When my wife and I bought our Union Square area home in 2002, we figured we'd fix the place up and be here maybe five years. Now it's difficult for us to imagine leaving at all, despite the usual factors that cause many growing families to migrate to the burbs, like young children and, you know, that whole white picket fence thing.
What we're curling our roots around is a sense of community that we couldn't have anticipated, and a feeling that we're not just fitting into a place that's wholly unique and perhaps – dare I say it – forward thinking; we're actually helping to define it.
For me, as a homeowner, a dad, and a lifelong rock and roller, Porchfest 2012 was a defining moment in my Somerville experience. I could hardly believe it when I saw the Somerville Art Council's Facebook post. All I had to do was register online and I'd get a free pass to cut loose on my own property with my superawesome band! And this was a surefire way to lure everyone out of their homes, away from TV's, X-Boxes, and iPads, and out into the common spaces we share every day, but rarely pause to appreciate.
I moved to Boston in 1989 to attend Berklee College of Music. I've been playing in all kinds of bands ever since, and yet the majority of people I socialize with in my neighborhood had never seen me play so much as a note. Unfortunately, guitars don't grow on the trees at Walnut Street Park, and that's where we mostly hang out. I'm gonna be honest here. I was pretty excited to blow some minds.
And we rocked it. My band, Hot Knives, played in my driveway from about 2:00 to 3:30, and yes, we were a bit loud. A good sized crowd ebbed and flowed throughout the performance; lots of families with kids, people on bikes, strangers from nearby streets, even my elderly neighbors. It was probably the most diverse crowd I've ever played for, and I've played some weird places, believe me.
At one point, feeling like David Lee Roth at the 1983 US Festival, the sun beaming down on my face and the amps humming in the spot where I normally park the family Honda, I yelled into the microphone, "We are all so lucky to live in Somerville!" The hooting, hollering, cheering, clapping crowd before me agreed, everyone smiling ear-to-ear.
So when I read Chris Orchard's recent column, I was disappointed – but not surprised – to discover that many Somerville residents had voiced complaints, and that these objections could actually jeopardize the future of Porchfest.
For crying out loud.
Porchfest is a unique event, and only in its second season. It combines the innate social nature of live music with the basic, human act of welcoming one's neighbors to hang out in the front yard. It is nothing short of brilliant.
Still, the complaints. Too loud. Too long. Poorly planned. Blocked traffic.
Yep, traffic on my street was marginally slowed, but none of the people dancing and clapping in front of my house were oblivious or obnoxious. And let me tell you, people were jamming – especially the collection of 3-to-6 year olds who were thrilled with the whole thing. I have the photos and video to prove it.
From where I'm sitting, this is an important idea to consider:
Somerville kids - including mine - observing and participating in music as a community experience. That's elemental stuff regardless of personal taste or whether or not you had to sit in a (likely) air-conditioned car for a few extra minutes on your way to Target, scowling at the people having genuine fun in the streets on a gorgeous Saturday.
Now, I grew up in the 70's and 80's. My father was schoolteacher and a musician. Just before The Dawn of The All Consuming Comcast, and quite a bit prior to The Great Internet Zombie Timesuck, music was kind of a big deal. Rather than regulating our favorite anthems to tiny, isolating earbuds, people played it through large, heavy speakers and enjoyed it together. Sometimes, as a result, things got a little messy, a little inconvenient. We all survived.
The key here is patience, and the recognition that Somerville is a special place. Its residents include a growing population of innovative folks who aren't afraid to challenge mainstream concepts for the betterment of our cultural well-being – for our families, and for our city's future.
Innovation always comes with risk and sacrifice. But did anyone really suffer any major sacrifices last Saturday? Really? C'mon – we tolerate way more craziness of a disorderly nature around here on St. Patricks Day, July 4th, and whenever the Red Sox screw up a big game. Now who's gonna complain until we cancel those?
In the article, a regretful Gregory Jenkins (Somerville Arts Council executive director) addresses the complaints. He's quoted as saying, "If it becomes a problem, we just won't hold the event [again]." While I recognize this as a not-very-subtle threat to the Bad Apples and No Goodnicks who allegedly Disturbed All That is Right and Proper, after all the excitement and emotion surrounding Porchfest, this comes off as a little cavalier. No way am I gonna let this go down. Something this cool can't simply be dismissed as a nice try. Uh uh. Not in my hood. I'll be in touch with the SAC offering ideas and time. Because thats what good neighbors do. It's a great alternative to complaining, in my book.
My own neighbors - including the elderly and the ones with small children – are still stopping me on the street to congratulate me on a job well done and a great time had by all. I totally blew some minds!
For me, my friends, and my family, Porchfest was truly a glorious day. A defining Somerville moment.