AJ Lee & Blue Summit.
Photo credit: Natia Cinco

NORTHAMPTON — Northampton’s Back Porch Festival is back this weekend with around 60 artists performing across three days and 10 venues in downtown Northampton.

The American roots festival, which started as a one-night show at the Academy of Music back in 2014, has experienced an “organic growth process” over the years, according to Jim Olsen, president of Signature Sounds, the producer of the show in conjunction with Northampton Arts Council.

According to Olsen, last year was the first year Signature Sounds tried a more expanded format for the Back Porch Festival.

“It’s all over downtown now,” Olsen said. “We tried the new format last year, and it was a big success, and we’re hoping it will be a big success this year, as well.”
Aside from the Academy of Music, this year’s festival will feature performances at the Parlor Room, Progression Brewery, both floors of Bishop’s Lounge, Memorial Hall, Hotel Northampton and many others.

When it came to booking the artists this year, Olsen said he wanted to have a good mixture of national touring acts and local acts. In total, he said about half of the 60 artists booked are local talent.

“We have so many great local artists around here,” Olsen said.

The festival also features performances from legendary acts during the evenings of March 16 and March 17 at the Academy of Music. A New Orleans legacy act known as the Preservation Hall Jazz Band is performing at the Academy on March 16 at 8 p.m. According to Olsen, the band is “keeping New Orleans jazz alive.”

The evening of March 17, meanwhile, will feature a performance from legendary British rocker Richard Thompson, who started in the 1960s with English folk rock band Fairport Convention.

Much like past festival years, this one will also have an “all-star tribute” event.

This year’s will feature a slew of artists paying tribute to Willie Nelson with a performance at 8 p.m. on March 15 at the academy.

Olsen said the tribute portion of the festival started back in 2017 as a club show at the Parlor Room. Since then, the festival has paid tribute to Doc Watson, Townes Van Zandt, Dolly Parton and John Prine.

When asked if there are any acts he is particularly excited for in this year’s festival, Olsen named Californian bands AJ Lee and Blue Summit, a country bluegrass band, and Las Cafeteras, political Latin band, as two of the many he is excited for.

He also mentioned Teresa Williams and Larry Campbell, the latter of whom spent years playing with Bob Dylan, and a blues artist from Minnesota named Charlie Parr, as other performances to look out for.

“I could go on and on, though,” Olsen said. “There are so many good ones to choose from.”

When asked about why he thinks the Back Porch Festival has been successful for so long, Olsen mentioned the great selection of artists and the affordability as major reasons.

“We try and make it a really tremendous bargain,” he said. “You can buy a Ramble Pass, which covers all of the shows except for the three evening headline shows. And right now it’s $40, and there’s something like 57 artists that you can see over the course of three days. It’s an incredible deal.”

Olsen noted how the festival is an important bright spot during a nebulous point of the year.

“I think people love [the festival] because it is different and it happens at a really slow time,” Olsen said. “People are waiting for spring to come around … people are antsy to do social things.”

Readers can visit backporchfest.com to learn more about the show schedule and also to buy a Ramble pass or tickets to individual shows. People can also visit the Academy of Music and Thornes Marketplace to buy tickets and Ramble Passes this weekend.

rfeyre@thereminder.com | + posts