Returning to the steps for PorchFestKC four years later — albeit on a different porch and in a new neighborhood — Erica McKenzie was wowed by the walk-up audience’s reaction to her performance Saturday at the resurrected Midtown music festival.
“I’ve always had a lovely turnout the past few years but this one felt pretty epic,” said McKenzie, a Kansas City-based “human jukebox” who brought her one-woman-band-style set to the Roanoke neighborhood for the event. “Word’s gotten around how magical this festival is. It’s wonderful that so many folks in these beautiful neighborhoods are all-for hosting local music for listening ears.”
PorchFestKC brought about 135 bands and solo acts — mostly from the Kansas City area and the Midwest — to 49 porches-turned-stages Oct. 14. The one-hour sets graced a wide variety of settings — from setups with elaborate pillars to humble stone sidewalks and even a mini-concert at the Thomas Hart Benton Home and Studio State Historic Site.
Concentrating porch performers across just two Midtown neighborhoods — Roanoke and Valentine — helped to keep the crowds engaged and on the move, without disrupting their ability to enjoy live music for more than a block or so, said Kathryn Golden, founder and lead organizer of the one-day, original PorchFestKC event.
“Both neighborhoods were pretty equally saturated,” she said. “People seemed to move between them at a steady stream, which is what I expected. Roanoke’s streets are so much wider with bigger lawns and more space between homes; it likely felt less crowded.”
Some estimates put the attendee count for the six-hour event at about 4,500 with fans coming from as far away as Denmark, according to event volunteers; Golden said more than 3,000 people downloaded the new PorchFestKC app to help them organize their day, and she noted 300 printed maps quickly were snapped up by music lovers.
While the app proved a hit — buoyed by tech from Lincoln-based Grandstand — the allure of the Midtown neighborhoods themselves was a significant draw, Golden added.
“Many people have passed both neighborhoods on Southwest Trafficway or Broadway, but never had a need to actually explore the streets. The homes are just magazine-quality gorgeous,” she said. “It’s also live music during the daytime — and free. So you can bring your children, you can experience variety. It’s a simple structure without a lot of barriers to entry.”
“You also can simply say, ‘It’s something new,’ compared to the other entertainment options available,” Golden continued.
‘A whole lot of love’
McKenzie, who said she first began performing at PorchFestKC in 2016 (the festival’s second year), welcomed the event’s return after a three-year hiatus that was initially prompted by the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic.
PorchFestKC has become part of McKenzie’s journey as a genre-blending artist who mixes soul, pop, country, blues, folk, rock, jazz and other influences, she said.
Click here to learn more about Erica McKenzie’s music.
“Over the years I’ve come into my own as a performer. Massive difference from when I started,” said McKenzie, who also is part of the all-female, local supergroup Flat Susan. “My roots playing porches run deeper than ever and it’s been a blessing to branch out in the community this way.”
Seeing returning fans from previous PorchFestKC events Saturday was a major highlight, she said.
“And I love when folks come up to me after hearing me for the first time and say I’m better live than any recording. That’s such a special compliment,” McKenzie added. “To be in the presence of someone pouring their soul out to you live is to really feel it fully. When everyone around you feels it too, it’s just brilliant.”
Click here to follow Erica McKenzie on Instagram.
“I certainly felt a whole lot of love, I’m getting emotional just thinking about it,” she continued. “I highly recommend supporting your local artists. Get out there and enjoy some live music. Kansas City has some incredibly gifted artists out here making people happy through music.”
“Back Alley Brass Band had an insane crowd,” she added. “I knew they were popular but I was nervous nobody else had an audience when I saw the crowd balloon for them.”
‘A feeling I will continue to chase’
PorchFestKC’s word-of-mouth popularity among artists and its community-centric reputation drew Arkansas native and indie folk rock singer Joshua James to his first performance at the festival, he said.
“Saturday was an absolute blast; honestly one of the best times I’ve had performing,” said James, who now is fully based in Kansas City after successful work as a booking agent connecting artists to music opportunities at places like Made in KC and the KC Streetcar.
“I’m not gonna lie; I remember being worried about the cold, but once I started playing it never even crossed my mind,” he continued. “So many people stopped by to listen. I saw them dancing and singing my songs. It was such a cool experience to be so engaged with such a captivated audience. It was such a surreal moment for me to see people I didn’t know dancing and singing my songs back to me.”
James, whose primary inspiration comes from The Avett Brothers, said he tries to write songs that are not only catchy but also have an emotional punch that allows people to connect on a secondary level.
“My goal is that people will go home and hum the songs to themselves and remember how they felt and relate to the tunes,” he said.
Click here to see how to connect with and follow Joshua James on social media.
PorchFestKC not only helped connect attendees to James’ music, he said, but more deeply connected him to Kansas City and its community of artists.
“For me, the best parts were being with my friends; not only did I play a really great set but I ran into so many other musicians I know and I heard so much great music,” said James, who first learned about the festival from crowd-favorite Jack Summers and other friends.
Toward the end of the afternoon — and after James saw several of his friends play — he grabbed his guitar and took the stage at his designated porch in Roanoke.
“I went on and slowly I watched [many of my fellow artists] all make their way to my set,” he said. “The support of those I not only love but respect just meant the world to me, and that feeling I will continue to chase.”
“It was such an honor for me to play alongside them,” James said.
‘The freedom to feel’
Kansas City has been nothing but great to James since he relocated, he said.
“It’s the perfect size; it has all the amenities of a big city while also sharing the traits of a smaller close-knit community,” James said, “I’ve never felt out of place or unwelcome in a single part of this city. I’ve had so much fun exploring it and seeing all it has to offer.”
That’s a sentiment echoed by Camila Segura-Rivera — another recent transplant to Kansas City and fellow PorchFestKC performer. Her Austin-based band, The New Vanguard, filled the southern portion of the Valentine neighborhood with its blend of new age R&B and alternative rock.
“I love Kansas City. I think it is a real hidden gem,” said Segura-Rivera, who heard about the festival from a cousin who lives in Valentine. “I thought it was an excellent opportunity to get my band out here [from Austin].”
An added bonus: PorchFestKC provided a venue for one of Segura-Rivera’s Kansas City family members — who can’t travel because of a recent diagnosis — to hear The New Vanguard perform live for the first time, she said.
“It was so special,” Segura-Rivera said.
Click here to follow Camila Segura-Rivera on Instagram.
As The New Vanguard closed out the day at PorchFestKC, their music drifted to a crowd lined up outside the Uptown Theater for an unrelated concert by songwriter and rapper Ashnikko — drawing in waiting listeners who likely didn’t intend on joining in on the festival amid brisk fall temperatures and periods of light rain.
“I loved how many people there were,” Segura-Rivera said. “Despite the weather, Kansas City really showed up. It was nice meeting people in the neighborhood too. This event really allowed us to meet new people from near and far.”
Segura-Rivera — along with her Austin bandmates, Caleb Lemons and Lino Ward — grew up hearing music from performers like Paramore and Usher, she said, emphasizing their influence on The New Vanguard’s sound.
“As an artist I think what I care about most is just being an honest storyteller,” she said. “We are all artists just waiting to hear someone confirm what we feel but are too afraid to say. My hope is that our art allows people the freedom to feel those things.”
Golden expressed gratitude for the volunteers, vendors, and Roanoke and Valentine neighbors who helped make such moments possible Saturday.
“I would say ‘thank you’ to all who came out; to all who tipped generously, whatever that means for them individually; and to all the musicians who took a chance on an event that was new to them — and to those who have come back year-after-year because they share my enthusiasm for this simple, highly-choreographed bit of magic,” Golden said.
She also thanked the homeowners who welcomed strangers onto their properties, trusting that Golden would do her best to ensure they wouldn’t regret it.
“It’s a puzzle with a lot of players and pieces, and they’re all equally important,” she said. “I appreciate the vote of confidence from each.”
Check out a photo gallery from 2023’s PorchFestKC below.