A year prior to the Front Porch Stage’s introduction to the Roots and Blues Festival, I was riding on a golf cart through the festival grounds with Terry Robb. We were on our way to the main stage to announce the winners of the signed guitar giveaway and something caught my eye.
In fact, the more I looked around, the more I noticed there were lots of little clusters of folks all over the park playing acoustic instruments and singing songs together. It made sense. The festival has always had this unmistakable family atmosphere, and nothing brings people together like music. When it came time to plan for the following year’s festival, the Front Porch Stage concept was born.
The idea was to create an “open mic” format that brought people from all walks of life together to make music. Betsy Ferris loved the idea and within a few days she had located an old sorghum wagon somewhere in rural Missouri. Wayne Huebert and Lisa Bartlett collaborated on a design that gave it a kind of Juke Joint meets a Front Porch vibe, and away we went!
Full disclosure- I whole heartedly believed in the power of this idea, but I didn’t know if it would be well received by the attendees of the festival. After all, people paid good money to see great artists perform. I didn’t know if this would be a distraction or an invitation to the atonal cacophony that an open mic night can sometimes attract.
The first day of the festival I sat on the porch and played guitar through what felt like about 30 minutes of solo acoustic material. Out of the sea people appeared Keith Fletcher with a bunch of harmonicas and a 3 ring binder full of songs. In about 10 minutes, we had our first interested parties approach the stage. Here’s what we found out: not only are there lots of singers and musicians that attend this festival, but a bunch of them can really wail! Any trepidations about this idea were completely gone from that moment. People from all over the world made new acquaintances on that Front Porch Stage.
The audience that gathered on the hay bales placed around the Front Porch encouraged each performer the way that family and friends do. New friendships were formed, along with a new reason to come back to the festival next year. The Front Porch is a great addition to an already great festival, I look forward to meeting the people and the music that this year will bring.