"I don't play with these bars" (Credit: Shane Wynn)
PorchRokr Music & Arts Festival
PorchRokr is a yearly culture festival that is held in the Highland Square neighborhood in Akron, Ohio. Area residents offer up their lawns and porches as impromptu “venues,” allowing the best and brightest of the city to perform for the throngs in attendance. Equal parts social gathering and celebration of the arts, this sixth annual edition of the event featured over 130 musical acts and was expected to draw over 10,000 people.
Armed with only a Bic pen, reporter’s notebook and snarky attitude, I came to see if Akron was gonna bring the goods. (Spoiler: It did.)
"Strummin' & Sangin'"
2:24 pm – Location #33 – Southport Stage
Ryan Humbert is mid-set when I stumbled my way down to one of the more remote locations on the festival landscape. Dressed in a tan cowboy hat, aviator sunglasses, a turquoise & brown Western shirt and denim jeans, he and his acoustic guitar maneuver their way through an earnest set of songs about alimony, mistakes, long road and lost loves.
Accompanied by a second guitarist, the duo belt out a healthy dose of “country boy rock-n-roll” from the bed of an orange and violet Chevrolet “Classic” that bore the logo of local radio station 91.3 The Summit on it. The car is stationed on a noticeably graded and cracked black-topped parking lot.
“California to Ohio”
Humbert next plays the touching “California to Ohio.” In it, he tells the story of his now-deceased grandfather who, in February of 1953, hitchhiked from Camp Pendleton, CA to Hartville, OH to see his bride and newborn baby daughter.
As he breaks into “Cleaning House,” I realize that I needed some lunch. Fortunately, there was a food truck a mere 50-feet away.
2:45 pm – Location #33 – Southport Stage
Just to the right of the stage was The Manna Truck. After a quick perusal of the menu, I ordered a braised beef brisket sandwich. Drenched in melted cheese, chopped scallions and a cherry cola BBQ sauce, the sandwich was both decadent and satisfying. I’m excited to see what more executive chef Matt Barnes‘ devilish mind has to offer.
"Time To Smash"
(Side note: While researching this story, I discovered that The Manna Truck began as a collaboration “between a workforce re-entry program of Ohio’s largest homeless shelter and a church focused on seeing this region lifted through compassionate action.” So basically, it’s good food made by great people. Keep that in mind if you see them at an event you attend.)
I mosey back over to eat and catch the remainder of Humbert’s set. Partway through a cover of a Waylon Jennings song, I take off to find the next act on my itinerary.
3:05 pm – Location #7 – Paige Ave.
Playing on the front port of a blue vinyl-sided house, this four-piece band hailing from both Akron and Athens sashayed their way through an enveloping set of lo-fi indie rock.
The crowd was already sizable by the time I made my way to Paige Avenue, so I opted to sit on the curb across the street from the house to take in the music and scenery. On the sidewalk opposite me was a gentleman wearing shorts, a tie-dyed shirt, and a full-length brown faux fur coat. He was dancing despite the heat and considerable mugginess of the afternoon. Rock-n-roll.
Between numbers, the singer bounded down the stairs to—I believe—show some love to a grouchy, yipping dog in the yard.
Back on stage (porch), the singer made two jokes (one involving cocaine and the other misplaced, err, ejaculation). Truthfully, I normally avoid these squeaky clean, family-friendly, “minvan” type events because, well, they are boring. So, I really like that this band threw a little mud on the wall. Fuck it.
The crowd began to get thick at this point. My anxiety started to kick in. The one saving grace that carried me until the end of the band’s set? The amazing array of cool and interesting dogs that people brought to the show. It was awesome. There were lolling tongues, droopy ears, and bright, attentive eyes all around. If I could’ve teleported all the people off the street and sat with the dogs watching the band, it’d have been perfect.
By the end of their allotted time, Shuggie Shooter managed to uncoil a set of fuzzy, haunting indie rock that I thoroughly enjoyed. Something tells me I need to catch them at a traditional venue (bar or DIY spot) sooner than later.
3:42 pm – Borton Ave.
A cute girl wearing cut-off jean shorts and a t-shirt that reads “Support Southern Rock” is walking with her friend in front of me. Another guy is wearing a shirt emblazoned with the phrase “These Pretzels Are Making Me Thirsty,” which, if the Cleveland Awesome Trivia pub quiz (shout-out to the “Flying Monkeys”) has taught me anything, it’s that it is a quote from Seinfeld.
As I trudge along to my next destination, I notice a lot of bare midriffs on the ladies and an unexpectedly high number of unironically-worn kilts on the fellas.
I journey on.
"From Jersey to Macon to Akron" (Credit: Shane Wynn)
Floco Torres (Feat: DJ Shawty Slim)
3:59 pm – Location #2 – Will Christy Park
(At this point in the review I would like to pause to thank the good people of Donamarc Water Systems. They sponsored a “misting tent” at Will Christy Park. What’s a “misting tent,” you ask? It’s a motherfucking gift sent from heaven, that’s what. It is a covered structure with four open walls. When one steps inside, they are cascaded with cool, refreshing water. And it is awesome. Just ask the six 8-year-olds I was standing with inside it. Heat be damned. I’m ready for Floco.)
I sit on a patch of green grass in front of the stage. The warm August sun is shining down on my wet skin. It feels good. Chance the Rapper is playing over the PA.
After a just a minute or two, DJ Shawty Slim takes the stage where he sets up shop at the DJ station. He introduces Floco Torres to an enthusiastic crowd.
Dressed in a black t-shirt, khakis, and a pair of dope-ass checker board/pizza print Van’s sneakers (+5 pts. for tight shoe game), Torres bounds on stage.
“My name is Floco Torres. I am an Akron resident…”
He took a deep breath…and rocketed off into the sky.
Topics covered: love, sunshine, revitalization, confidence, spirit, energy, struggle, karma, swagger, the Internet, Michael Jordan, the Knight Foundation, the POTUS…
Torres: ” I don’t play with these bars!”
And he meant it.
Topics covered: Highland Square, Galaga, arthritis, validity, Facebook, dreaming, success, hunger, relationships, and breakups…
A group of little girls, no older than four or five, approached the stage and began to dance as Torres burned through tracks like the intoxicating “Nobody Knows,” “Voltron,” “Catch Me,” and “Dreamin’ Bout London.” The lovely and talented Shane Wynn was there to record it all with her camera.
He wrapped up with the soulful “You.” (Below is the video, shot entirely in Akron.)
Floco Torres is the real deal. He has smarts, charisma, and talent. He dips hip-hop into a pool of enthusiastic warmth that that transforms the stage into a pulpit of positive thoughts and inspiration.
4:42 pm – Will Christy Park
Looking for an available Port-a-Potty. These lines ain’t no joke, bruh.
Natalie Grace Martin
5:07 pm – Location # 5 – South Rose Blvd.
Clad in a floppy straw hat, a vintage Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles tank top, and a long, black floral print skirt, Natalie Grace Martin mesmerized an adoring audience from high-atop a shady porch. Mixing covers with selections from her brand new album She/Her/Hers, it was easy to get lost in the music during the lazy, late summer afternoon.
"A Lazy Saturday"
5:59 pm – Location #34 – Shady Park Stage
On my way to Everet Avenue, I overhear a student group from the Fairlawn & Hudson School of Music perform a surprisingly ace cover of “Helter Skelter” by The Beatles. (Sigh. If only I was blessed with even a smidgeon of musical acumen…)
6:03 pm – Water Station (Corner of Everett & Jefferson)
I enjoy a cold drink and chat with Dave Ignizio (owner of the impossibly cool Square Records) for a moment. He had worked at the shop until five and was now volunteering at the festival. (Pro Tip: If you love music even a little bit, ya owe it to yourself to check out Square Records.)
Red Rose Panic
6:11 pm – Location #20 – Jefferson Ave.
I run into Floco Torres on the sidewalk in front of the Roses’ location. Turns out that he is just as big a fan of them as I am.
The show starts with some slight tech issues that, once resolved, don’t pop up for the rest of their set.
If you haven’t seen them, Red Rose Panic is just a really cool group of talented guys. Their performance tonight fostered a vibe akin to a backyard family barbeque where everyone is chilling and enjoying the scene. At one point, emcee/vocalist Luminari XI called out all the band members’ parents and had them take a bow. During “Wonder Year,” an older gentleman to my left pulled out a tambourine and just started kicking it. It was awesome.
It’s been a long afternoon, so I decided to call it a day. (Plus, this guy comes strolling up at the end of the Roses’ set wearing a shoulder brace drum. He starts playing along with them. Unlike the guy with the tambourine, this was hella annoying.)
On my way out, I snagged an S’mores cupcake from a vendor at Shady Park. I was barely across the street before it and I became one for eternity. That was a well-spent $2.50.
This was a really fun day. It was thoughtfully booked and meticulously organized. The attendees, who are normally the ones who ruin events like this, were pleasantly chill. As I left, I noticed that many, many people actually bothered to use the trash and recycling receptacles, so the streets and neighborhood didn’t look like a dump at the end of the night.
The fact that this coordinated by an almost entirely volunteer staff is pretty amazing.
With the exception of Shuggie Shooter, I planned my day around bands of which I was previously familiar. I was almost guaranteed not to be disappointed. Next year, I’m going to play things a lot looser and check out some more obscure acts.
I highly recommend any of the performers I covered, but I’d also love to hear about any acts you saw or experiences you had at the event. Feel free to hit me up on Twitter or Facebook. Gimme a “Follow,” “Like,” or just say hey.
The One & Only,
More About PorchRkr Performers: