In 2020, the North Heights Porchfest was coming off its busiest year in its short, three-year history in 2019, hosting 25 bands and dozens of food trucks and artisans in the neighborhood north of downtown Joplin and west of Main Street.
“I was a little nervous that we were going to have less participation,” said Stephen Grindle, president of the North Heights Neighborhood group and an organizer of the fifth annual North Heights Porchfest.
Grindle guessed that between 1,500 and 2,000 people wandered the quaint, narrow streets of this older Joplin neighborhood between the end of the showers that fell around set up time at noon and the end of the event at 7 p.m.
“We’re not as big as we were in 2019, we have 20 bands and we had 25 in 2019,” Grindle said. “So I think we’re on a comeback, this is a comeback year, and I’m very pleased with how many people are out and walking about. I’ve been to several bands, you can look down there and we’ve got probably 50 people at each venue, and that’s a good sign that you’ve got some good energy.”
The pandemic forced last year’s Porchfest into the virtual world and might had delayed its growth, but organizers said the event, held Saturday, recovered well with big crowds wandering the streets between Wall Avenue and Jackson Avenue on the east and west, and C Street and Glenview Place on the south and north.
Carolyn Smith and Rhonda Cotner, from the St. Louis area, came to Joplin to see the Grand Falls and stayed an extra day in Joplin to see Porchfest.
Smith said she was looking for things to see in Missouri and stumbled on an article about Grand Falls, then while looking for other things to do in Joplin, Cotner found a calendar of events, and noticed the North Heights Porchfest.
“It’s just fun to walk around to the different streets and listen to the different music,” Cotner said. “And truly, everyone has been so friendly. There are some really neat homes here too.” “It’s a beautiful day and you have a variety of music, the food, the snacks,” Smith added. “You need to try this. You need to come out and see what this is all about because it’s really a lot of fun. and they need to get the word out. I think if they got the word out more people would know about it and come. It’s a very relaxing event.”
While many of the bands at the event played traditional rock, jazz and other kinds of music, there was a selection of bands that showcased unique sounds. The Kufara Marimba Band played in front of the North Heights Neighborhood Life House, showcasing traditional African percussion instruments.
Maria Bailey, director of the band, grew up in Zimbabwe and her father made some of the instruments that the group played. “They are a marimba or xylophone, which means you’ve got a wooden key or note, which is suspended over a resonator,” Bailey said. “So the key itself is tuned to a certain pitch, just like a piano keyboard, then the resonators, which are traditionally made out of gourds, these are aluminum, they help to amplify the sound. In the resonator sits a little buzzer which makes the sound even louder and a little bit buzzy. There are four different sizes of instrument, bass, baritone, alto and soprano, and we play in the African way, we learn by listening to each other.”
“Porchfest is really fun,” Lewis said. “We’ve played both inside and outside and in the grass. To have people walk up and look at the surprise on their face because they’ve never seen anything or heard anything like this in this area is a joy to behold. They’re excited about the music, if they’re little kids they wind up dancing and jumping all around because they’re excited by the rhythms. It’s wonderful.” Linda Teeter, owner of a Joplin art gallery and an organizer of the First Thursday ArtWalk, talked about the importance of events like Porchfest in Joplin as she listened to Kufara play.
Rodney Lewis, Joplin, a member of the group for the past 10 years, said the group loves performing in and around Joplin and introducing people to an instrument they may never have heard before. Seven members of the band played on Saturday. They played a selection of music from Africa and around the world.