By Jenna Lazenby
Eight years ago Chris Prutting was preparing to move out of town when his family threw him a surprise going away party. That party was such a hit that they decided to make it an annual event. What started as a gathering of just over 100 people has evolved into an intimate three-day music festival. This year, Front Porch Fest, held each Labor Day Weekend at Spirithaven Farm in Stuart, VA, is expecting its largest crowd between 1,200 and 1,500 people.
“We’ve had a lot of changes over the past eight years, said Prutting, Director of Front Porch Fest and President of non-profit One Family Productions. “The first few years we were really just throwing a party. Now we spend a lot of time and energy on attention to detail and on bringing in really great bands.”
Prutting says that he really looks for those bands that have a ton of talent, but are still a little under the radar.
“I start looking for the right bands to book about a month after the festival ends. I’ve always been a stickler for that band you might not know about. We are a huge “under the radar” roots festival. I always want people to walk away with new bands to spread the word about.”
With a lineup that includes Savannah, Georgia’s Zach Deputy, St. Petersburg, Florida reggae band The Hip Abduction, and the Folly Beach, South Carolina jam band Dangermuffin, Prutting has dubbed this year the “Island Music Year.”
Deputy, an act that Prutting has been trying to book for several years, is a multi-instrumentalist “looper” who layers guitar and percussions with his soulful voice to create a musical blend that is part reggae, part island, and a little bit country.
Meanwhile, The Hip Abduction, who also played at FloydFest this year, brings a tropical flair to its blend of reggae, rock, and roots music that incorporates steady electronic afro beats. The band’s original songs like “Come Alive,” “Live It Right,” and “Holiday” carry the mind to island time and send a surge of good vibrations through the body and into the feet.
Danger muffin, who is returning to Front Porch Fest after first playing three years ago, also blends reggae, calypso, and Appalachia roots music to create a unique musical experience. This talented trio leaves behind the bass and weaves two guitars (lead and rhythm guitar) with percussions and thought-provoking lyrics that move both the body and the soul.
“We’re really looking forward to once again performing in the heart of Virginia’s festival country,” said Dangermuffin lead guitarist Mike Sivilli. “We are very grateful to be returning to a wonderful community of folks who truly know what good music is!”
Also, included in the lineup is North Carolina roots rock band Big Daddy Love, another festival favorite that has played the festival several years in a row. Front Porch Fest is also bringing in several regional favorites, including Richmond-based The Trongone Band, as well as more local talent like Groova Scape, Erin & The Wildfire, The Will Overman Band and The Morgan Wade Band.
In addition to providing a weekend of delicious music, Front Porch Fest also serves as a charity fundraiser, and the entire event is run by volunteers. For the first three years, a canned food donation for the local food bank would get you in the gates. Five years ago, the festival started selling tickets, and now half of all proceeds benefit the local Patrick County Food Bank and the Caring Hearts Free Clinic.
The festival offers two types of tickets, VIP and standard. For those with regular tickets, the music kicks off on Friday at 4:00 and rolls right on through until Sunday. Front Porch Fest features two stages with no overlapping sets. While the stages aren’t side-by-side, they are within easy walking distance, and shortly after one set ends, the other kicks off. For those with VIP tickets, the party starts on Thursday night with food, beer, and wine included, and tunes by local folk band HomeBrew and Boston-based reggae band Cornerstone.
In addition to the music, Front Porch Fest also features a children’s area and activities that include nature walks, games, and other activities.
When asked what sets Front Porch Fest apart from many of the other festivals, Prutting said it’s definitely the family vibe.
“Our festival is very intimate compared to many of the others. People come here all the time and meet people they never knew, and walk away with a new friend for life. People are looking for real connections in the craziness of the world today. It’s all about being around friends here. We’re a close knit family and the festival has been built from the ground up. People feel comfortable and that’s important in this day and age.”
There’s still time to make plans and purchase tickets. You can do that and get more information about the lineup and schedule online at http://frontporchfest.com.
“When you come to Front Porch you’re part of the family forever,” said Prutting. “We hope you’ll come spend Labor Day weekend with us. It’s going to be a great time!”