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Photos from Ottawa Porchfest's Facebook page.

Porchfest: Taking it to the porches in Hintonburg

By Chrissy Steinbock on September 8, 2016





If you thought summer was slowing down in the city, fear not. The second edition of Porchfest is taking over Hintonburg this Saturday and there’s loads of new music to discover. Apt613 caught up with Porchfest organizer Ken Halin McKay and Chris Sims from the Beating Hearts, one of the bands performing at Porchfest, to hear what it’s all about.

“There’s too much talent out there for us to be wasting our time on the same music that the radio plays over and over again.”

Porchfest is a community-scale showcase of local music that goes down on the porches and businesses of Hintonburg. It’s like a packed afternoon of house shows spilled out on the street. By some miracle, it’s also free, though contributions are accepted.

There will be 50 acts at 20 locations spread out across the neighborhood from 250 City Centre all the way to Holland ave. and Scott st. to the Queensway. The bands on the bill come from across Ottawa and offer up a truly mixed bag of styles, from folk and hip hop, to jazz and metal, classical and beyond. “We were shocked at how much talent there is,” says Ken. “And it’s music you haven’t heard before.”

As a family-friendly daytime event, Porchfest removes a lot of the barriers that keep people from seeing new music. It’s also kind of a response to the festivals that favour huge acts. As Ken puts it, “There’s too much talent out there for us to be wasting our time on the same music that the radio plays over and over again.”

It’s also a whole new way to experience music. Asked what makes Porchfest special, Chris says “Just that it’s unusual. It’s not a club where everybody knows where to act. It’s not a café where everybody knows how to act. It’s a weird situation where you’re playing on somebody’s porch which I had never done before and people are standing on the leadup to the porch watching a band which they’ve never done before. It’s a neat thing because nobody really knows what to do and that means you’re more in the moment.” The two members of the Beating Hearts also noticed that “it was easier to engage with people without the stage barrier. You could just make a joke and they’d joke back. The informality of it was so refreshing.”

For bands it’s also a rare chance to reach new listeners. “If you can play anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes you’re in,” says Ken. “Porchfest gets you that next step. It takes you out of your basement and onto the street.” He speaks from experience. After twenty years writing rock n roll piano songs in his basement for fun it was playing the fest and hearing from the crowd that kickstarted him into the recording studio.

To make up for a porch shortage the fest has partnered with local businesses including The Hintonburg Public House, Makerhouse, and The Record Centre to host bands. While most sites will have unplugged–type sets, if you like it loud, make your way to Makerspace North, which will be Porchfest rock central. This year there will also be an evening show in Parkdale Park featuring a handful of bands from a variety of genres to “give a real eclectic view of the local talent.”

The first Ottawa Porchfest came together in just six weeks last fall. As Ken tells it, it all started when someone came into his family’s furniture restoration shop and told him about the Porchfest phenomenon. Popular in the States, there are also Porchfests in Niagara Falls, Montreal and Vanleek Hill. As fate would have it, Porchfest came up in conversation with someone from the Hintonburg Community Association and the next thing you know the board had given Ken a green light he didn’t know he asked for.

“We weren’t sure what to expect but what happened was amazing,” he says. “Lots of people came out to listen to all styles of different music. It was the type of community event that you always think about when you think of a block party. Everybody came out to see and listen to their neighbours.” The crowds were surprising too. “One band said we play so many bars and we had more people on our front lawn than we’ve ever had,” Ken says. “A couple hundred people came out.”

Ken and his family come to organizing the festival from their work in social entrepreneurship projects and so far it’s largely been their own money backing the event. “Every time we start anything up it has to be something that’s going to directly help people,” he says. “We’re just looking to keep this a real local festival.” Though they could pursue corporate sponsors, for the time being Ken’s happy with what it is. “It doesn’t need to be more than a party in the park and people playing across the neighborhood. The simpler a festival can stay the more popular it’s probably going to be.”

Ottawa Porchfest is Saturday September 10 1-5 pm. There’s also a free evening show in Parkdale Park 7-10pm. Ken Halin himself will be playing Porchfest too. Catch it at 97 Bayswater starting at 1pm. The Beating Hearts are a duo with a love for classic songwriting and vocal harmonies in the vein of the Stones, the Band and Neil Young. You can catch them at 97 Bayswater at 2pm.

For more on Porchfest, visit their website or find them on Twitter.