The Recorder – Artists of all ilks build community at Porch Festival

SHELBURNE FALLS — Around two dozen of the village’s creators pulled back their curtains and turned their porches into stages for the third annual Porch Festival Sunday afternoon.

The event, first organized in 2020 by 13-year-old Dorothy Strano-Bennett to allow people to experience live music outdoors while abiding by COVID-19 health safety restrictions, was reorganized this year by Ann McCormack, owner of Water Street Barn. McCormack said porch events took place across the U.S. during the pandemic. The event was so successful in its first year, the town decided to continue hosting the festivities.

This year, McCormack put emphasis on showcasing a variety of art forms, a departure from other more music-centric porch festivals. This year’s lineup featured not only live music, but comedy and poetry, including a reading from award-winning Shelburne Falls poet Martín Espada.

“All of the arts together, I think that activates all parts of our minds and makes us feel more alive,” said Stewart Hoyt, a Brooklyn-based artist and spectator at multiple events on Sunday. “I feel more invigorated and livened.”

Hoyt expressed his enthrallment during Espada’s set with a brush in-hand, ink painting a scene of Espada and his partner, Lauren Schmidt, as they read to a crowd dozens strong on their lawn.

“Poetry is a living art,” Espada said. “Poetry is an art that lives in the air as well as on the page. Poetry requires the kind of energy that other people bring to this.”

Taking to the microphone after Schmidt finished reading from her own poetry catalog, Espada juggled light, outlandish love poems that he’d recently written, including one titled “Love Song of the Moa” and another called “Love Song of the Disembodied Head in a Jar,” with heavier excerpts from his poetry book “Floaters,” the title referencing drowned refugees at the Mexican border.

“As you know, the border has been very much back in the news these days and the dangers of crossing the border for migrants,” he said to the crowd.

After he read his work, Espada explained his decision to address such a subject to a group of Shelburne Falls festivalgoers.

“The border is everywhere,” he said. “The border is thousands of miles away and the border is right here. Anyone who thinks they’re not connected is not paying attention.”

Hoyt recognized the Shelburne Falls Porch Festival as a universal entity in itself. He recounted having participated as an artist during Artmageddon, a recurring festival in Brooklyn last held on June 26 that featured more than 150 artists and bands. The two festivals, while occurring in vastly different environments, were each porch festivals at their core, he said.

“It was beautiful,” he recalled. “The people who came out were in their neighborhood and were so responsive to my work and we had great conversations.”

Espada framed Shelburne Falls’ rendition of a porch festival as a “revelation” when he and Schmidt first participated a year ago, crediting the occasion for enabling a “terrific exchange of energies.”

“I love it,” Hoyt said. “It’s very good for building community and building closeness with people around you.”

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-772-0261, ext. 261 or jmendoza@recorder.com.