'Nobody's getting rich, but we're all richer for it'
The first PorchFest DSM festival happened in Union Park on Sept. 11, where 17 Iowa-based artists played free shows on residential porches. We asked one of the organizers, Anne Ducharme-Jones, to write about it.
Dave and I left Kansas City in 2019 after playing Porchfest in the historic Roanoke neighborhood and talked the whole drive home about how Des Moines would be the perfect place for their own PorchFest. A few beers into a discussion with Jack Daugherty, owner of Cap’t Roy’s and a resident of the Union Park neighborhood, we were committed to working together to make it a reality. Then the pandemic hit. Fast forward to April 2022 when Jack called to say he’d gotten a seed money grant from Polk County to help us get started, so a few of the neighbors and Dave and I met to make PorchFest DSM happen.
The whole concept of PorchFest is just so cool. It’s a grassroots movement that started 15 years ago in Ithaca, NY when a group of neighbors put 20 bands together to perform on porches. They have grown since then and featured 185 bands in 2016. So, following in their footsteps, we were able to convince 17 Union Park neighbors to offer up porch space and Dave and I asked our fellow musicians in town if they would be willing to play. We were uncertain anyone would show up, so we told everyone keep expectations low for the first year. But we kept thinking of the possibilities, like neighbors meeting neighbors, people with strollers full of kids, folks on bikes riding to different porch parties, or maybe some skate boarders cruising the tree-lined streets around Union Park.
All of that happened and more. The weather gods were with us and it was a magnificent fall day, blue skies, not too hot, not too cold. The hosts had their porches cleaned up and yards mowed ready for their musician to arrive. The Union Park planning committee was ready to roll with t-shirts designed by local artist Mollie Wallace and Mo’Rub provided lemonade and freshly made healthy wraps and snacks.
And the music flowed out onto the streets. The musicians all found their host porches performing on time to a few hundred listeners. Scott Eggleston’s blues licks howled from a porch on Thompson Avenue to a crowd spilling out onto the sidewalk and into the street. Mark Skahill, a local music connoisseur, came prepared pulling a wagon with lawn chairs, coolers, and miscellaneous supplies. Ryne Doughty’s host offered up a keg and cold beer to anyone who tipped the artist, and it looked like a he made a good day’s profit. Dave and I walked across the park and through the neighborhood to catch a few minutes of every performance logging close to seven miles and over 14,000 steps.
PorchFest has been a labor of love for Dave and I and for all of the volunteers that helped us pull together what we hope will be an annual event. We loved watching neighbors having fun with one another and kids excited about the day’s events. It’s so rewarding to be a part of something that puts smiles on so many faces. We decided not to perform this year with our band, Ducharme-Jones, because we wanted to focus our efforts on creating something that enhances our music community as a whole and to offer up these 17 stages to our fellow musicians here in town. There is so much talent here in central Iowa that we could fill many more porches in future years, so that is our focus now. We feel Des Moines has been so supportive of us and our music that we want to give something back. And we wanted to support all the other amazing talent this town offers. That said, we’re definitely hoping to bring our band to a porch next year!
Dave and I are also currently involved in Monday Night Live at xBK in the Drake neighborhood producing a weekly series featuring different Iowa songwriters, along with our dear friends, co- producers, and fellow musicians Scot Sutherland and Russ Tomlinson. MNL is also a community building experience. We work with a different artist every week getting to know some of their music, and then Dave, Scot, and Russ perform with them and let the magic happen when they get together on stage. It’s been a ton of fun, definitely requires some time and energy, but very rewarding. I think we all do it because it feeds our soul. The music world can be competitive with what feels like never enough resources, and this is just about producing something beautiful every Monday night that lifts everybody up. Nobody’s getting rich, but we’re all richer for it.