In its fifth year, Collingswood Porchfest, a town-wide celebration of music and hospitality, is poised to hit new heights, with 100 bands on 75 porches.
By Matt Skoufalos | September 13, 2022
In the five years since Collingswood Porchfest reached South Jersey five years ago, the one-day, town-wide musical celebration continues to reach new audiences and to attract an ever-wider variety of performers.
With 100 bands slated to perform on 75 porches from noon to 8 p.m. on September 17, Saturday’s event will be the most expansive the borough has seen yet.
It’s a significant undertaking of scheduling as well as hospitality, and organizer Stacey Brown-Downham said the Porchfest committee contemplated capping participants or splitting the festival into two days if it got any bigger.
“The first year was 40 bands on 35 porches, and it’s kept growing every year,” Brown-Downham said. “I think every year more people come to the event, love it, and say, ‘I want my band to play,’ or, ‘I want to host it.’
“It’s truly a labor of love [to organize],” she said. “My goal is to inspire people to not stop doing what they love.”
Brown-Downham said she and Collingswood Porchfest cofounders Kevin Monko and Sara Breyer spend “hours and hours” coordinating artists, locations, and time slots to help distribute performers across homes throughout the community, cultivate sponsors, and promote the event.
That effort is all in service of a day of community that leans into some of the best that Collingswood has to offer — both as a walkable town full of historic homes with wraparound porches, and one that’s embraced its reputation as the place where rock-and-rollers settle down to raise families. It’s also a chance for Brown-Downham, a mother of two and working teacher, to perform her own music.
“As somebody who loves an early show, and loves something that’s walkable, I think it’s a wonderful way to share all that I love about music with my community,” Brown-Downham said.
“This is a way for me to cut through the noise of life and push this really powerful, soulful tool to connect with people to the forefront.”
‘A cornucopia of music’
Before Marc Brasof had moved to Collingswood, he applied for his comic-book-rock band, Stereotytans, to perform a set at Porchfest. When some his lawn filled up with curious onlookers, Brasof was floored.
“I knew nobody in our town, and we had like 250 people show up at the show,” he said.
“It tells you a lot about Collingswood as a place, and how connected people are, because when a band is hitting hard and people like it, people move towards it.”
You’d be hard-pressed to find an act more experimental and immersive than Stereotytans on Saturday’s lineup. An anthemic hard rock act that fuses Greek mythology, cosplay culture, and concept art, the group has its own internal narrative about the evolution of its sound.
“The Titans in Greek mythology created everything, and their children, the gods, overthrew everything,” Brasof said. “We wrote all these versions [of history] about how we escaped from Tartarus, and are hiding out in the modern world.
“We never learned how to behave, and humans have to decide whether to ex-communicate us from the world as well,” Brasof said. “We represent all that’s emotional in the world, and Zeus represents order and hierarchy, and those things clash and destroy the world.”
If that sounds like a lot to pack into one 30-minute porch performance, don’t worry. Stereotytans adventures are also chronicled in digital comic books and a series of videos on their YouTube channel.
“When people come to the show, they might not get all that, but because we’re arranging messages in the show, it influences how people experience the music,” Brasof said. “If you can tell a story, and the visuals help to do that, people really connect to it. Then they start to enjoy the musical performance once they know what the music’s about.”
To Brasof, Porchfest is a great venue for Stereotytans to shine “because it’s like a cornucopia of music.
“There’s room for all different stuff; that’s what makes that event so cool,” he said. “You can get all different types of things when you go. People vote with their feet.”
‘The best part is this feeling of community’
For the band PJ Brown and Her Resistance, this year’s Porchfest represents an opportunity to rejoin the local music scene after a year spent partitioned by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
“Some of us saw each other, but we were not together as a six-piece unit for 19 months,” said guitarist Justin Hallman. “We were all committed, and all we could think about was Porchfest.”
To pass the time in quarantine, the group worked out a remote collaboration for its cover of “Red Right Hand” by Nick Cave. The performance traveled well enough that it reached Cave himself, who replayed it on his own social media channels, and mentioned the group by name.
Moments like those were instrumental in helping the group navigate the difficulties of the pandemic, but returning to live performance is a critical next step. Over the summer, PJ Brown and Her Resistance played its first live show in more than two years at the Ruba Club in Philadelphia. Hallman recognized a number of concertgoers as friends and neighbors from Collingswood.
“There’s an audience here who will go to shows and still loves music,” he said. “That’s interesting to us.”
“The music world’s a little different” after COVID, Hallman said. “The venues are different, the process is different. [Porchfest] is a fun, different approach to finding an audience and entertaining people.”
Drummer Jonathan Mason said the daylong event is also instrumental “in terms of bringing us back together and celebrating all the musicians that have been hunkered down for the past few years.”
“The best part of it is this feeling of community,” Mason said. “People sharing feelings; all genres, all levels of music.”
In keeping with that eclecticism, PJ Brown described her group’s sound as “the best possible nightmare.”
“It is rock. It is funk. It is soul. It is come to Jesus, whatever your Jesus is,” she said. “It’s all of it.”
‘It’s an important part of our calendar’
For Craig Storrod of Music Invincible, Porchfest represents an intuitive connection to the South Jersey community in which his family is putting down roots. A native of Birmingham, UK, Storrod met his bandmates Vedra Chandler and Chris Maier as neighbors in the Victor Lofts in Camden City.
Maier was playing showtunes at a piano in the building, when Chandler and her mom both joined in with some tunes from Hairspray. Storrod joined up after one of their Third Thursday shows, during the citywide Arts Crawl, and the group carried them on during the pandemic thereafter.
From those beginnings in the Victor, Music Invincible became a multi-instrumental, multi-vocalist group performing everything from Broadway musicals to Motown hits to a Disney revue.
“Our tagline is ‘a century of hits, from Fanny Bryce to Bruno Mars,’” Storrod said. “We keep it light and fun and bring a smile to people’s faces.”
In Music Invincible, Storrod, who cut his teeth in London’s West End theater district, found a perfect opportunity to connect with his new community and carry on performing in the United States. Since the group was founded, his wife completed her Ph.D. at Rutgers Camden, and the couple has settled down in Haddon Township, where they just welcomed a new baby.
“The arts is a fantastic way to bring people together to create community and create moments,” he said. “I came here in 2016 not knowing anyone. Last weekend, we couldn’t walk five steps at the Collingswood Farmers Market without bumping into someone. That’s all from the arts.
“We’ve got family members here because of the arts and music, and because of things like Porchfest,” he said. “We got to know our neighbors in Collingswood that way.
“It’s just a great way to meet people,” Storrod said. “It creates a real togetherness in the town; it’s almost a brand now. People know about, it and people look forward to it. It’s an important part of our calendar to do it. I don’t know that we get as much love as when we’re playing Porchfest.”
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