Piano player Don Ellsworth faced an interesting conundrum leading up to Ventnor City’s first-ever PorchFest: He doesn’t have a porch. But luckily his next door neighbor — PorchFest event coordinator Michael Einwechter — does. Einwechter, 37, was one of 40 Ventnor residents opening up their porches, lawns, and driveways to host an afternoon of music spanning across the city.
Einwechter, who also owns Ventnor Coffee, said this past Sunday’s cross-neighborhood musical festival was the product of months of planning and an immense team effort between members of Amazing Ventnor, the city’s primary tourism organization.
Get off My Lawn… or Not?
“We wanted to do something unique, something that would join the community together,” Einwechter said.
The goal was also to show what makes the seaside community stand out from other South Jersey shore towns. Einwechter said, “We don’t have all the amusement parks but we do have great neighborhoods.”
And why music? Because “Music is a universal language; everyone can enjoy it,” Einwechter said.
While the event was still in the early planning phase in January, ten musicians were signed up to perform. It then became 20, and as word spread, the tally quickly ballooned to 90 performers spanning a wide range of genres.
The festivities kicked off at 1:00 pm, the weather hot and sunny, with musicians playing sets simultaneously at different locations. Throughout the day, Ventnor-roving jitneys were on hand to transport spectators from porch to porch. The event culminated in a 6:00 pm headline show featuring Ventnor’s own Funk Daddy dance band at the Newport Avenue Beach Pavilion.
Ellsworth, the porch-deprived piano player and one of the first acts to go on, began his set with covers of Elton John, Jimmy Buffett and Billy Joel hits sitting atop a second story deck looking over a spread of hors d’oeuvres provided by the hosts.
A Community-Driven Event
Ellsworth was sold on the PorchFest concept from the get-go. As he told Einwechter, “As long as I have help with the equipment up the stairs, I’m yours.”
A year-round Ventnor resident, Ellsworth, 42, played “good time music” that was light on the “sappy slow stuff.”
One host, Gerry Lipski, 56, said he mostly comes to Ventnor on the weekends and noted that he and his spouse volunteered to open his driveway for PorchFest to help promote the city.
“It’s a great city to visit and when we heard about the festival we wanted to participate,” Lipski said.
A few streets down from Ellsworth, host Frank DeLuca welcomed guitarist Ari S. Gans to play at his gazebo, with a picturesque view of Ventnor’s shore homes and boats bobbing up and down in the adjoining inlet.
DeLuca, 71, and his family have been coming to Ventnor for over 60 years. He got into PorchFest, like Lipski, to help spread the word about Ventnor. “We jumped on it,” he said of the opportunity to host.
As PorchFest wound down, the sun slowly sunk into the horizon. However, it seems that Ventnor PorchFest’s main goal—to highlight its community—went off without a hitch.
Einwechter was quick to mention that the event wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the community.
“I want to thank all the PorchFest hosts for putting all the effort into making it unique,” he said.
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All Photos: © P.J. D’annunzio / Best of NJ