Once it became clear that Fenway Porchfest couldn’t proceed as usual for the third consecutive year this summer due to the pandemic, its organizers refused to simply cave in and cancel the eagerly awaited live concert event. So they began exploring other options for carrying on the tradition before eventually settling on the idea of producing a music video to showcase the neighborhood’s musicians instead.
“Initially we had thought it would have been possible to have the event,” said Marie Fukuda, a board member of the Fenway Civic Association, which together with the Fenway Alliance and the Fenway CDC (Community Development Corporation), has sponsored Fenway Porchfest since its inception in 2018. “All the partners we had reached out to were willing to participate, and so were the musicians, but as July came near, we realized it couldn’t move ahead as planned. But we still wanted to have the event and do it in such a way that protected the musicians and visitors.”
In years past, Fenway Porchfest featured musicians performing hip-hop, folk, rock and classical, among other genres, on numerous outdoor stages at spaces throughout the neighborhood provided pro bono by partnering organizations for one afternoon each summer. Porchfests, which were launched in Ithaca, N.Y., in 2007, are now held annually on front porches throughout the U.S. and Canada, but since porches in the Fenway are in short supply, the Fenway Porchfest event motto has been “Music everywhere, porches optional.”
Even into the early summer, Fenway Porchfest organizers were holding onto hope that the event could proceed in its traditional manner and closely monitoring the status of other area Porchfests. But then they met with city officials, who suggested holding it virtually this year instead.
Rather than simply holding a virtual concert, however, the event organizers opted to produce a music video with an array of local musicians, including Lanky & the Fens, Ann, Eva, Bill Dwyer Band, JP Honk Band and Red Shaydez – all of whom are past Fenway Porchfest participants. Together (but separately), they riffed on the Standells’ classic “Dirty Water,” with neighborhood-specific alternate lyrics that alter the song’s chorus from “love that Dirty Water, oh, Boston, you’re my home” to “love that Muddy River, oh, Fenway, you’re my home.” The video debuted online July 31 at fenwayporchest.org.
Madeline Lee, a Fenway CDC staff member, didn’t join the team until earlier this year, and hasn’t attended a previous Fenway Porchfest, but she knew just how much the neighborhood was looking forward to its return.
“We could’ve cancelled it,” Lee said, “but the Fenway community felt strongly that they wanted to celebrate and support the neighborhood’s musicians.”
The Fenway Porchfest music video also honors the site partners, Lee said, with a photo montage that shows them holding up signs that read: “I [heart] Fenway,” along with old images of site partners who were unable to submit a new photo for the project.
Sita, a musician, as well as a music producer, not only performed in the Fenway Porchfest video, but she also produced it alongside fellow musician Shaydez.
The self-described “Beatmaker, producer, songwriter, dancer and artist,” and the first Ivorian woman student of Berklee College of Music, had initially applied to return to the event this year as a performing musician.
Last year, Sita participated in Fenway Porchfest on a stage at the Victoria Rose Garden, which she and her friends had adorned with flowers especially for the occasion.
“The audience sat on the grass, and it had a relaxed festival vibe like I imagine it would’ve been like in the ‘70s,” said Sita, who sang and played the kora, a traditional African string instrument, during the performance.
When this year’s event was eventually cancelled, Genevieve Day, assistant director of the Fenway Alliance, asked Sita to help produce the music video.
Sita signed on and soon found herself collaborating with musicians she had never met before.
“I coordinated the music by first recording the song structure on an acoustic guitar, which I then sent to the artists who contributed to the piece by playing, singing and rapping along with my recording,” Sita said. “I got to meet a bunch of artists without leaving my house, and I’d never produced a project with so many artists on the same track. It was surreal, and it opens up a world of possibilities for artists working in the COVID context.”
Sita just graduated from Berklee, and is soon moving to New York City, but she already plans to return to Boston to perform at the Fenway Porchfest next summer.
“It’s so nice to have [an event] that gives away music for free and celebrates independent artists,” Sita said. “I feel a lot very talented artists lack exposure, and this festival really does a service to their talents.”
Like Sita, Shaydez performs on and co-produced the music video, but she too was initially looking forward to being on stage at Fenway Porchfest, just as she has every year since its inception in ’18.
“I appreciate that it gives equal opportunity to artists of all levels to join,” Shaydez said. “During the application process, [the event organizers] reviewed every one, and there have been opportunities for a lot of artists to perform.”
As a hip-hop artist, Shaydez said many of her musical peers were previously unfamiliar with the event, “but once they joined it became a big melting pot and a networking opportunity.”
In fact, when Shaydez was allotted 90 minutes to perform outside of The Harp on Boylston Street as part of last year’s event, she instead chose to relinquish much of her stage time to allow other musicians the opportunity to showcase their talents instead.
“I curated my own little show by bringing in a bunch of artists from my community and having them perform their own mini-sets,” she said. “It was billed as ‘Red Shaydez and Friends.’”
Fenway Porchfest, she said, has also helped introduce the neighborhood’s residents to the talent living in their backyard that they might not discover otherwise.
“In the Fenway, if you’re average working person, you don’t know what artists are there,” Shaydez said, “so [Fenway Porchfest] gives them an opportunity to get to know artists in their backyard.”
And regardless of the format that Fenway Porchfest adopts next year – be it a virtual or live event – Shaydez said she hopes to remain involved.
“Whether or not it’s virtual or a live event, I’m looking forward to it either way because it’s a great time,” she said. “I hope it continues because it’s one of the best festivals in the city.”