It was the same smorgasbord of musicians under the Napa sun – just in a slightly smaller size.
For the eighth consecutive summer, dozens of bands and soloists took over porches and lawns Sunday afternoon for Napa Porchfest, delivering an array of performances seemingly as varied as ever despite a schedule cut down by 90 minutes from previous years. Organizers of the nonprofit musical crawl, which played out mainly in the Old Town neighborhood near Fuller Park, said attendance likely reached 15,000 – nearly the same level as at the six-hour extravaganzas of the past two years.
After seeing steady growth in the number of performers and spectators since its 2011 debut, Porchfest directors chose to pull in the reins with a cut-down schedule designed to shorten road shutdowns and reduce the spillover of sound from one stage to another – steps intended to keep the program as close to its neighborhood roots as possible.
To some spectators, there was little worry as yet for Porchfest’s soul.
“We loved it – it was very cool,” said Major Woolard of his second time strolling the music festival. “It was an atmosphere of people just having a nice time with music, and the fact it was amateur and not professional, that made it feel more authentic in a way.”
Away from the front yards hosting Skunk Funk’s hyperkinetic live act or the Diamond T Band’s rollicking cover of John Mellencamp’s “Hurts So Good” were quieter enclaves, like the porch serving as a stage for Jeffrey McFarland-Johnson. Under his bow and fingers, an electric cello sounded the notes of a Bach cello suite with much more carry than typical of a classical instrument – well within earshot of William Somerville, an Old Town resident for more than 40 years.
“This is the most community-oriented gathering that Napa does,” he said, taking in the performance from under a large parasol. “They make other attempts at it, but those feel commercial, staged. I’ve been coming to Porchfest from the beginning; I’ve been the neighborhood over 40 years and I’ve taken at least a peek at all of them, and most of the time spent the day enjoying it.”
Like previous editions, Sunday’s Napa Porchfest was a sprawling stew of musical tastes totaling some 125 acts – but its directors tried to make the event itself less sprawling than in recent years, when crowds and street closures spread farther outward.
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“I can understand why,” said spinCycle guitarist and vocalist Bill Bindewald, just before the band prepared to move stages and perform Porchfest’s second half under their alternate persona, The Supplements. “We did like playing longer last year, and it’s been an adjustment to go to a shorter schedule, but I understand. They need to find ways to keep the event from getting too big, too out of control.”
Even so, the music crawl still attracted newcomers like Gina Giggey of Browns Valley, who convinced her mother, best friend and her friend’s parents to join her for an afternoon of music – along with lunch from the food trucks assembled along Fuller Park.
“I’ve always heard of it, but this was the first time we had time to check it out,” said Giggey, a student at the University of Nevada, Reno. “I’m really enjoying it, seeing all these people out on a sunny day. We saw the (locator) map and checked out the reggae and country (performers), but we’re experiencing it all.”
Some performers, too, came to Porchfest with a fan’s perspective.
“This is one of our favorites – it’s an opportunity to play for a lot of music lovers from the Bay Area, and it’s also a chance for us to check out other bands,” said singer-guitarist Clarence Mamaril of the Class Action Band before its early set outside the McClelland-Priest house, a Randolph Street bed-and-breakfast.
After his own concert, Mamaril planned to change out of his American-flag jumpsuit and become another in the thousands of spectators lining the Old Town streets – likely showing support for other local bands.
“The valley’s a great place for music,” he said. “I love the variety of the music here, and we musicians all know one another pretty well.”