ELDON — It’s not often a small town gets international recognition. Eldon is one of the exceptions.

On Saturday, area residents came to the Porch Festival to enjoy live music and a barbecue lunch. American Gothic House Visitors Center Administrator Kelsy Westman said this event received international recognition after AGH workers were inspired by an event called “play your music on the porch day,” which usually takes place on the last Saturday in August.

Westman was the main organizer behind the porch festival. She said she wanted the event to start a week early to accommodate teachers and students going back to school. The date for the festival not only changed this year, other concepts did as well in comparison to previous years.

“This year, it’s definitely a lot more relaxed,” Westman said. “Last year we had someone volunteer to do barbecue and got pies. We’re moving towards keeping it simple. This festival is good to have in the summer, with Labor Day being less than a week. It’s the end of our really busy season. I’m very happy to bring it all to a close to have something fun for the community.”

Getting the musicians to come play was not seen as an arduous task for Westman, but all part of “the fun.” Musicians simply had to express interest in performing. Three bands performed. The first act was MMLD (More Music-Less Drama), which featured Lily Arney, Shannon Garrels, and Tom Shadonix; and the second act was “Those Guys,” a bluegrass fusion band based out of Ottumwa. The final performance was “Wild Bill Willie,” a Willie Nelson tribute act by Albert “Wild Bill” Essary, an Eldon native now based out of Arkansas.

Although getting the musicians was not a problem for Westman, she said planning the event took an entire year. Westman thought this process was worth it because of how this event benefited the community and the musicians.

“It’s a really great community,” Westman said, “I love that all our acts are either local or even having someone like ‘Wild Bill Willie’ who was from Eldon originally. I like that we’re giving a platform for local musicians. We like to have things for people to do in the area because I know historically in southeast Iowa, sometimes there’s not stuff to do for people. It’s nice to have something they can engage with.”

Many of the musicians were returning ones, who enjoyed performing for attendees and delighted with the concept of performing at a historical site.

“I really just enjoy playing for these people,” Shadonix said. “I’m glad to be a part of this international event. I hope they enjoyed themselves and will want to maybe bring 20 of their closest friends next year.”

Essary, otherwise known as “Wild Bill,” was elated to perform in his hometown but was also nervous beforehand. “I’m hoping I don’t let anyone down,” Essary said. “I always want to make sure I do the best job I can to make them feel like the closest thing to the real Willie Nelson.”

Essary said it was important to him to do a great job, especially because he grew up with most of the Eldon attendees at the festival. “I grew up right off the street,” he said. “They remember me way back in the day. (His neighbors) They’re 91 years old; I hope they say ‘Hey, I’m telling the boy made it alright.”

Paul Rodgers, banjo player and guitarist of “Those Guys,” said he not only enjoyed playing but enjoyed being outdoors and the audience. He hoped the attendees enjoyed themselves and express nothing but wonderful thoughts.

“I hope they were able to enjoy this local landmark and the great event that was put on out here,” Rodgers said. “I also hope they were able to come out, relax and listen to a little bit of music. I would encourage people to always come down to this facility. I think this is a great spot for southeast Iowa and really for anybody to come down and spend some time at and support.”

Attendee Joe Noe certainly enjoyed himself at his second Porch Fest. Like Rodgers and Garrels hoped for, Noe relaxed, listened to some music and ate some good food. While Noe enjoyed the food and music, he really loved the fellowship attendees and musicians had with one another.

“This event really brings people together as a community and not just people from Eldon, but from all over southeast Iowa,” Noe said.

Chiara Romero can be reached at cromero@ottumwacourier.com.


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