers will staff 15 closure points on the perimeter, according to Mark Lucas, the event’s logistics director.
Roadblocks will be set up at 11:45 a.m., 15 minutes before the first performances, and remain up until the final shows end at 6 p.m. Old Town residents, however, will be allowed to drive in and out of the area and may receive escorts if needed.
“It’s not really a hard closure,” said Lucas. “If someone says they live on, say, Oak and Seminary and they’re coming back from visiting their uncle in Yosemite, they’re still allowed to get in.”