Back Porch Festival in Northampton set for big expansion in 2023

  • Country star Rosanne Cash is one of numerous artists who have performed at the Back Porch Festival in Northampton, which will expand significantly in March 2023. Photo by Georgia Rae Teensma/Signature Sounds website

  • Signature Sounds’ Back Porch Festival, which will expand significantly in Mrach 2023, has featured a wide range of rootsy artists such as acclaimed bluegrass guitarist Molly Tuttle and her ensemble.  Photo from Signature Sounds website

Staff Writer
Published: 10/31/2022 2:11:58 PM
Modified: 10/31/2022 2:11:38 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The Back Porch Festival, Signature Sounds’ late-winter showcase for American roots music, is poised to return in 2023 — in a much bigger format.

Incorporating elements of First Night Northampton, the Back Porch Festival will expand to eight different venues in downtown Northampton, with perhaps 30 different bands and artists playing multiple shows March 3-5.

To plan and produce the event, Signature Sounds has joined forces with the Northampton Arts Council, the producers of First Night Northampton. Jim Olsen, Signature’s president, said he’s been talking to the Arts Council for the last few years about expanding the Back Porch footprint “and this seemed like a good time to do it.”

“We want to make this more like a real festival, where you have multiple options each day for hearing different bands and artists and you can buy one ticket that will cover all of that,” Olsen said. “We think it’s going to make for a really fun weekend.”

And, he added, “Being able to collaborate with the Arts Council has been really good. It makes the planning that much smoother.”

Performers have not been announced yet, but Olsen said he anticipates having “25 to 30” artists at the festival, some of whom will stage multiple shows, as performers often do on First Night. Local and regional artists will also be part of the mix, Olsen added.

In the past, the festival has typically featured somewhere between about three and six bands/artists, with some additional events such as drop-in performances at The Parlor Room. The event began in 2014 as a one-day affair at the Academy of Music and then expanded to different venues and multiple performances in succeeding years.

The 2023 festival will kick off March 3 at the Academy of Music with a tribute to the late singer-songwriter John Prine, at which multiple singers, backed by a house band, will take turns covering Prine’s music. That’s a model the festival has used the past few years, with tributes to musicians such as Willie Nelson, Doc Watson, and, earlier this year, Dolly Parton.

“We won’t have any trouble finding musicians who want to do a show of John Prine songs,” Olsen said with a laugh.

Along with concerts at The Parlor Room and the Academy, Olsen anticipates the Back Porch Festival will stage shows at the Unitarian Society and Memorial Hall — two venues typically used for First Night — as well as Bishop’s Lounge and Progression Brewing Company. Additional sites are still being explored, he said; they could be “a little unconventional.”

Rather than paying for individual shows as in the past, festival attendees in 2023 will have two options: purchasing a “Premium Weekend Pass,” which will provide entrance to all shows and events, or a “Weekend Ramble Pass,” which will include admission to all events except evening shows at the Academy of Music.

“Ticketing individual shows is really tough to do from a logistical standpoint,” said Olsen. He noted that the biggest challenge in devising the new festival format is figuring out how many tickets can be sold to meet but not exceed the capacity of the different venues.

As at First Night, all Back Porch 2023 shows will be general admission, with seating on a first-come, first-served basis. But with multiple concerts during the day and evening on both March 4 and 5, festivalgoers will have options if their first choice for a show is filled, Olsen said. Attendees will also receive a button with their ticket and can share that button with someone else, he noted.

“We’ve also looked at the Northampton Jazz Festival as a model for what we’re doing,” Olsen said. “That’s a really fun event that uses multiple venues,” including The Parlor Room.

Previous Back Porch Festivals have featured a range of celebrated performers — Roseanne Cash, The Blind Boys Of Alabama, Rickie Lee Jones, Steep Canyon Rangers — playing bluegrass, country, folk, gospel and other roots music. Olsen says the 2023 festival will follow that format — there will just be more of it.

“That time of year, it can seem like winter’s never going to end,” Olsen said. “We’ve always seen [the festival] as way to kind of fight that feeling and have a good time.”

Announcements of the 2023 festival performers will follow in December and be posted on backporchfest.com.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.


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