For the third time in three years, a Joplin neighborhood transformed its Saturday evening into a lively musical festival.
Jim and Michelle Heaney couldn’t have been happier with that. The two were leaning against a stone wall, swaying to the exotic, Zimbabwe-inspired music from Kufara: African Marimba Band, which featured rather exotic and nontraditional instruments, such as the hosho, a gourd rattle, and the ngoma, a drum.
“This is just a wonderful thing to have for this community,” Michelle Heaney said during a lull in the music. It’s “awesome that people open up their porches to have this music.”
Kufara, playing from the front yard of a house on Wall Avenue, was one of eight musical acts — 24 in total — playing live during the first of the three-hour Porchfest, a community gathering in the North Heights neighborhood.
“We’re just trying to create a sense of community,” said Zach Speiring, head Porchfest event coordinator. “We want to get people out of their homes and meet each other.”
That was the case even before the music started at 4 p.m. as families, children and lots of leashed dogs moved and up and down Pearl, Byers, Wall and Moffet avenues — between B and F streets — in groups. They would pause for about 10 minutes at one front porch, listen to the music, before moving on to the next live act.
There was a diversity of musical genres — while the Jason Kinney Band jammed at the corner of B Street and Pearl Avenue, over at E Street and Wall Avenue, Wilkie Jay played popular covers, including Elvis Presley's “Burning Love.” Between the two, the Joplin High School’s Strolling Strings — well, “standing strings” as described by group leader Kylee VanHorn — played to a large crowd from a porch located at C Street and Byers Avenue. The students brought smiles to faces as they played “Dance of the Maidens” from Alexander Borodin’s opera, “Prince Igor.”
“Yes, playing outdoors is not very popular for string instruments, unless it’s for weddings, but you’re never going to hear this type of music outside … in a chill environment like this,” said VanHorn, noting that only the Joplin School District, Thomas Jefferson Independent Day School and the Neosho School District have active string quartets. “This is a completely different feel for us.”
Mark Garnett was one of the many homeowners who volunteered to open up a front porch for the event.
“It’s always meant a lot to me, this neighborhood, to see stuff like this happen — lots of community and activity. It’s always been a cool thing,” said Garnett, who missed out on last year’s Porchfest. “I love it and support it and this was a chance to do (something positive) in a real tangible way.”
Participating bands included Dance Monkey Dance, Scale House, Ukin’ Noodles, Blister Soul, Chase Carlisle & the VA, Chased by Lions, Alyssa Galvan, Higher Ed, Johnny Wood, Stamper Brown & Watson, The Webster, Catalyst, Dillon Leggett, Gutter Divas, Jeremiah Jones & the Riverband, The Justin Lee Project with Mike Palmer, Sea Hollies, Team First Grade and Halfway to Yellow. There were also 13 artists with booths and 11 food trucks.
“It’s fantastic,” said Doug Humphrey, who stepped out of his home's front door to listen to the Jason Kinney Band playing across the street. Noted Cassie Foley: “It’s really good to have something like this happening here.”
Both Humphrey and Foley intended to stroll throughout the various neighborhoods, to sample all of the live acts as well as food from the assembled food trucks.
But not Joplin’s Steve Austin. He and a friend had set up shop with comfortable chairs to listen to the Caleb Miller Solo Project. They were perfectly happy to stay and listen, and not migrate to other addresses on nearby streets. Still, he appreciated what was happening around them.
“I think it’s a (very) good thing,” he said.