Outdoor spaces throughout the Fenway neighborhood will again become impromptu concert stages hosting a variety of free music performances across a range of genres when Fenway Porchfest returns for its fourth annual installment on Saturday, June 10. (rain date: Sunday, June 11).
The inaugural event in June of 2018 was a collaborative effort that included the Fenway Alliance, the Fenway CDC (Community Development Corporation), and the Fenway Civic Association. It featured about 70 musical acts performing hip-hop, folk, rock and classical, among other styles, at unique outdoor venues, including The Verb Hotel, the Massachusetts Historical Society, and on the Emerald Necklace.
Fenway Porchfest returned the following year and expanded to 85 acts across 36 outdoor stages. But in 2020, the pandemic ruled out another in-person festival so event organizers instead produced a video featuring local musicians performing The Standells’ classic tribute to the Charles River, “Dirty Water” (https://youtu.be/Ss2QZXbtAEA). The event was sidelined altogether by the pandemic in 2021, but it returned in person again last July and featured more than 85 acts performing at 31 outdoor locations throughout the neighborhood.
This year’s event, jointly sponsored by the Fenway Alliance, the Fenway CDC, and the Fenway Community Center, is expected to feature around 80 acts across around 30 stages, which has become “standard” for the festival, according to Genevieve Day, co-executive director of the Fenway Alliance.
One unique aspect of Fenway Porchfest is that since the beginning, the organizing committee has raised funds to provide small stipends for performers, said Day.
The first Porchfest event nationally was held in 2007 in Ithaca, N.Y. and featured about 20 music acts. Porchfests had reportedly spread to around 130 locations throughout the U.S. and Canada by 2019, including in Somerville, Jamaica Plain, and Brookline. But unlike these other local neighborhoods, the Fenway has a dearth of actual porches where musicians can perform, leaving other outdoor venues to serve as makeshift concert stages.
“We have a number of cultural, historical, and educational institutions in the Fenway, so we have fewer porches but access to community organizations, which are connected to the Fenway. We have access to very cool spaces, like the steps of the MFA; sites within the Back Bay Fens, including the Kelleher Rose Garden and the Shattuck Visitors Center, which is the Emerald Necklace Conservancy’s headquarters,” said Day, who pointed out that the Fenway Porchfest’s event tagline is ‘Music everywhere, porches optional.’
She added, “We like to say that we have sites that are parks, plazas, parking lots, and green spaces.”
Day said the Fenway boasts a number of parks where performances could be held, including Ramler Park, Symphony Community Park, and the Back Bay Fens, as well as neighborhood business that offer stage space, such as The Verb Hotel, Tasty Burger, and Time Out Market.
“We hope to keep it so that the sites are easily walkable in the Fenway,” said Day. “That’s important to us.”
Other “iconic locations” in the neighborhood that serve as stages for Fenway Porchfest have included the steps of the Museum of Fine Arts, Simmons University, and the Massachusetts Historical Society, said Day.
The Red Sox even permitted a concert stage on Jersey Street last year, although that isn’t happening again this time, since the team will be hosting a Jimmy Fund fundraiser there on the day of this year’s Fenway Porchfest.
For the first time this year, Fenway Porchfest will also offer a full roster of children’s and family-friendly programming at a site in the Back Bay Fens, next to Clemente Field. These offerings will include performances by Circus Up, a Boston-based nonprofit that provides social circus programs for youth, and Wheelock Children’s Theater; as well as a musical petting zoo, arts and crafts, and a Hoodsie ice cream truck.
Meanwhile, event organizers are still seeking volunteers to work at each of the performance sites for the duration of the festival. (Visit https://www.fenwayporchfest.org/signup/help/ to sign up for the event.)
All volunteers will receive training on the morning of the event and get a packed lunch before heading off to their respective assignments. The stages typically host three different musical acts between noon and 4:30 p.m., with each act allotted 90 minutes of stage time. Two or three volunteers will be assigned to each site, where they will be handing out brochures that include a map and a list of the festival’s performers.
“Volunteers will encourage attendees to walk around and experience all the different acts at different locations, and to answer questions,” said Day.
While attendance at an itinerant event like Fenway Porchest is invariably difficult to pinpoint, Day estimates that around 5,000 guests have typically been on hand for the event each year.
“Attendance is hard to calculate because it’s all outdoors, and people walk from one place to the next,” she said.
A site map and information on this year’s performers is expected to go live on May 31. Visit fenwayporchfest.org to learn more about the event.