Porchfest highlights music, dance in Powderhorn

17th Avenue was blocked off from 31st Street to 33rd for this year’s Powderhorn Porchfest in Minneapolis.

Joe Davis and the Poetic Diaspora warm up before performing at the Powderhorn PorchFest on Saturday, Sept. 23.

Ananya Mishra

Joe Davis and the Poetic Diaspora warm up before performing at the Powderhorn PorchFest on Saturday, Sept. 23.

Haley Bennett

With four stages strewn across two blocks and 18 acts slated to perform as the afternoon slid into evening, the Powderhorn Porchfest offered anyone walking on the street Saturday something to connect with.

Nicole Duxbury, one of the event’s organizers, said that was a priority from the start for the event. 

“I think it feels like a giant block party on steroids,” another organizer, Kelly Piatt, said.

Everything from Aztec dance to spoken word poetry was on deck. Minneapolis resident Jesus Portillo Martinez began dancing with the Kallpulli Ketzalcoatlicue Danzantes when he was a student at El Colegio High School in South Minneapolis. The Danzantes performed traditional Aztec dances in the street. 

The boulevards and sidewalks steadily lined with onlookers as the dancers moved from rhythm to rhythm.

On the northwest side of the festival, Joe Davis and the Poetic Diaspora band kicked off the music on a porch bound in Christmas lights. Half poetry and half groove, Davis encouraged the nervous Minnesotans to move toward the stage and pick up their feet a little. They resisted; it appeared that the row of short shrubs lining the front yard deterred them.

Vivid performances, open-minded curiosity about different traditions — these things characterized the Powderhorn Porchfest.

“People come up to me and say, ‘This is so different than I thought.’ I think people get the impression that it’ll be a lot of folky music or banjos, and it’s just not that,” Duxbury said. “We’ve tried to have it be built from the neighborhood.”

“And for the neighborhood,” Piatt said.

Between 1,500 and 2,000 people attend the Porchfest every year. There’s something about the focus on music that makes it a draw for people from all over Minneapolis — but what, exactly?

“The dancing, for sure,” Piatt said. “Also, for the Porchfest, people can stand around in the street, or go lay on blankets — it’s a natural, easy setting to have conversations in.”

“That’s the beauty of music,” Duxbury said. “Your job [as a spectator] is to dance if you want to, or to just sit for an entire hour and take in these sounds. You find yourself sitting next to people who live next door to you, who you may have never met — music lends itself to being in the same space with other people for longer periods of time than some [kinds of art] that require more constant engagement.”

This event shows Powderhorn in all of its warm openness as the foundation for a peaceful community. But surely this can’t be the way people live today — leaving their houses, enjoying the company of their neighbors, whose children’s and pets’ names they know. Can it?

“I don’t think [this sense of community] is common,” Duxbury said, “but I don’t think it’s hard.”