Live from N.D.G. porches: Annual neighbourhood festival showcases local musicians

An eclectic lineup of 100 indie performers will have something for all musical tastes on Saturday and Sunday, with money raised going to non-profit N.D.G. organization Women on the Rise.

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Porchfest N.D.G. is in so many ways a perfect mirror of the place where it happens.

“N.D.G. is a very community-oriented neighbourhood,” said Porchfest co-founder and co-organizer Aurora Robinson, in a conversation in N.D.G. Park this week.

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“It has a lot of people who are proud to be NDGers living here. That’s part of what I think makes the festival successful. Because the musicians are like, ‘Yeah N.D.G.!’. They’re excited to play for their neighbourhood … N.D.G. is an underdog and people love it despite that or for that. It’s part of its charm … necessity is the mother of invention. You just have to think differently about it. We have these limitations and so how do we work around that? Well, Porchfest is one way to do that.”

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Sarah Ring, who co-founded and runs Porchfest with Robinson, chimes in: “There’s also the aspect of getting to know your neighbourhood better. Like the first year, you’d bike down streets you’d never biked down before. You enjoy the architecture, you enjoy the trees. It’s experiencing your neighbourhood in a different way that’s not like your usual five-minute radius. You’re going out and mingling with people you’re not used to seeing. It’s making a place more emotionally salient.”

When people think of indie music in Montreal, the first place they think of is the Plateau-Mont-Royal borough, and there’s no disputing it has more small music venues than probably anywhere else on the island. By way of contrast, Notre-Dame-de-Grâce has very few places for local musicians to showcase their talent.

There’s the little-bar-that-could, The Wheel Club, that has live music several nights a week, and Café Mariposa is now hosting its folk shows in the old Momesso’s location on Upper Lachine Rd. N.D.G. isn’t home to a booming music scene, but it is home to loads of musicians — and that’s what’s great about Porchfest N.D.G. It gives the musicians a place to play. Well to be more exact, it gives them a porch to play on.

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And what’s so N.D.G. about the unique festival — which runs Saturday and Sunday — is the fact it’s a very low-key community event. There’s no big money financing it, no corporate sponsors, no tickets to buy. Instead, you just walk from house to house checking out folks playing on their porches or front lawns.

Robinson and Ring founded Porchfest N.D.G. in 2015. Robinson, a former N.D.G. resident, had been living in the Boston area for a few years and stumbled across a Porchfest in Somerville just north of Boston. She thought it would be perfect for N.D.G., and Ring agreed.

“(The Somerville Porchfest) was fun,” said Robinson, who is a manager at Encore Books and Records in N.D.G. “They have a lot of what they call triple-deckers (triplexes) with front porches and trees. Little cute side streets. A lot of musicians in that area, too.”

She felt bringing Porchfest to N.D.G. “was just a good way to reconnect back with the neighbourhood.”

The first year in 2015, they had 70 groups, all in one day.

“We really didn’t know what we were doing,” said Ring, who was sitting with her friend Robinson on a park bench right in the middle of the park.

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“We didn’t know if anyone would show up,” Robinson added. “We had no clue.”

Said Ring: “It was a steep learning curve. Trial by error.”

But it turned out N.D.G. was very ready for Porchfest, and the first edition was a big success.

The other neat twist to Porchfest is it’s not curated. Anyone can apply and as long as you have a porch or a yard to play on, you’re in.

“It’s very inclusive,” Robinson said. “There’s all these different genres of music. It’s not just for punks or just for Gen-Z kids. Or for boomers. It’s really for everyone.”

This weekend, the eclectic lineup features about 100 artists, including, blues/soul singer Eleuthera (noon Saturday, 2323 Grand Blvd.); country folk singer Sarah Segal-Lazar (1 p.m. Saturday, 2218 Old Orchard); punchy power quartet Middle of Three (2 p.m. Saturday, 4470 Wilson); 14-year-old musicians Mila and Emilie (11 a.m. Sunday, 2332 Hampton); prolific piano composer Mark Pinkus (noon Sunday, 4355 Melrose); and Yacht rock outfit The Other Side of Cool (4 p.m. Sunday, outside Espace Knox at 6215 Godfrey).

And this is a real indie fest. They have virtually no public money. The borough gives the event a few hundred bucks at best.

“We don’t need more money and we don’t want it,” Ring said.

They like having no strings attached and no one telling them what to do. Similarly, there are no sponsors. Instead, they raise money each year for a non-profit organization. This year that organization is Women on the Rise, an N.D.G.-based non-profit that helps women and their families.

But the main focus is creating a neighbourhood event to showcase N.D.G. musicians.

“There’s a soif (thirst), people want more than is currently being offered in the neighbourhood,” Ring said. “And we’re just tapping into the talent that lives here.”

For more information, visit the web site: porchfestndg.com

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