San Rafael’s PorchFest: Where Musicians and the Community Come Together
We speak to the event's founder Tom Obletz about the show coming up this Sunday.
PorchFest is a free one day event that showcases Marin’s musicians. Hosted in one of San Rafael’s oldest and most cherished neighborhoods, Gerstle Park, the event draws thousands of attendees and dozens of different musical acts who play throughout the neighborhood. People stroll from porch to porch, mingling with friends old and new. Attendees can fuel up and cool down with gourmet food trucks or bring a picnic lunch to enjoy while the kids play. A diverse set of artists will be playing the music, including folk, Americana, gospel, soul, virtuosic instrumentalists, gypsy jazz, blues, Latin, funk, family and teen bands.
Inspired by the Napa Porchfest, long-time San Rafael resident Tom Obletz pulled together a crew of like-minded individuals, including the Gerstle Park Neighborhood Association (GPNA), to launch the festival. San Rafael held its inaugural PorchFest in September 2018. Originally conceived in Ithaca, NY, in 2007 and now found across the nation, PorchFest is an all-volunteer, family-friendly, free event brings communities together to celebrate music and creativity.
I know you were inspired by Napa’s PorchFest – what did it entail to bring it to San Rafael? How did you settle upon Gerstle Park?
When I created San Rafael PorchFest in early 2018, I knew the event would be great on many levels: it brought together residents and business in the Gerstle Park Neighborhood with the common goal of successfully managing a free outdoor music event with many moving parts for the benefit of the community. PorchFest allowed many local musicians a unique venue in which to perform. I knew the event would be successful if we kept things simple and true to the original concept: create a free, community music event that’s family-oriented in our very special neighborhood. I wanted the event to be alcohol-free and last year I was very pleased that our attendees respected that request. Afterwards, there was not a used red plastic cup, beer bottle or can to be found in the PorchFest Zone.
I got the idea to start a San Rafael PorchFest in my neighborhood after my wife and I attended two Napa Porchfests. I saw only good in Napa’s event: the volunteer non-profit group attracted friendly and capable volunteers, created a safe Zone for attendees, had a low-key bicycle riding police presence and an overall creative vibe.
Near the end of Napa’s 2017 event I introduced myself to the Napa staff, event managers and the Police Sargent on duty and announced that I was stealing all of their great ideas and creating San Rafael PorchFest for the following September. They enthusiastically supported my plan and even attended the inaugural event.
My initial presentation to the Board of the Gerstle Park Neighborhood Association in January 2018 was met with enthusiastic support. I knew it would take a big crew to handle the wide variety of tasks and there was an immediate sharing of ideas, sources and contacts within the group. The overwhelming generosity and creativity of our Committee cannot be overstated. Members volunteered their time in areas of their expertise; more incredibly, people took on tasks with little experience but lots of enthusiasm and contributed to our success. We were a team with a mission: to successfully create, promote and produce a one-day free music event in our neighborhood where the porches of residents become the stages for volunteer musicians to perform.
In September of last year, the weather cooperated on a beautiful Northern California Sunday for the inaugural event. We erected temporary barricades to create a six-square block PorchFest Zone for bicyclists, walkers, joggers, and parents pushing baby strollers. Attendees were able to roam the car-free streets moving from porch to porch listening to music all afternoon. Food truck vendors were sold out by early afternoon. There were kids selling lemonade and brownies in their yards to enthusiastic music lovers.
How do you choose acts? And porches?
We used the internet and social media to contact our network of musicians and it didn’t take much convincing to attract people to play in a new and unique free community outdoor event. A husband and wife who have performed for years are on the committee and did the heavy lifting of booking the artists and selecting the porches for the performances. The performers were booked by late June and we continue to receive requests from interested artists.
What were some of the most important takeaways from last year’s inaugural event?
The sense of community and accomplishment that were the results of hard work by many volunteers is top of mind. The performers’ dedication to their artistry and willingness to play for free was overwhelming. By informing our neighbors in advance of the event, we were able to satisfy most concerns about traffic, noise and other concerns.
Who are some of the bands we can look forward to seeing this year?
One of the intentions of PorchFest is to provide an opportunity for local performers to play for free in a casual outdoor venue for friends and neighbors to enjoy.
San Rafael PorchFest will include performances including: Angeline Saris, Bryan Kehoe, Danny Click, Diego “El Twanguero” Garcia, Eric McFadden, James Nash, Jimmy Leslie, Josh Zee, Mark Karan, San Geronimo and Susan Zelinsky.
How does someone sign up if they’d like to volunteer?
Volunteers from throughout the community are welcome to assist San Rafael PorchFest to continue to be a wonderful free outdoor music event. There are many tasks to be accomplished and we welcome people to join us. Volunteer signup is at www.sanrafaelporchfest.com
Emilie Rohrbach has taught music and theatre to grades pre-school through 8th in San Francisco and Marin counties for the last twenty years. She has been a freelance writer for Divine Caroline for five years, and her writing has appeared in Narratively, Hippocampus, Common Ground, Travelers’ Tales, and Marin Magazine, among others. She is passionate about Room to Read, Shanti Bhavan, and Destiny Arts and serves on the board of Knighthorse Theatre Company.