Porchfest spills onto Main Street

Ryan Pivoney/News Tribune photo: Kaylin Brothers, 8, draws a face on a purple dot at the Capital Arts booth Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023, during Porchfest in the Forest Hill neighborhood. The display created a collection of faces meant to represent the different people within the Jefferson City community.

Porchfest, Jefferson City's fall arts festival hosted on the front porches of homes in the Forest Hill neighborhood, was larger than ever in its fifth year.

And the familiar block party atmosphere remained a major draw, attendees and performers said.

"What struck me is this audience that we have at Porchfest. It's a very friendly and a very kind audience," said performer Tom Steever, a retired broadcaster who described his five-person band as "just some guys who jam on Monday nights."

"It was a very nice, close and intimate type of crowd," Steever said, adding, "it was a pleasure to play."

Steever's group was one of about 50 musicians and visual artists spread out Sunday across the front yards of 15 Forest Hill Avenue homes. Another dozen performers spilled out onto West Main Street. Performances ran the gamut, from traditional Irish music to acoustic country solos.

The Jefferson City Symphony Orchestra joined for the first time and performed outside West Elementary School. Local authors and magicians were also on site to entertain the crowds. And the MO Blues Association held its annual Blues in the Park fundraiser at nearby Memorial Park.

Leann Porrello, cultural arts specialist for Jefferson City Parks and Recreation, said the Forest Hill neighborhood has hosted the festival every fall since it began in 2018. Now in its fifth year, she said organizers knew they had to step it up.

In addition to expanding the footprint down West Main Street, Porrello said they invited a greater variety of artists from throughout Mid-Missouri and more businesses signed up to be vendors than ever before.

"It's been growing so nice and organically," she said. "What we love about this area in particular is that as we've grown, all of the businesses and surrounding communities have really accepted it."

The festival averages an estimated 5,000 people over the course of three hours, Porrello said.

Janis Duryea of Fulton saw the event advertised on Facebook and brought a friend from out of town.

"I just love arts and crafts and music and people, and I wanted to get to know more about our area," Duryea said. "I've got to say -- I was not expecting a symphony orchestra."

Duryea said the JC Symphony Orchestra was performing "Over the Rainbow" when she arrived and it was "the most beautiful, tear-rendering rendition" she's heard in years.

"It brings chills, just listening to them," added JoDee Lantz, Duryea's friend from Fort Worth, Texas.

"We've got to support them and we've got to support Porchfest and these kinds of things because we're losing humanity," Duryea said. "These are the things that bring us together."

Under the shade on Forest Hill Avenue, Beyla Burnett, 8, and her younger sister Brinley, 5, drew faces on a large display with their friend, Kaylin Brothers, 8.

Capital Arts brought the display for children to color, executive director Sarah Scheffer said. What began as a series of blank dots became a colorful collection of faces.

"It's a little community collaboration that's kind of symbolic of all the different faces that you'd find in the community," Scheffer said.

Amber Burnett, Beyla and Brinley's mother, said it was their first time attending Porchfest. She said it was great seeing the community's artists come together to make music.

Debra Brothers, Kaylin's mother, said they attended the festival last year when a family friend performed. They returned this year to hear other performers.

"I would not have come last year if it wasn't for her," Brothers said. "But I really liked it, so that's why we came back this year."

Porrello said the festival has grown in large part thanks to home advocates -- homeowners in the Forest Hill neighborhood who sit on the organizing committee. They help get neighbors on board and plan logistics.

"Really, with the homeowners and the artists, we could pull this off," Porrello said. "But the growth, that's because people care and people have really started investing into it."

Performer Gus Siebert proposed to his girlfriend, Macey, after finishing his set on the front lawn of 115 Forest Hill Ave. Sunday marked Siebert's third Porchfest performance and the third year with his significant other, he said.

"It had to go down and I couldn't think of a better way," he told a News Tribune reporter after getting engaged. "Her birthday is tomorrow."

"We've got that rock and roll spirit and this is the one event I do," he continued. "I don't really play music out and about -- I go do a little bit of stuff, but this has been my event that I really enjoy."

Kelli Stiles, the homeowner, said the proposal was awesome. She said she likes meeting all the new people Porchfest brings to her neighborhood.

If the couple wants to return for an outdoor wedding, "that'd be great," Stiles said.

Related video:

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See also:

Blues in the Park brings fans to their feet

  photo  Ryan Pivoney/News Tribune photo: Live Steam performs on the front steps of 133 Forest Hill Ave. during Sunday's Porchfest. The community arts festival was hosted on the front porches of more than a dozen homes in and around the Forest Hill neighborhood.
  photo  Ryan Pivoney/News Tribune photo: Magician Gerry Tritz balances a knife on his chin for a crowd of shocked children during Porchfest Sunday in the Forest Hill neighborhood.
  photo  Ryan Pivoney/News Tribune photo: The Jefferson City Symphony Orchestra performs a piece from "The Music Man" on Sunday outside West Elementary School. Sunday marked the first time the orchestra performed for Porchfest.
  photo  Ryan Pivoney/News Tribune photo: Musician Gus Siebert proposes to his girlfriend, Macey, Sunday after finishing his Porchfest performance outside 115 Forest Hill Ave. Siebert said Porchfest is his favorite gig to perform at and the moment was right.
  photo  Ryan Pivoney/News Tribune photo: Author Michelle Brooks talks about her latest book during Sunday's Porchfest in the Forest Hill neighborhood. This year marked the first time the festival welcomed authors.