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Ashland - Local Town Pages

Ash Hop Porchfest Sept. 30

By Sean Sullivan 

The porch.

Many a sunrise and sunset has been savored in the shelter and serenity of this sacred space, many a conversation and much quality time shared with family and friends.

Porches are a place between privacy and publicity, indoors and out. It’s the perfect stage from which to watch precipitation play out, a rain or snowstorm, sheltered from the elements.

It’s also a space that seems to have fallen somewhat out of favor in a culture often frantic to beat rush hour roadways, race from one youth sporting event to another, juggle multiple jobs or gigs.    

But porches were reclaimed for a time during the pandemic pause, liminal spaces that became landing places - where neighbors, friends and family could gather during those uncertain days and months.

And if it happens to be one’s preoccupation, the porch is a prime perch from which to survey a property line, scolding neighborhood kids and dogs to scram off one’s lawn.

In stark contrast to the spirit of that latter function, Natick’s Porchfest repurposes this unique space into a stage, onto which residents welcome perfect strangers. There, the guests will play guitar (or other instruments) for audiences gathered on the green of lawns.Porchfest is a grassroots, hyperlocal music festival, one that puts community center stage. Performers are paired with residents eager to lend their porches for a few hours, providing a venue for local artists to play before the public.

A unique feature of the events is that performances are pro bono, as are the procurement of porches. The event is jealously guarded as a music-making (not money-making) enterprise.      

Porchfest isn’t a Natick original. It’s a sharing of space and sound that’s been a highlight for years in other towns and cities. 

The history of Porchfest dates back more than a decade, when the inaugural performances were held in Ithaca, New York in 2007. That first festival featured about twenty acts, but has evolved into an annual extravaganza sometimes featuring over a hundred performers.

In recent years, many Massachusetts municipalities have hosted their own versions of Porchfest, some adopting the event into an annual ritual of community culture.

Porchfest has also spread since its inception to all corners of the country and beyond, even crossing the border into Canadian provinces.

This month will welcome Ashland’s inaugural version of the event, a Porchfest that will traverse the town border it shares with Hopkinton. The two towns have joined forces in the endeavor, an effort to pool resources and populations to make the event a splash.

As Ashland and Hopkinton have fewer residents than neighboring towns, said Allison Burba Horgan, the communities have combined their Porchfest into a single show. This will be the first concert of its kind for the two towns.

“We were hoping to get more of a critical mass,” said Burba Horgan, an Ashland resident who volunteered to promote Porchfest in a media-relations role. “We’re trying to get the word out a lot.”

Music Go Round, a local music store chain, has long been a sponsor of these events, and will donate instruments for a raffle at what’s been dubbed with snappy shorthand as “Ash Hop” Porchfest.

Ash Hop is scheduled for Saturday, September 30th, from 2pm to 6pm. The event will culminate in a grand finale performance by the band “Road Dawgs,” between 5:30pm and 7:00pm at Ashland’s Corner Spot.

The communications role she accepted wasn’t one that Burba Horgan had formal experience in, though she’d previously lived in a community for whom Porchfest was and remains a favorite feature.

“So, this is a new hat for me to wear, but it was a need that needed to be filled.”   

Planners for Ash Hop Porchfest looked to neighboring Holliston for lessons on how to successfully pull of their first foray into the hyper-local music scene. That town’s previous attempt at the event wasn’t as well-attended as hoped, a result planners attribute to a shortfall of volunteers and investment.

As of mid-August, Burba Horgan said Ash Hop had already signed about 20 performers, slated to play at the homes of 12 residents.

She was also readying to attend Jamaica Plain’s August 19th production of Porchfest, where Burba Horgan lived before very recently moving to Ashland. JP’s vibrant creative community and proximity to Boston proper provides the perfect recipe for lively and well-attended Porchfests, which the neighborhood has been hosting since 2014.

Burba Horgan will be helping a friend there who’s hosting musicians, offering logistical and emotional support during the busy day.

“And so I’m hoping to recruit more people from there,” as well, she added, referring to musicians who might be interested in joining the bands scheduled to play in the ‘burbs of Ash Hop. “It’s a community of artists and musicians.”

JP’s Porchfest boasted an impressive slate of performers, a slick website and schedule for the many dozens of acts slated to play that day, an afternoon that Burba Horgan said attracts a crowd of about 10,000 people that make up its migrating audience.

Somerville has a similarly successful event, and Burba Horgan looks to those towns’ experience and expertise as models to strive for. She calls the original, Ithaca NY event the “Mother Ship,” the show that serves as a model for what can come from creativity and a dedicated group of volunteers.

The hope with Ash Hop is to create a self-sustaining show that will attract more volunteers, interest and talent - that “critical mass” and momentum that will allow this first Porchfest to grow in future iterations.

“We’re trying to build a solid foundation,” said Burba Horgan. “I think it’s shaping up to be something special.”