We asked our fabulous 2014 fellows to reflect on their experiences organizing special projects for MMNY 2014. Here is the third installment: Nicholas Horner’s reflection on organizing the first-ever Porch Stomp.
While I frequently reflect on my childhood as a self-loathing hick in the mountains of Central Pennsylvania, it still doesn’t make sense why it took me so long to fall in love with bluegrass music. Perhaps it was one too many awkward elementary school square-dances, or maybe it was the fact that I just didn’t look good in overalls. Either way, I’m still in awe that it took me until November 2012 to return to the music that played such an important role in shaping who I am. I can still remember guitarist Luke Chohany gifting me “Sleep With One Eye Open” by Chris Thile and Michael Daves and saying, “Man, just listen to it. It’s good. Really.” I haven’t put it down since.
That one record signaled my return to my musical roots and foreshadowed what would be a six month exploration into the world of folk, old-time and bluegrass music that ultimately yielded the first annual MMNY Porch Stomp.
Having just purchased a banjo and just finished my tenure at the Interlochen Center for the Arts, I packed up and moved to New York City in late 2013 intent on making the most of the city that rarely sleeps less than four to a room. After a few months of pawing around, I landed myself a gig with Make Music New York and found myself frequenting traditional folk performances around town.
Reader take note: New York has always been and continues to be a hub for folkies and folk revivalists. I remember reading Dave Van Ronk’s memoir reflecting on his time in the Village in the ’40s and ’50s and describing his cacophonous Sundays in Washington Square: blue-grassers here, old-timers there, sea chanters, folk songwriters and folk historians all sharing the same plot, all sharing the same lineage and respect for that which seemed to be the musical runoff of the melting pot of the American tradition.
I’d be lying if I said I had any clue about this scene when I first envisioned the Porch Stomp; in many ways, the process of creating this project was my way of getting to know the folk scene here in New York. Starting the first week of February, I was out four to five nights a week: frequenting jam sessions, concerts, and workshops (often until 2 or 3 in the morning) and absorbing this strange yet all too familiar sonic world. I’d meet the artists who’d introduce me to new friends and frequently point me toward another jam or gig that would ultimately fractal into a world of other artists, records, and tunes with countless variations that I simply had to check out. To me, it was almost completely virgin territory.
However, unlike the Washington Square of the 1950s, this folk scene was not the tight-knit web Van Ronk once described. Instead, threads were spread thin. While overlap exists within some tangential circles, there is a clear disconnect between many of New York’s American folkies. Certain hubs like The Jalopy Theater and School of Music do a great job at cultivating a scene of mutual respect for each of these traditions, but by and large these artists seemed to be performing on different stages in different parts of the city to an audience who (to my knowledge) had an appreciation for all sorts of folk music, most of which exist as dialects of the same musical language.
Upon seeing this in person, the opportunity became clear: create an event to bring together all of these talented musicians in hopes of celebrating our common heritage; a family reunion, if you will. First and foremost, Make Music New York is about community, and to me, there is no music more community-oriented than American folk music.
The next five months were to become a blur, and while it’s tough to ascertain how these experiences will affect me down the road, there are a few highlights that I’d like to mention. First, my involvement with the NYC Sacred Harp Singers not only yielded a unique understanding into the history of written music in America (especially as it intersects with the folk tradition) but opened me up to an incredible body of committed individuals creating music solely for the love of the art itself. Second, I am grateful for my experience learning new pieces at various jam sessions, in particular the Mona’s Jam on Avenue B, whose tight-knit body of musicians allowed for the session to explore an widely diverse pallet of material, and the Lowlands Jam in Gowanus which served as my re-introduction to old-time music and allowed me to develop an appreciation for the subtleties of its rich aural history. Third, I am deeply indebted to the various folk communities that have allowed me to Jane Goodall my way into their ranks both as a viewer and often as a musician in hopes of bettering my musical self and understanding their traditions. Places like the Jalopy Theater, The Cowgirl Seahorse (a newcomer to the folk scene which hosts an incredible community of artists), and Sheriff Bob’s Jam allowed me to fixture myself into the scene, opening me up to new music and a world of new experiences.
So, how did the Porch Stomp go? We ended up with 30 artists, a number of jam sessions and workshops, totaling 15 bluegrass, 5 old-time, and 10 folk performances on the green of Nolan Park. With beautiful weather to boot, it was a marvelous day of music-making. Furthermore, it was an true testament to the value of the folk community that so many came out to show support. We still have a long way to go before we reach ’50s Folk Revival status, but we can dream!
Our participating artists included:
The Alex Mallett Band
Ellery Marshall and Friends
The Bromley Mansionettes
The Crusty Gentlemen
Fiddlin’ Damian Boucher
5 Mile String Band
The Idiot Brigade
Kings County Ramblers
The New Students
NYC Sacred Harp Singers
Red Hook Irregulars
Sara Bouchard & the SALT PARADE
The Triple A String Band featuring Alan Friend, Amy Melson & Howard Weinberg
Union Street Preservation Society
I’d like to cordially thank a few people for their support: the MMNY crew (including volunteers Martie, Tricia and Stephanie), Lynda and Liz at Governors Island, Jack Klempay and WKCR for their help promoting and documenting the event, Larry Legend and Karen Brown for their insight, Michael Daves for his support (not only to the Porch Stomp but the NYC Folk Scene in general) as well as Feral Foster, Alex Kramer, Theo Boguszewski and Aldo Ceresa for curating stages and the rest of the musicians coming together for a wonderful day of music. Special thanks to Luke Chohany, Ryan Solomon, Robert and Krissy Bock, and Oriane Vittu de Kerraoul for their personal support. Thanks for an incredible journey!
Porch Stomp artists live in the WKCR Studios with Jack Klempay:
For more information about Porch Stomp during the year, and to listen to a field recording of the day, check out Porch Stomp on Facebook.
Until next summer!