In Superior, concerts are playing on a porch near you

Kicking off with Make Music Day, Porchfest offers a summer of free music

Janie and the Spokes take the concert series name literally in a previous performance at Superior Porchfest. Photo courtesy of Jane Aas

The summer solstice is approaching, and with it Make Music Day. It’s a celebration held in 120 countries around the world, including cities in Wisconsin, featuring free concerts in parks, plazas and other public spaces.

In Superior, the day also serves as the kick-off to Porchfest — the summer-long series that features performers playing on your neighbors’ front porches or your own.

Make Music Day is June 21. Porchfest continues every other Thursday through September beginning June 27. And it’s free.

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The concerts are a grassroots effort by neighbors, porch hosts, musicians and attendees to celebrate the city through music. Scott Lillo is one of the coordinators and two of the performers are Breanne Tepler of Breanne Marie and the Front Porch Sinners — which is quite a fitting name — and Jane Aas of Janie and the Spokes.

Lillo, Tepler and Aas spoke on “Morning Edition” about nonprofit work and creating community throughout the COVID-19 pandemic in recent years.

The following has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Robin Washington: Scott, I understand the impetus of Porchfest was an impromptu concert in an assisted living facility for the grandmother of one of your founders, Cheri Johnson Finkbeiner.

Scott Lillo: Correct. A local band, Similar Dogs, was supposed to perform in the assisted living community room, but Siggy, the grandmother, was too ill that day. And so Cheri was going to cancel the performance and Siggy said no. And Joe and Sarah from Similar Dogs played a private performance in her room. Sadly and shortly after that, she passed away.

RW: But she lives on in your nonprofit, Siggy’s Musical Garden. It’s become a thing since then and the concerts have migrated to front porches.

SL: That was the original goal, but not every porch works out, so sometimes it’s driveways and sometimes it’s yards. But Porchfest is a cooler buzzword, so we called it that.

RW: And how about in clubs?

SL: No, no clubs. That’s the beauty of it, that anybody can just literally walk out their door and just stumble into music. Because some people don’t want to go to clubs or be indoors, even. The whole idea is just to be outside for these events.

RW: And it’s all for a good cause? Your nonprofit is dedicated to doing good works.

SL: It’s a free program for anybody that wants to enjoy music. We also do an outreach program at assisted living places for people who can’t get out and enjoy music or it’s not accessible for them. But again, the neighborhood idea is just to go literally out your door and walk a block or two and listen to some music. Here we are going on our fourth year.

RW: Breanne, your group, the Front Porch Sinners, has been around I think before Porchfest. Any connection with the name? And are these the porches you were talking about?

Breanne Tepler: The name stems from my upbringing in the same neighborhood where Scott is from, where there are a lot of front porches, a lot of music going on, whether that’s a radio or instruments.

And the first year I saw this event promoted, I signed up right away. It was COVID and we ended up playing outside of an assisted living facility in Superior. And it was beautiful. It was such a great way to provide music for people who were unable to leave their rooms at the time.

RW: Jane, you play also throughout the Twin Ports. You’re playing at Porchfest on Aug. 22 in the village of Superior. What’s special for you about this concert series?

Jane Aas: The most amazing part to me is that the community comes together. People bring out their lawn chairs and their dogs and their kids. To be able to have someone invite our band and all the other bands up onto their porch and to their home, in their yards and their driveways, is super special.

We’ve played in Central Park and East End in previous years. Because it was COVID, it was just such a great way to have everybody be outside and still feel like there is some kind of normal. It’s just super fun to have everyone together and the communities come together and get to know each other better.

If you have an idea about something in northern Wisconsin you think we should talk about on “Morning Edition,” send it to us at northern@wpr.org

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