What is the Future of Front Porch Fest?
An Interview with the Festival Directors
As One Family Productions begins to dive into its second decade as the producers of Front Porch Fest, I took some time to talk with the directors of the festival. They gave me some insight into the lessons they’ve learned, what they see coming next for the festival, and the messages they have for veteran festival-goers and first time attendants.
Interviewer: Let’s start by chatting a bit about the organization of Front Porch Fest, its beginnings, and how it functions now.
Chris Prutting, festival co-creator and co-director: When this event was created it was as a party - just something for people to do, an outlet for people to see music, built around local musicians. But it still had the mindset of giving back. [It was produced] strictly on the shoulders of just a few people. Flash forward two years, we found a new home, a new lease on life, and as every year went by our family began to grow. More supporters and believers. Bigger acts. And now we’re a structured NPO [nonprofit organization], something I would have never believed would have happened. With a board and committees. When this all started, I was the only one that would make decisions- this was my baby and I could only see what I wanted it to be. Eleven years later and everything’s changed and it’s really good. We have people invested in the event, coming up with ideas and making decisions about how we move forward.
Sarah Wray, festival co-director: Well, the beginning was slow, and lonely. I wasn’t even on board with what Chris was proposing, I was sure he would be going to jail. But he and Malcom [Fields, festival co-creator] believed in what they could build, and they did it. Coming on full force in the second year, we saw the beginning of structure created and that’s an area where I’ve continued to focus. We have always kept service and giving back at the forefront of what we’re doing.
Reflecting on the past ten years of Front Porch Fest, tell me about some of the greatest accomplishments of the festival.
CP: I would say, in my eyes, some of the greatest accomplishments has been the formation of OFP, which was basically born from FPF - and what the organization has become today. When it comes to the festival itself, for me, I think what’s really huge, for me, personally… it’s the artists, we’ve had some world renowned artists that have come through our little small town of Stuart, and that is a huge sense of accomplishment to have that.
SW: I’d say sheer sustainability; having this event continue for over ten years is a huge accomplishment in and of itself. I’m not sure if we ever could have imagined making it this far in the beginning. Also, the amount of impact we’ve been able to make, financially speaking, having donated close to $20,000 back to our community is amazing, I never could have imagined. Not to mention the people we’ve hosted in the county and at the event. We’ve been able to share what a special place Patrick County is with folks from around the world. Sharing the kindness and love people here have and the beauty of our hometown has been a lot of fun.
What does it take to produce a festival for more than a decade?
CP: Patience and understanding. A drive to continue to do. There are times when the work is fun, but there are hardships that come along with it too. It’s not just putting it together the month of- it takes a full year to pull this type of event together. Sometimes it takes hours we don’t have to do it. We have definitely had to put some aspects of our life on hold for it.
SW: Organization - continually working on becoming more efficient, never being afraid to try something new or keep things the same. Taking the time to understand what is working for you, and committing to those items. Support... from friends, family, the community. The people that have bought into the ideals that FPF and OFP represent are what make this event possible.
What ideals have been maintained throughout the history of FPF, and what things have changed as the festival has grown?
CP: I would say us being a community minded project that gives back has been maintained since the very first day. The structure of... a lot of things have changed - like people’s roles and people’s belief in [the event]. You know, the structure has just changed completely from what it was. This was a festival that started out as a one day field party… Your price of entry was a canned food item. Now, ten years later, it’s a four day event that is just one event of the organization, which holds several events throughout the year.
SW: Family - there has always been a major focus within this event on family, and bringing folks together. Chris has always been the person in our friend group that pushed people to connect and join together, so it makes sense that this theme spills over into our work with FPF. We have continued to build upon that connection between friends and family. We have spent time learning about each of our individual strengths and weaknesses and have worked to support each other in an environment where hardwork and dedication are celebrated and recognized. It’s always been important to me from day one to ensure folks were involved with these events because they wanted to be. I never wanted people to feel obligated. You know that whole “well it’s my friend,I need to help them.” While many may feel that way, we always wanted that sentence to end with, I want to help them rather than need.
So how do you encourage people to be involved in the festival?
SW: We wanted folks to know that we realize it’s a huge commitment and with an entirely volunteer staff, that’s really hard. People are busy and time is money. So it was important to me to illustrate that there are many ways to be involved with this festival - come volunteer, come work as a staff member, or just show up to the event and be a part of the culture of the festival. We want people to be involved in whatever capacity they’d like to… whatever capacity best supports their desires as an individual. This concept is something I’ll always carry with me as long as I am involved with FPF.
Tell me about some of the biggest growing pains Front Porch Fest has experienced.
CP: I think the growing pain has been the sustainability. I don’t think you can just single out one instance for a growing pain. I think we’ll continue to having growing pains for as long as we keep going. For sustainability for the festival, the convincing of why we think people should come to FPF among other festivals that are happening every day now.
SW: Well...infrastructure has been a thing we’ve battled... we’ve always prided ourselves in being a grassroots event, and we have built so many aspects of this festival from the ground up, literally. Whether it’s building temporary stages or our own bamboo fencing, we have slowly built this event and each year have worked to establish more foundation and keep touches of our roots while trying to make work more efficient. We’ve gained a lot of experience and learned some hard lessons that have taught us the importance of detailed planning and being prepared for all of the what ifs.
So, now let’s look to the future. What is your vision for FPF 11?
CP: No Rain… haha….but really I feel that FPF10 was a cornerstone for OFP and I really feel a momentum shift, and I want to see us really capitalize on things such as being named most family friendly event [by Blue Ridge Outdoors 2018] because we’ve always felt like that was our thing, and after years of searching for a niche, we’ve realized it was right in front of us. It was being a family, all about our festival catering to a family, because we are a family. We’re One Family. And we want to build just off that.
SW: I’d have to agree with Chris, building upon the excitement and success of FFP10 will be important for us. That year not only represented a huge accomplishment in the realm of longevity, but also gave our organization a ton of structure- we built some amazing teams of motivated and dedicated staff members that have really taken a lot of the planning to a whole new level. In my eyes, FPF11 will continue to embody the themes we have celebrated for the last ten years- family, community, grassroots- but also will move us forward by the addition of new offerings that we have dreamed about for years, like a dance tent and the expansion of what we’re passionate about, making events fun and accessible for the whole family.
Many people have probably noticed a change in branding for FPF. What message do you hope to send with the new style that FPF has taken on?
SW: I think the new branding is very representative of all of the people that make up FPF… it celebrates the arts, it’s fun and playful, it illustrates movement and growth while paying homage to our roots.
CP: That 10 years are behind us and a fresh new year is in front of us.
Now that you are well into planning the eleventh annual FPF, what does the next decade look like for FPF?
SW: Well, we’re definitely trying to illustrate to the next generation that what we’re doing is important for our community and that they really have a say in what happens. I want to continue to see our staff, and our volunteers, and our patrons share their ideas and help transform what this event looks like so it can really be a collective effort. I’m also waiting for all the staff kids to step up and take over! They’ve been immersed in the festival world since day one, so they’re already well ahead of where we were when we started!!
CP: Oh my god..Loaded question….to me it’s hard because I couldn't have told you what the first ten years looked like in the first year and all of a sudden we’re here and it's been ten years and we’ve grown so much. So to tell you what the next ten years look like- I have no clue. But I will say I look very much forward to them, because if the past ten years are any indication, then the next ten years will be an amazing ride. And all those things Sarah said about the kids taking over, that’s good too! For me, it’s about being together and doing this event with my family - it’s always been about that. It’s one of the greatest things that I know I have and I look at it as, as my legacy.
What would you say is the most important thing for new FPF attendants to know about this year’s festival?
CP: That it may be your first time here, but by the end of it, you’ll know that you’re home.
SW: Yea, I agree...Once you join the family, it’s really hard to not see yourself always being a part of this community. We strive to make sure each person that attends knows they are a pivotal piece of the puzzle. Come join the family!
If you had a chance to send a short message to all the attendants of FPF over the years, what would you say?
SW: Well...I’m the mushy, flowery word person in the bunch. So I’ll try to keep it to a ‘short message’ but I think I would say something along the lines of ----Thanks for taking a chance on us, believing in what we’re about, and appreciating small festivals. We’ve always valued family and connection. Each person that has attended FPF over the years has become a part of our family. This event wouldn’t be what it is without you.
CP: I would say thank you all for your support and being a part of the family and remember that you’re always welcome home.