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To say West Philly Porchfest is back would be an understatement. The DIY music festival has returned with its largest lineup to date — a thrill for organizers, who had feared a pandemic falloff.

The first iteration in 2016 drew a few dozen musical acts spread across 40 porches, concentrated mainly around the 48th and Baltimore area. It grew year by year, said Paul Dziewisz, one-third of Porchfest’s organizing team, but after a hiatus in 2020, expectations for this year’s comeback were low.

“When we started planning in February, it was cautionary and uncertain,” Dziewisz said. “We expected to get maybe 50 porches, and we thought that would be a good number.”

Instead, the bill for the six-hour festival this Saturday includes more than 260 performers threaded across more than 125 porches in Cedar Park and surrounding neighborhoods.

It’s the largest porchfest to date — by a longshot.

“With all the excitement in the community to be outside and have a safe get together, it really picked up momentum,” Dziewisz said.

Running from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, June 5, the festival will bring a menagerie of sounds, from punk to jazz to Bulgarian folk to chamber music to children’s bands. A few porches will offer standup comedy, puppetry and dramatic readings this year as well, per organizers.

Nathan Swavely, whose roots-rock band Wake Up John will be playing its third porchfest this year, noted this will be the first live show for many performers since before the pandemic. At past events, the festival was a venue for an eclectic array of unknown musicians to play in a community setting.

“There’s nothing more communal than a front porch,” Swavely said. “And it provides an audience on a massive scale beyond the audience of people who we usually get to play for.”

Porchfests date back to the 2000s, reportedly starting in Ithaca, N.Y., and now span over 100 cities with neighborhoods where sheltered residential facades are plentiful.

The West Philly festival is still very much a DIY event. Organizers serve as a clearinghouse to manage the shows and promote them under the festival flag, but it’s up to porch hosts to keep the peace and follow the rules.

Organizers have been communicating with porch hosts about the city’s regulations and COVID-19 safety protocols. City health officials lifted most restrictions this week, with the indoor mask mandate and early last call for bars the only rules remaining.

The Department of Licensing and Inspections confirmed special permitting is not required for the DIY event.

“We’ve all been through a lot and deserve to have nice things,” said L&I spokesperson Karen Guss. “The department wishes West Philly a safe and joyous Porchfest.”

Organizers weren’t aware of any major incidents at past festivals, Dziewisz said, beyond a noise complaint here and there. Mindful of that, they divided the festival into two-hour intervals, and spaced shows in different areas to spread out the sound throughout the day:

  • 12 to 2 p.m.: South of Baltimore Avenue
  • 2 to 4 p.m.: East of Baltimore Avenue
  • 4 to 6 p.m.: North of Baltimore and west of 48th Street

“We also realize some people do not want to hear music for six hours straight,” the organizer added. “We won’t promote any shows that go beyond 6 or start before noon.”

What’s the best way to attend Porchfest? Dziewisz recommends mapping out a route to see a few bands that interest you. But it can’t hurt to walk around until you find a sound you like, seeing as many of West Philly’s signature porches as you can along the way.

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Max Marin (he/him) was Billy Penn's investigative reporter from 2018 to 2021. A graduate of Temple University, he has produced award-winning journalism on local politics, criminal justice, immigration...