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‘A beautiful communal thing,’ Porch Fest’s return enjoyed by audiences, musicians

Music echoed throughout some Homewood and Flossmoor neighborhoods Saturday during the second annual Porch Fest, where local musicians performed on the porches of seven Homewood families while audience members gathered on their lawns and sidewalks on a sunny 90-degree day.  

After each hour-long performance, audience members would travel to one of the seven houses to watch one of 14 bands play. Many residents walked to each location, which were sprinkled throughout neighborhoods off of Dixie Highway in Homewood and Flossmoor. Others rode their bikes or took their cars to each destination. 

Mike Dabrowski was one of the onlookers at 802 Latimer Lane in Flossmoor, where the band Orange performed around noon. Dabrowski and other audience members stood on a sidewalk across the street from the house, watching the performance from the shade. He drove from Joliet to attend the event after a coworker from the band invited him. He said the event is a “fantastic” idea in more ways than one. 

“(I think events like this) encourage neighbors to get together and bring people from outside the community as well,” he said, noting they encourage people like him to support local businesses. “I’ll probably grab something to eat afterward.” 

Plus, “there’s something about live music that you just can’t get from a recording,” he added. 

Flossmoor Trustee Gary Daggett, owner of the home, said he and his wife volunteered because they heard about last year’s event and “thought it was a really cool idea.” 

“For me to have a band come and play some live music, especially right now with COVID and not having a lot of opportunities, I think it’s cool,” he said. “Plus it’s a neighbor thing. A bunch of my neighbors came out and said ‘Hey, what’s going on,’ so it’s cool to go over with them and reconnect. The neighborhood feel of it is also pretty great.”

Meanwhile, the James Vitale band played a few blocks away at 2052 Vardon Lane. Homeowner Amy Stockwell agrees with Daggett, noting the event served as an opportunity for the community to come together. 

“It (also) just gives the bands an opportunity to play,” she added. 

As Stockwell and her neighbors watched from their lawn chairs, Jamey Vitale and his band performed. Vitale said this performance was one of the first he’s had in years. 

“I worked for a cleaning company through the pandemic and I got fed up and decided to start playing music again,” he said, noting his current band has only been together for six weeks. 

Though the pandemic has adversely impacted many musicians, that hasn’t been the case for him, he said. 

“For me, it brought me out of my funk and it got me back into doing music again, which was my life’s dream,” he said. “Music is like the lifeblood of this world for a lot of people. Music gets you through. If you didn’t have music to get you through, like with some of the livestream (performances) some people have been doing (during the pandemic), people would have gone crazy.”

Vitale wasn’t the only musician who got inspired to perform and make music during the pandemic. That’s also the case for Matthias Gill, a local lawyer who performed from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. at 18522 Dixie Highway in Homewood. That performance was his first.

“I played violin when I was a kid and just started to pick up guitar, so I just gave it a go,” he said. 

To him,  the past year has proved “that we need more human-to-human contact and the pandemic has made that hard,” he said, outlining why the event is so important. 

Dolph Chaney, who performed at the same address after Gill, said the event is “such a beautiful communal thing.” 

Chaney hopes it’s a sign that “we’re turning the corner and we get to do more things like this in the future.”

The event got its start last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic for locals to have an opportunity to hear live music after time spent social distancing. 

That context is what made last year’s event so special, said Ann Bailey, one of the events organizers along with Annie Lawrence. 

“People were trapped in their houses for six months and it was the first time people had the opportunity to hear live music in a while. That just made it a more sought after event,” she explained. Nonetheless her favorite part about this year’s event is that people got a chance to enjoy music. It reminds her of her dad, who the event is dedicated to. 

“He would have enjoyed it, so if other music lovers enjoyed it, it was a success,” she said.  

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