How an underground event became a city-funded celebration of music
Matt Knill, a former musician and music promoter in St. John’s, Newfoundland thought he was being quite the rebel when he began a series of outdoor porch concerts in his Woodfield neighbourhood in 2013. Being new to London, he found the art scene was somewhat invisible and could not see himself reflected in it. Lightning struck one afternoon while he and his friends were enjoying the Home County Folk Festival.
“I was sitting with some friends and I thought, ‘you know, I have amplifiers and microphones and my one friend is a graphic designer and my other friends plays guitar….’ I thought, we can do this with just the four people right here,” said Knill.
“The “Plays Our Porch” concerts went on for two years until a friend of Knill’s, who worked for the city, informed him that there were grants available to help fund events like his porch concerts, concerts that up until then were being paid for by a quick whip around of the hat at the end of the night.”
And so the beginnings of the famous Woodfield Porch Concerts were born. For the first few years, Knill said that the concerts were simply called “[Name of artist] Plays our Porch” and was a bit of a guerilla, underground event, where the city wasn’t directly involved, created as an outlet for younger art scene folks. But the reach of the music and the effect the concerts had on the community was something Knill did not see coming.
“Truthfully, I didn’t expect it would have such a positive reaction from the older, more established members of the community.”
Instead of being offended, Knill said neighbours pulled up with lawn chairs and asked if they could sit and listen. Within the live, intimate environment, they found a place. Even Knill, for the first time, started meeting his neighbours; an active thriving community was emerging from the soft pillowy malaise of suburbia. Disconnection was replaced with buzzing energy, emotion and connection through the music.
The “Plays Our Porch” concerts went on for two years until a friend of Knill’s, who worked for the city, informed him that there were grants available to help fund events like his porch concerts, concerts that up until then were being paid for by a quick whip around of the hat at the end of the night. Knill applied, and was successful. In 2015, the Woodfield Community Porch Concert Series was up and running with Knill at the helm. The grant was used to facilitate four concerts over two years in the Woodfield neighbourhood. According to Knill, the response from the community was overwhelming. People gathered where they had never gathered before, children played together that had never played together before and the atmosphere seemed to all be fuelled by the energy of live music.
In 2019, Knill re-applied for the grant but unfortunately was not successful. But not surprisingly, in 2020, during the lockdowns, Knill applied again, winning the most votes from the community ever received in the London Central area through the Neighbourhood Decision Making campaign. It seems COVID reminded us of the need to physically connect to each other. One cannot live by Zoom alone. Music, we can all agree, is a glue that holds us all together, connecting all our stories by creating our communities.
Knill emphasized that one of the strongest features of the concerts was its accessibility.
“One thing I always found was that live performance music often seems quite tied to bars for people between the ages of 18-30, resulting in more of an underserved population of older folks or people with families who don’t often get to see live music,” he explained.
Knill’s commitment to this passion project seemed to have sparked a sense of duty in him to promote the benefits of accessible live music.
“The best thing in the world is when passers-by do a double take and say, ‘Hey, what’s going on there?’” said Knill. “People started realizing that art in the community was important.”
Knill recalled a moment when a woman passed by his home pushing a stroller.
“Mommy that’s where the music is!” her child shouted, according to Knill. Another time, Knill recalled when a very elderly gentlemen asked, “Excuse me sir, can you tell me when the next concert is please?”
The concerts were actually becoming and creating landmarks, solidifying memories in the community, improving the quality of life for all.
The 2022 concerts were renamed London’s Neighbourhood Porch Concert Series. Their future goals are to hold concerts in different neighbourhoods and for locals to host/offer up their porch for a concert. There are also exciting opportunities to gain work experience or volunteer. London’s art scene is evolving and this series is soon to be a thriving mainstay in London life. Ultimately, the porch concerts aim to remind us that music belongs to everyone and should be accessible to all.