Porch Rokr: Neighborhood music festival in Akron, Ohio, attracts almost 10,000 people

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September 4, 2015 by Roger Durbin

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Even a brief bout of rain in the middle of the afternoon didn’t slow things down at this year’s Porch Rokr. The annual community music festival, which is sponsored by Knight Foundation, was held this past weekend on Aug. 29, drawing almost 10,000 people to Akron, Ohio’s Highland Square neighborhood, organizers said.

The day began with a lively opening ceremony at 10:15 a.m. as the Porch Rokr Guitar Orchestra performed for the early arrivals, and ended on the main stage on Merriman Road with headliners Wesley Bright & the Hi-Lites–a local band that’s been described as the latest “northern soul dance craze.” In between, there were performances by more than 100 musical groups, which played at 14-15 different venues per hour. The bands performed on porches, lawns and the plazas that are sprinkled throughout Highland Square. As soon as you got out of ear shot of one musical group, you could hear the strains of the next one along an adjacent avenue.

Headliners Wesley Bright & the Hi-Lites closing out Porch Rokr 2015. Video via YouTube.

In its first year, which I covered back in 2013, Porch Rokr was anchored in the vast neighborhood’s central business district and fanned out from there. In another year, it shifted to include the southwestern end. This year, the festival encompassed primarily the northeastern quadrant of Highland Square. Moving to different parts of Highland Square from year to year is a good idea, for it makes residents feel included and invested in the entire neighborhood. I overheard people say how much fun it is to walk through parts of the city that they’ve never seen. Highland Square is a very walkable neighborhood, yet some Akron residents still had not been through this particular section–until Porch Rokr.

This year, the main stage was situated across from a retirement facility, which had a porch jammed with residents wanting to be part of the fun. People who live in Highland Square often describe their area as “eclectic,” and the inclusiveness–and the sense of neighborhood–is apparent during events like this one. To wit, a group of runners doing a 20-mile training session for the Akron Marathon coursed through the central streets and around the southern edges of the festival borders, at some point during the event.

Rock/blues group Scarlet and the Harlots performing at Porch Rokr 2015. Photo by Roger Durbin.

The day was filled with much more than music. There was, for instance, a live comedy center at one venue, and artists displaying their creations on lawns and plazas along many of the streets. There were tours of the Perkins Stone Mansion and Mount Peace Cemetery (where Alcoholics Anonymous co-founder “Doctor Bob” Smith, is buried). Event organizers constructed a Kids Zone where youngsters could occupy themselves by making crafts all day long. There was even a Skateboard Park near one music venue that included ramps, rails and quarter pipes.

Neighborhood groups created stalls to make residents aware of their services and products, and workshops on subjects such as home composting, seed saving and establishing rain barrels were held near venue sites as well. (On a related note, government and civic groups that worked to minimize the festival’s environmental impact said that the event generated only eight bags of landfill-bound trash, with most of the waste being recycled or composted.) While participating in any of these activities, the sound of  musicians jamming in nearby yards was audible in the background.

A band entertains crowds in Highland Square at Porch Rokr 2015. Photo by Roger Durbin.

Rich Hoselton, who worked for the City of Akron Recreation Department to help promote the event and is, in fact, the person who came up with the name Porch Rokr during an organizational meeting for the first festival, called this iteration of the neighborhood music fest “amazing.”

The festival is “an incredible idea that is really impactful on many levels,” he said. “It’s a grassroots effort that engages the community and brings it together.”

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