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June 01, 2023

Porchfest musicians use Facebook to compete for West Philly performance spaces

The annual festival features hundreds of musical acts each year, leading bands to battle it out for slots on social media

Music Porchfest
porchfest valendina.jpeg @valendinaphilly/Facebook

Bands like Valendina, pictured above, seek slots for the West Philly Porchfest through a public Facebook group.

Karina Patricelli had been checking her Facebook post for weeks.

The vocalist and bassist for Valendina, a local four-piece pop punk band, was hoping to perform in West Philly Porchfest, the annual DIY music festival held on residents' porches and stoops in June. So she pitched her group through the festival's audition channel, which was not an official submission form or a stage, but Facebook.

PORCHFEST 2023: The free music festival takes to the makeshift stages of West Philly homes this weekend

On the public West Philly Porchfest Musician/Band Connector group, acts give a quick elevator pitch, drop a YouTube or Bandcamp link and wait for a homeowner host to message them with interest. Friends liked Patricelli's April 11 post and bumped it to the top of the feed by leaving comments. But no one had messaged her offering porch space.

"Honestly, it was like silent airwaves," she said. "There was nothing. It was more or less people liking the post, which I appreciate. But we just didn't get anything."

It wasn't until the following month when Patricelli finally got a message request, which she initially thought was spam, offering her a slot on 49th St. After sending a screenshot to her band members, they quickly accepted. Valendina will take the stage between 12 and 2 p.m. on Saturday, marking the band's first West Philly Porchfest appearance.

But not everyone is so lucky. Each year, bands from the wider Philly area — and even a few out-of-towners — post to the West Philly Porchfest Musician/Porch Connector group, sometimes as early as January, pleading for porch space in the beloved festival. Some get snatched up while others wait and wait, wondering if they'll be attending as a performer or a fan.

That's the way it was looking for Dan Parshall, who posted on May 13 asking for space for his solo acoustic act Calvaluna. Parshall says he had been feeling disconnected from the West Philly music scene, which he used to frequent roughly eight years ago, and wanted to jump back in. But rather than pitch his rock duo with Erica B., Candy Necklace, he strategized about the best way to attract interest on social media.

"A lot more people can accommodate acoustic acts because you don't need any extra equipment," he said. "So I was just going through the lowest hanging fruit there, casting a wide net for a porch."

He never heard anything. Ironically, a friend later offered Candy Necklace a slot alongside his band on Cedar Ave. 

Scrolling through the Facebook group, though, it's hard to suss out patterns. The bands featured in this year's Porchfest might have one member or five, cite influences like TV on the Radio or Miles Davis, play bluegrass instruments or simply sing French children's poetry. 

"I think a lot of it is just being in that network," Parshall said. "The DIY music scene kinda chews you up a little faster. Very few people who were doing it eight years ago are still running shows now. So I have much less of a network to tap there...I was understanding of why people would not necessarily take a chance on someone they've never heard of. "

Stephanie Cole's band PJ Brown & Her Resistance, which she describes as "if the Talking Heads and Funkadelic and maybe Nick Cave had a baby," certainly has Philly name recognition. Its members have played in locally famous bands for over a decade, including Northern Arms and Weird Hot, and its leader, Cobbs Creek native PJ Brown, is currently slated to perform in a Pride cabaret at Kimmel Cultural Campus  — which is why the group had to drop out of West Philly Porchfest.

Cole said she heard from a host "right away" when she posted to the Facebook group on May 16, even though PJ Brown & Her Resistance had never played the festival. (They played Collingswood's Porchfest, however, last summer.)

"I think sometimes maybe it has to do with the level of marketing that you have available," she said. "A lot of the groups I saw on there range from kind of novice groups that have just started in the last year to pretty established people."

But even for the acts still waiting on a Facebook reply — or musicians like Cole who had to cancel this year — the festival is a chance to check out friends or new favorites perform in the spring air. It's not lost on anyone how special the event is, especially given the tough first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, which canceled West Philly Porchfest for the first time in its seven-year history and stalled plans for many of the acts involved. 

Now, they're eager to keep rebuilding the music scene in West Philly and beyond.

"It's such a special place, the community element is so strong," Cole said. "It's like the way I feel about Philly in general, which is that it's kind of a scrappy place. But it's unlike how I feel in general about New York, (where) you can be two feet away from a famous person, or have a connection with somebody who could maybe be a vehicle to get you where you want to be, and you could still never make it. You know, I have friends in New York who work three jobs and they don't get to make their art being in the city. 

"Here, you have a wacky idea, and there's usually 10 people that will back you up."

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