When it comes to making the most of pandemic music possibilities and carrying the live performance experience through foggy times, you have to give props to the Porch in Medford, which took an especially unique road in order to survive and thrive over this past year. We threw a few questions at owner and talent buyer Jonathan Post.
Thanks to your setup, the Porch was able to offer music at some times during the pandemic that other places were not. What did that mean for business?
Obviously, being able to have live music while most other restaurants and venues weren’t offering entertainment gave us a bit of a leg up on the competition. We set up live music outdoors for most of the Summer 2020. This, however, caused some quarrels with residents of the apartments above us, even though we were operating within the bounds of our entertainment license, and within the bounds of the local noise ordinances.
When the weather started cooling in October, we knew we would have to either suspend the live music program or figure out a way to move it indoors in a way that remained safe for our guests. We have a very large indoor space, both horizontally and vertically, so we knew we could make the move indoors and also maintain a safe environment, so that’s what we did. I ordered plexiglass to build a physical barrier between the musicians and the audience, and we pushed tables farther apart than was required by the state, at the time.
The stage became known to musicians as “the terrarium,” and although it looked strange and felt weird for the musicians to be behind a wall, the acoustic results were actually very, very good. Having the wall around the stage kept the stage noise on the stage with the musicians, and allowed our sound tech to have complete control over the sonic experience in the rest of the room. The room never sounded better than it does with “the terrarium” in place.
What’s a memory from the past year of operating under such strange circumstances that you would never have been able to foresee before the pandemic happened?
I never thought I’d have to ask anyone inside a music venue to stop dancing. It’s been absolutely heartbreaking to have to play the role of “fun police.” I mean, one of the great things about music is the way it can lift the listener to a higher place mentally and emotionally, and sometimes when people are floating like that, they just feel a need to move their feet. Having to interrupt that rejoicing is something I hope I never have to do again after this pandemic is over.
Have you had more artists than usual reaching out looking to book gigs now that things are really getting back into swing?
We really haven’t seen an uptick of artists looking to get booked. Musicians and their booking agents are always looking for new rooms to play and new audiences to reach. Let’s not kid ourselves, though. Things definitely are not “really getting back into swing.” It’s true, vocalists are no longer being persecuted by our seemingly misinformed governor, but there are still a lot of restrictions on music venues; restrictions that make no sense. Band members are supposed to be 10’ apart. That’s fine for large venues, which are still not even hosting musical performances, but I can’t tell you one small venue that has a stage or performance area that is large enough to adhere to that ridiculous rule.
These bands spend as much time with each other as they do with their families. They rehearse together for hours without making sure they’re 10-feet apart. Why make them do it at the venue if they’re not doing it anywhere else? It’s asinine. The audience is supposed to be 25-feet away from the stage, and plexiglass cannot be used to circumvent this spacing requirement. Plexiglass has been allowed to circumvent every single other distancing restriction, but for some reason it apparently isn’t sufficient when music is in the air. So, yeah, let’s not fool ourselves into thinking things are anywhere close to being in full-swing or back to normal.
What if anything have you changed about your operation because of the pandemic that will nevertheless stay that way once things are otherwise back to normal?
We will probably come up with a way to utilize the plexiglass around the stage. We definitely will not be leaving it up completely, as it is now, but having experienced the huge difference it made with the acoustics in the room, we will probably figure out a way to leave it up partially, without being intrusive. It’s just too beneficial to the musicians and to the listening experience to not utilize it somehow.
What are some upcoming acts that you are especially looking forward to hosting?
We have the honor of hosting the living legend, Luther “Guitar Jr.” Johnson, in a couple weeks. He’s played with all the greats throughout his career—Clapton, Muddy Waters, The Rolling Stones. … So, yeah, we’re pretty excited for his performance.
This summer, we have Ward Davis returning for his third appearance at the Porch. Ward has written songs for Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and Cody Jinks, among others, but just released his first major album last year. It debuted on the country charts at #4, so it’s been rewarding for us to see his success, and we look forward to having our friend back with us for another show.
There are some other shows later in the summer that will be really big for us, but we’re not allowed to talk about those shows just yet. Y’all will have to just keep an eye on our event listings.
The Porch Southern Fare & Juke Joint, 175 River’s Edge Dr., Medford. theporchsouthern.com.