When live music is enjoyed under the shade of changing silver maples, in one of Boulder’s most picturesque neighborhoods, it just sounds better.
The right setting mixed with the right lineup makes for a memorable and intimate experience that differs from a typical open mic or concert-hall gig.
Mapleton Hill PorchFest — a free festival where artists jam in lush yards and on spacious porches of historic homes — is celebrating its milestone 10th year on Sept. 18.
“We have more bands than ever before — 26 and counting,” said Kathy Spear, a member of the founding committee. “About half are new to PorchFest, and the others are tried-and-true favorites.”
Rather than drive, PorchFesters are encouraged to stroll or bike to over 25 venues. Pets are also welcome to join.
Porches are located east-west between 9th and 4th streets and north-south between Concord and Spruce streets. The first set of shows will run from 1-2:30 p.m., followed by a short 15-minute break before a second set with new artists performing from 2:45-4:15 p.m.
Spear estimates that last year’s PorchFest welcomed approximately 1,400 attendees — a record number, considering it was the first one back since the pandemic.
“It was incredible to see such energy and community support,” Spear said. “We had immediate interest from porch hosts and bands this year and hope to have an even better turnout.”
This year’s event has over a dozen sponsors and will be broadcasted by KGNU, Boulder’s community radio station, at 88.5 FM and 1390 AM.
From full-fledged bluegrass string bands to solo folk singers, the array of acts strumming acoustics and pickin’ mandolins is sure to exceed expectations.
“This will be my first time playing at PorchFest, so I’m just excited to be a part of it this year,” said singer-songwriter Abby Brown. “I’ve gone a few times over the years and love the concept and the community it brings together.”
Brown — despite having been born prematurely with congenital hearing loss — took to music early on and could be found lighting up stages at age 7 in her hometown of Cohasset, Mass.
She later formed the Americana band Flatiron Junction with two of her sisters, Audrey and Sarah Brown, and the young trio dazzled Colorado audiences with Alison Krauss-inspired tunes.
During the group’s run, Flatiron Junction performed the national anthem at Boston’s legendary Fenway Park and at Coors Field for the Colorado Rockies.
Now, Brown has embraced a more pop sound. Her tracks — rich with sultry vocals — seem almost built for radio airplay, yet still hold that authenticity and originality found in her earlier work.
“‘Wasted on You’ was inspired by a nearly eight-year relationship ending,” Brown said. “After looking back, I realized I was intoxicated by that person — trying to love and be loved by them.”
Heartfelt and at times vulnerable, Brown’s fresh lyrics are further complemented by catchy musicianship and her stellar voice.
“You could say this is a departure from the original sound when my sisters and I played together,” Brown said. “I love pop music, but I still love the country music that inspired us.”
Regardless of different genres inspiring Brown, her determination to share her craft with others remains unwavering.
“I had an opportunity to work with an L.A. producer and branch into a more pop-country sound on this single, so I decided to explore it,” Brown said. “I think, as an artist, it’s always important to keep experimenting and expanding your sound. I plan on continuing to do so.”
A few years ago Brown’s sound caught the attention of industry folks at Pure Music Nashville, and she was signed to the label for a spell.
“Back in 2018, it was surreal to get signed to a label and release two EPs with them,” Brown said. “I considered moving to Nashville a few years later, and then the pandemic hit and I was grateful to be in Colorado. Nashville was hit hard at first, due to the number of people in the city who make a living playing live music.”
For now, Brown has no plans to move to another city. She is thankful to Boulder’s creative community for shaping who she is as an artist.
“Boulder’s music scene is great because it’s tight-knit and the venues are intimate, which is exactly the kind of place I like to play in,” Brown said. “I especially love the Root Music Project. They started doing a Nashville-inspired writers-round series in the spring, where four writers sit in the middle of the room and rotate original songs. I can’t wait to be able to do that again.”
A fan of Emmylou Harris, Kacey Musgraves, Stevie Nicks, Maren Morris and Bonnie Raitt, Brown also offers some stirring covers of her predecessors.
Inspired to write more, she is enthused about getting back in the studio and laying down new original tracks.
“You can expect me to be making and releasing more music,” Brown said. “I have a lot that I want to record right now, and as an independent artist that can be challenging, but I’m determined to release new music in 2023.”
From newbies to returning acts, PorchFest continues to create a platform for a cross-section of the Front Range’s most talented troubadours.
“This is my fourth year doing PorchFest, I wanna say,” said musician Derek Dames Ohl. “My favorite part is walking around and hearing all the amazing acts. There’s always two sets, so it’s easy to get around on your off-set and hear some great folks and meet new friends.”
Ohl has attracted a fanbase with his cosmic-country songs that poke fun at the silliness of falling in love (“If Love Stinks”) and fill hearts with the warmth of the holiday season (“Blue Skies and It’s Christmas Time”).
For his PorchFest set — at 1 p.m. at 510 Maxwell Ave., Boulder — Ohl is excited to explore his own repertoire and also pay homage to a late songwriter who influenced many.
“(Attendees) can definitely expect to hear a handful of new originals as well as covers,” Ohl said. “I always try to lean into the music of John Prine at Porchfest, it just lends to the setting so well. Oh and I take requests.”
Performing among eye-catching Queen Anne Victorian estates, framed by amber foliage, is a surreal and satisfying experience for Ohl and for other acts on the bill.
“Fall is my favorite time of year, and Mapleton Hill is one of the best places in the world to experience it. Also, it’s one of the last locally made festivals that cater to musicians and our community. Boulder’s live music scene has been hurting for a long while, and Porchfest is like a beacon of hope for someone who grew up playing in the Boulder scene.”
What started as a modest neighborhood gathering in 2012, with 15 bands and a few hundred spectators, has evolved into one of the area’s most beloved and well-attended offerings.
Restrooms will be available to attendees. Concessions will be sold by three returning food trucks including Los Dos Bros, Passport and Sweet Cow.
Spear wants to keep PorchFest thriving for another decade and is open to the possibility of more music lovers offering insight and help for the next year’s installment.
“The organizing committee would welcome some new blood to ensure the longevity this wonderful event deserves,” Spear said.