Over 3000 people piled in and around the porches and patios of the tight-knit Ashmont Adams neighborhood on a hot Saturday afternoon last June to sing along and dance to diverse musical acts in the inaugural DorchFest.
The second installment – set for this Sat., June 3 from noon to 5 p.m.— is expected to draw an even bigger crowd, with dozens of homeowners hosting bands and performers for the day. It will be held rain or shine.
The artists get an hour to perform on the family’s porches or in their yards. While other festivals like this exist in Somerville and Jamaica Plain, Dorchfest is unique in its ability to pay its performers this year while encouraging a greater sense of community.
Erin Caldwell, who led the charge to launch the Dorchester event last year, teamed up with friends and pitched the idea to their neighborhood association.
A scene from last year’s inaugural DorchFest event. Over 50 homes are participating in Saturday’s event. Photo courtesy Erin Caldwell
“I had moved from JP, which had a porch fest and I just kind of wanted to bring that kind of energy to this neighborhood,” said Caldwell, who is now the Dorchfest committee chair.
Last year, musicians were invited to complete an online form to be considered for participation, helping the all-volunteer organizing team to select a diverse set of musicians. Since the event was so successful, the committee did not have to seek out performers this year but instead received requests from many musicians.
“This year we actually never put out a formal call for applications. We invited everybody from last year and almost 100 percent of them came back,” Caldwell said. “Then we started thinking about what genres were missing last year and started reaching out to people.”
One of the returning artists is R&B musician Hakim Hakim. The Roxbury native applied online last year and hopes to be invited back annually. Like most musicians, Hakim Hakim said that he loves to be around other musicians who share his passion.
The audience, however, also plays a large role in the event. As diverse musical talents take the stage, an equally diverse audience enjoys the show.
“The event is definitely a reason for people to enjoy each other because when music plays and, people are just enjoying themselves, we forget the differences we have with each other as human beings,” said Hakim Hakim. “You notice the next person enjoying themselves as you’re enjoying yourself and you start to feel a sense of community.”
One of last year’s hosts and volunteers, Kera Washington, serves as a committee member. This year she will add the role of performer to her repertoire.
Washington is the founder and band leader of Zili Misik, an all-female group that performs an acoustic and electric fusion of roots music inspired by the African continent. The band calls their sound New World Soul and takes pride in bringing together a diverse group of women. Washington hopes their music can unite Dorchfest attendees as well.
“Dorchester is one of the most multicultural neighborhoods in Boston, but also pretty segregated,” said Washington. “Dorchester’s Porchfest should reflect the diversity of Dorchester.”
Like Washington, Deniz Ferendeci volunteered as a host last year and will be a returning host in June. Ferendeci moved from the South End to Dorchester four years ago. The community involvement he sees throughout Dorchfest is exactly what he hoped for when he moved to the suburban-like streets tucked within the city.
“My favorite memory was just looking at all the people, the blankets in our yard and people propped up against the fence and just seeing the smiles on people’s faces,” said Ferendeci.
Although hosting was an enjoyable experience, Ferendeci and his family hope to get the chance to appreciate the artists beyond their own yard. One artist they can hear is Jahriffe, a returning World Roots Reggae musician.
Jahriffe enjoys gigs like Dorchfest because they give him an opportunity to perform for a new audience and spread his message.
“My focus in music is to project positive music and to one day touch the hearts of all people of the world,” said Jahriffe. “The music is to make everybody feel good and make everybody feel inspired.”
At Dorchfest, Jahriffe and the other musicians can share their talents with people of all different identities. Unlike a normal gig, the artists have time to talk to their fans. This is something the jazz musician Frederick Woodard appreciates most about the event. These discussions are beneficial to both the musicians and attendants.
“Dorchfest creates some pride in the community and kind of makes the residents a little bit closer. Nowadays, people don’t know their neighborhoods,” said Woodard. “I think it’s just kind of a way of bringing the community together.”
Each artist works closely with Caldwell and her committee to ensure their second year is an even bigger success than the last. This year’s event includes Vietnamese traditional music, an Irish traditional band, and even a one-man band. As each year occurs, Caldwell and her team plan on further diversifying the talent.
“I hope that it continues to grow. I know that Erin has brought in more bands this year than last year, and I can’t wait to hear them,” said Washington. “I hope it Dorchfest continues to grow to other sections of Dorchester and I can’t wait to be able to move all over Dorchester and hear music happening all day long.”
For more about the festival’s venues and performance times, see dorchfest.com.