“All the World’s a Stage” at Ferndale’s Front Porch Music Festival

“All the World’s a Stage” at Ferndale’s Front Porch Music Festival

(Jonathan A. Berz, June 26, 2017)

Ferndale, MI – Jacques’ 400-year old proclamation that “all the world’s a stage” was proven spot-on last Saturday, as front porches and gardens became soundstages and backdrops for Michigan’s newest (and quaintest, and probably best-foliaged) music festival, The Front Porch. It was a perfect day to showcase the talents of local musicians along with neighborhood beautification efforts (and to test some drivers’ patience).

There was no need for thousands of Ferndaleans to go far to hear something incredible, as each of four quadrants west of Woodward were dotted with continuous porch concerts of various styles of folk, rock, jazz, soul, celtic, baroque, polka and pop. Throughout the afternoon, crowds across town amassed into the hundreds, as miniature, temporary pop-up porch parties (many seeming more like impromptu block parties) filled the neighborhoods with families, friends, and harmonious soundscapes.

The shows began at noon with Emma Guzman, Jere Stormer, Carl B. Phillips, and Anthony Retka all staged in scattered neighborhood locales. Concerts continued until 6pm and over 40 acts performed, including the Eclectics, Mark Reitenga, Mia Green, Michelle Held, Tino G, The Polish Muslims, Mike Galbraith, The Whiskey Charmers, Corktown Popes, Kate Feeny, The Luddites, David Bierman Overdrive, Rabbit Ears, and many more.

“I was extremely happy and surprised at the attendance for an inaugural event like this. It was beautiful” said Anthony Retka, who performed a riveting unplugged solo folk show for lawns of onlookers on West Breckenridge as one of the openers of the day (before zipping across the state to perform at another Porch Fest in Port Austin at 4, and then at Pyrofest in Lake, MI at 10. After fifteen years of performing in Metro Detroit, Tone endures better than ever).

“The nice thing about playing an event like the Front Porch is that people come to listen and connect, and that’s why musicians make music, to share with others,” he wrote after concluding his one-day mini-tour. “There’s so much talent, and an event like the front porch is a wonderful way to show off all of the brilliant musicians in the area.”

Another long-time Michigan songwriter Jill Jack performed a gripping and mesmerizing unplugged performance accompanied with accordion and percussion for an audience easily in the hundreds on West Troy.

“The front porch concerts went over and above my expectations,” Jill said, “especially since it was the first run! It was very well organized. The crowds were filled with eager, respectful music lovers and curious listeners. Laid back, chill, no pressure to ‘fill the room’, everybody was in a great mood!!”

“One question that comes into play is whether to amplify or not” she wrote. “We didn’t, because I loved the whole organic vibe, but reaching the entire crowd could get complicated.” Jill’s crowd grew so large that people two houses down were heard whispering in an attempt not to disrupt the spellbound audience that had overtaken the street.

But the 42 sets scattered from Woodward to Central, Maplehurst to Marshall, weren’t all folk singers doing their best to project without the aid of amplification, competing with frequencies (or traffic, depending on closeness to Woodward) or the intensity of the wind, or volume of leaf-rustling, bicycle bells, and chattering children, as most of the audiences grew to encompass both sides of the streets, and sometimes clogging roads completely during particularly enthralling numbers. Rock bands could easily be heard from a block away, which occasionally, and at random, produced a blissful discordance of genres and sounds.

The range of genres made it most exciting, and many concertgoers appreciated the diversity of the sounds. There were plenty of guitars and drums, but many bands, like Aston Neighborhood Pleasure Club, schlepped things like a stand-up bass and bass saxophone up the front steps for their New Orleans-style jazz revue. Many groups brought instrument setups that would almost require hiring Two Guys and a Truck to haul, and a small crew of roadies to load carefully around the daylilies.

Local multi-instrumentalist David Jakubowski’s trombone bounced off the houses on West Lewiston during the Brother Hallow set. “From beginning to end, the front porch concerts were an entertaining well run event loaded with fantastic musical acts” wrote Dave, who also plays with Rock Bottom, The KufflinKs, and The None-Others. “It was a more intimate way to play and listen to music with neighbors than any bar or venue, like an afternoon party with my best friends and kind strangers. There aren’t enough of these types of events.”

Another standout performance (both sonically and visually) was the sharp and seasoned Zander Michigan, who delivered a captivating (and bow-tied) porch performance literally amongst ferns. He wrote, “It was a cool experience. Kind of like being in college again and jamming on a porch like old times!”

“The porch concerts were totally fab! What a great idea for a city like Ferndale full of musicians and music lovers alike! I hope they do it every year!”

Zander also appreciated the hospitality that the homeowners showed the artists, many of whom took an honest gamble on whatever rabble of ne’er-do-wells may have shown up on their front steps with any sort of musical accoutrements and cacophonous intentions, followed by hundreds of who-knows-who patiently waiting to enjoy the show while desperately avoiding accidentally trampling the flower beds. “The hosts were very gracious, and even invited listeners in for food and drinks! You don’t find that everywhere,” said Zander.
Ferndale proves, 400 years since Jacques’ proclamation, that artists, performers, and music-lovers will continue to make stages out of any part of the world (tempestuous drivers be damned), as they like it.

That is, as long as they’ve got the permits.

The event was sponsored by Kramer Restaurant Group, which includes One-Eyed Betty’s, Rosie O’Grady’s and Pop’s for Italian. Faygo was also a sponsor.

Jonathan A. Berz is a freelance photojournalist, songwriter and music producer out of Metro Detroit. He writes and performs with Songs From The Moon, The Counter Elites, The Walking Beat, Steve Harvey Oswald, and from time-to-time with The Free Bleeders and The Mythics. He also produces records out of Woodshed Studios in Oak Park and teaches Communications at Macomb Community College.

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