At the corner of Brentwood Street and Stevens Avenue in Portland, a man in a newsboy cap blew a whistle, corralling a gaggle of costumed children on bicycles. Then he leaned into a set of bongo drums on a handcart, beating a festive tattoo. A little girl in a strawberry-spangled dress danced along.

It was just after noon, and the parade set off down the street. Porchfest had begun.

Musicians and fans packed the Deering Center neighborhood around Brentwood Street on Sunday for the annual music festival known as Porchfest, where acts perform on the lawns – and, yes, porches – outside private homes. Organizers later estimated that about 3,000 people turned out for the event.

A few doors down from the Brentwood-Stevens intersection, Dominic Lavoie crooned original folk ballads while strumming an electric guitar. An amp was set up in a stroller; children, including his two daughters, played in the yard around him.

Though Porchfest began in 2014, and Lavoie and his family have lived in the neighborhood for years, this was his first time performing.

“I’ve always been saying I’ll perform,” he said. “This year, I finally did.”

Like others at Porchfest 2021, Lavoie’s career has been shaped by the restrictions of the pandemic. He finished his latest album, “Wave With A Broken Arm,” just before lockdown, and Sunday’s performance was one of the few times in the last 18 months that he’s been able to play to an in-person audience. He plans to play songs from “Wave,” with Grand Hotel and Yes We Kin, at the Portland House of Music on Sept. 25.

Around the corner on Leland Street, a rock duo played originals and covers from a porch with a “Beware of Cat” sign. After finishing up a cover of “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,” they thanked an appreciative crowd and started to pack up.

“Thank you, all. We’re Big Red Buffalo,” said Dylan Spence, the guitarist and vocalist. “This was awesome. Great crowd – including the dogs.”

A large crowd gathers in the yard of a home on Brentwood Street in Portland to listen to a band during Porchfest 2021 on Sunday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The band name comes from the two musicians’ backgrounds. Spence, tall and fiery-haired, sometimes gets called “Big Red.” His partner, John Buffalo (a stage name), is a drummer from Buffalo, New York. The pair met at an open mic event in Hallowell, just about a month before everything closed down in spring 2020, and have been practicing together since.

A few blocks down Brentwood, Eric Reburn, the drummer who led the opening parade, prepared his kit as a bluegrass band kept a big crowd bouncing. A math teacher at Southern Maine Community College, Reburn has been with Porchfest since the beginning. He says performers do it for the love of music, and little else.

Reburn himself leads a neighborhood drum circle for the pleasure of teaching and learning from others. The group meets at HopeGateWay Church on Forest Avenue on the second Friday of each month, at 6 p.m.

“This is what the musicians live for. The sheer joy and passion of the music,” he said. “They’re not getting paid. They’re not going to be filling arenas like Eddie Van Halen.”

Porchfest was launched in 2014 by Amy Thompson, who used to attend a similar event in Ithaca, New York. The festival has grown over the years, but remains resolutely noncommercial: Residents aren’t paid to host the performers, who aren’t compensated for their shows. Outside vendors such as food trucks don’t make money off the event.

The one-day event included 60 performances from 1 to 6 p.m. covering genres from jazz to Taiko drumming to ska and rock. More information about Porchfest is available at the festival’s social media page at facebook.com/PorchfestPortland.


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