May 11, 2017

Porchfest: Putting Ventnor on the Shore-Town Map

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A lot of shore towns have beach concerts, movies on the beach and bonfires. Street fairs are pretty common too. What’s more unusual? Finding dozens of homeowners willing to host parties, all on one day and on their porch. And making it happen. Ventnor’s Michael Einwechter is a glutton for punishment.

“I was born and raised here. When I was young there wasn’t really anything to do,” he said. “And I’m in a place now where I’m able to do it.” Einwechter is lounging, kind of, at his second business Ventnor Coffee. He’s periodically flicking through alerts popping up on his phone screen. He was late to the meeting because he was on a boat on the bay for a construction job – his main business.  As a few people come in to pick up a coffee, he says hi. He points to a guy working on a laptop in the corner – he’s the new sound guy for the Ventnor beach concerts. He refocuses.

“Porchfest? The idea was – well – the idea was to, one, get multiple bands over town,” he says. Two years ago Einwechter experienced a porchfest in Ithaca, New York, and decided to “pretty much” duplicate the model.

The second part of the idea was to get the people of Ventnor outside and meeting each other. “That was the whole idea. Our town is very diverse, very spread out, but by doing this it will bring everybody outside and hopefully engage the neighbors.”

It’s not an entirely risk-free concept, admits Einwechter, who has seen some events struggle and others succeed. (He’s also aware of the vagaries of the public. Over the winter, when Ventnor Coffee cut its live music program because there were fewer people in town and it was a lot of work to run, some people got the wrong idea. There was – mistaken – public outcry over the possibility of the coffee-shop fixture on Dorset Ave closing, even from those who rarely attended its events.)

Artwork promoting Ventnor events, by Michael Einwechter.

Porchfest has been set up, in consultation with the town’s Recreation board, so that Einwechter’s nonprofit Amazing Ventnor can keep the costs low. That means the action is mostly happening on private property and although the nonprofit is paying for insurance, it didn’t have to shell out for permits.

“Permits are expensive,” he says, explaining that Amazing Ventnor has to fund raise to hold its events. “Getting the fees to pay for a community event (is) hard.”

“Public safety is probably the number one worry over Porchfest and it’s just people walking around, biking around,” he says. “I  think we want to be a walk and bike community – this is going to embrace that, we don’t want people driving around everywhere.

“It’s going to be nice out – knock on wood – and we’re just hoping people, most people, stay in their own neighborhood,” he added. Next year the nonprofit might go for permits if it needs to, but for this year Einwechter’s plan is to keep the city’s police chief in the loop so everyone knows where the bands will be playing and where the vendors will be stationed.

The year-round Ventnor resident might be surprised to learn that half the Porchfest hosts are snowbirds or out-of-towners. Einwechter says that those people “jumped on” because many of them have seen something like Porchfest work elsewhere. Full-time residents were also enthusiastic and most of the porch-host slots have been filled. Einwechter is looking for some volunteers to serve as neighborhood captains and make sure bands are showing up per the timetable. Which sounds like a FedEx-scale logistics effort in itself, with about 90 musicians currently involved and 40 homes.

“People have been asking what can we do?” Einwechter says. Some of the hosts have said they will provide some snacks and beverages, and there will be some vendors (some vendor spots are still open – you can get involved as a vendor or volunteer here). Along with the usual arts and crafts, facepainting and local businesses, there will be a goat from the Angels in the Pines Goat Farm.

Porchfest will end and then kick off a beach concert at the bandstand on Newport Ave, where Einwechter plans to thank everyone involved. It seems like it’s a lot to organize. “I don’t know, I just wanted to make this year interesting,” Einwechter says. With his multiple businesses and his frequent Facebook posts, you’d think he’d consider himself an extrovert. “I’m so busy organizing I don’t really talk to anybody,” he says, explaining that this year his wife has been forcing him out to meet and talk to people. Einwechter is determined to play up sponsors this year, which means talking more in public, particularly at the beach concerts. It’s a personal challenge for him, he says.

“How many hours have I put in? I don’t know, I want to say- ” he trails off. “I’d have to ask my wife on that one. It’s a lot of hours.”

It’s not just Porchfest and the beach concerts. This year Einwechter also decided to put on three “Sunset Celebrations” on Ventnor’s Ski Beach, out on Dorset Ave at the bay. He’d dreamed of doing a food competition but had to let go of that idea, since the events are on Friday nights which wasn’t very chef-friendly.

He consoles himself. “There’s going to be a lot of food… It’s going to be great music, we’re going to have entertainers, belly dancers… Maybe have a stilt walker… My one thing was to have a tightrope walker – that was almost impossible to find. I might just have to put a tightrope off the stage and let me do it. I don’t know.”

Ventnor Porchfest is Sunday June 11.

The Sunset Celebrations are Friday June 16, July 14 and August 11.

The Ventnor beach concerts will run on Sundays at 6 pm from May 28, with one Saturday concert on August 26th.

There are also three more street fairs this year: 

June 14th – North Beach Victoria to Nashville along sidewalks on Ventnor Ave, Victoria to Weymouth on Atlantic Ave

August 16th – South Beach, Melbourne to Fredricksburg along sidewalks of Ventnor Ave

Sept 13th – Downtown Ventnor, Portland to New Haven along Ventnor Ave

More details on Amazing Ventnor’s events are on this website.

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  1. Pingback: Porchfest, PILOT Fight, Legal Bills – Friday’s Roundup | Route 40