On Nov. 4, the entire main drag of Adams Morgan’s 18th Street was blocked off to traffic, overflowing with people spilling from its bars and shops. Groups danced salsa and merengue while others enjoyed discounted empanadas and tacos. Little toy dogs with novelty leashes darted between people’s legs. Flannels and vintage fleeces were being sported in all directions. People carried packs of trendy ciders and filmed Boomerangs for their Instagram stories. They laid out in Kalorama Park enjoying the live music while their sweater-wearing dogs socialized.
This frenzied and joyful atmosphere was the Adams Morgan Porchfest, a biannual festival where over 70 musical acts perform around the neighborhood in front of restaurants, in the middle of parks, and as suggested by the name, on residents’ front porches.
Between Jazzfest, Oysterfest, Picklefest, and Oktoberfest at the Wharf, D.C. and its surrounding area is full of festivals—many of which cater to only a specific demographic of millennials—but the Adams Morgan Porchfest was a community celebration, enjoyable for all neighborhood residents. This festival unified the diverse community while celebrating the wealth of local musical talent.
Adams Morgan Porchfest showed such commitment to diversity through its efforts in showcasing varied genres and styles of acts. While some artists, like salsa singer Max Rosado, focused on energizing the crowd and bringing them to their feet, others, like Tessa Elaina, set a sentimental tone, belting out heart-filled ballads seeped with emotion. The Road Trip Poets maintained a low-key vibe, looking like they were just jamming with their friends on a pal’s front porch, while math rock band Right Chipper turned up the intensity. Performing high above the crowd on the top of a flight of stairs, their deep, distorted notes thundered throughout the neighborhood, making their presence known to all Porchfest-goers. With music styles ranging from jazz to reggae to Americana and even surf punk, there was truly something for everyone.
18th Street was not the only host of Porchfest. Wandering away from the sets on 18th Street into Adams Morgan, the crowds dispersed to the other 16 venues hosting musical acts. While on 18th Street the bands had set up in the middle of the street or on sidewalks, out in the neighborhood bands adjusted to their environment, creating a unique atmosphere at each performance.
On Columbia Road, bands performed on the steps of the Woodley Condominium, a beautiful performance backdrop with its ornate Beaux-Arts facade. Spectators watched from both sides of the busy thoroughfare. In Kalorama Park, spectators lounged out on picnic blankets, watching bands set up in its center while children played in the playground on the park’s periphery.
Finally, in accordance with the festival’s name, the majority of bands played on porches. Some houses featured bands performing up on terraced gardens, looking down at the crowd, while others had artists staged just feet away from the audience on small doorsteps. Mundane, everyday residences turned into places of spectacle, adding to the overall charm of the festival.
The scene was a great intermingling of the public and private spheres as people’s homes became places of public entertainment and strangers were invited to enter and experience people’s personal space. Many of the porches that were not filled with bands were also full of people, with residents hosting gatherings out on their porches to participate in the delightful energy. By allowing residents to volunteer their porches as stages, the festival feels AdMo to its core, with high levels of resident involvement and resident ownership over the festival.
In a city where most music venues cater to out-of-town touring bands, Porchfest gives a platform for smaller local artists, including one of DCist’s artists to watch in 2023 Ari Voxx. All of the performers were D.C. locals or from the greater DMV area, invoking a greater sense of pride and ownership for the local audience. D.C. has a long and rich musical history—the city gave rise to go-go and was highly influential in the creation of hardcore punk, both of which were on display at the festival. It was a celebration of Washingtonians by Washingtonians.
The most poignant part of the festival, however, was the way it brought together residents of all ages into intergenerational dialogue and dancing. These types of relationships that cross age gaps are quite rare but offer many learning opportunities. With different cultures, worldviews, and life experiences, the old and young do not seem to have much in common, but Porchfest was able to bring people together through a shared neighborhood identity and a love for music. The accessibility of free, public concerts and the variety of ways people could participate and spectate helped facilitate this unification.
Musical act participation boasted a wide variety of age groups too. On one side of the spectrum, ADMoJo featured septuagenarians and octogenarians performing Elvis and classic rock. On the other side of the spectrum, the three local high schoolers forming Plastic Toys kept up with their older peers with generations of experience. Festival participant Mary Ellen Slattery was amazed by this age diversity. Referencing the two bands, she said, “So we have that, and then we have this! And then there’s everything in between!”
ADMoJo in particular offered an infectious energy for its audience. The lead singer ran out into the crowd as he sang, encouraging people to get into the music and match his vibe. In the audience, younger people swayed in synchronicity with groups of friends while pairs of older people danced in partners, enjoying the music of their youth. Slattery and her husband broke into dance, moving and grooving with swing-like moves that looked like their second nature. Meanwhile, the bassist, dressed like a teenage skater in Converse and a graphic long sleeve, railed on his thick strings with an irresistible look of happiness that made it impossible not to smile with him. The scene was bursting with energy and warmth, producing a circle of intimacy and camaraderie among a crowd of strangers.
From toddlers in strollers to older residents in walkers, salsa dancers to punk rockers, and everyone in between, Porchfest was a lively and joy-filled event. As cars were finally released back onto 18th Street and guitars went back into their cases, the vibrant scenes of Porchfest no doubt lingered in the hearts and minds of neighborhood residents, serving as reminders of the value of local pride, the power of connection, and the fun of a good live performance.