Fitchburg cleanup event has an entertaining end

By Peter Jasinski, pjasinski

Updated:   05/15/2016 09:41:07 AM EDT

FITCHBURG -- In recent years, the ReImagine North of Main's annual neighborhood cleanup event has grown into a tradition that unites local residents, city employees and representatives from organizations like NewVue Communities and Crossroads Community Church.

However, there was something added this year: a special reward for a hard day's work.

By early afternoon, the sounds of power tools and rakes scratching through gnarls of brush gave way to the soothing tone of music.

"What we wanted was a way to celebrate at the end of the day," said Meredith Geraghty, NewVue Communities' director of community organizing.

On arguably one of the most beautiful days so far this year, about 350 volunteers chose to spend their Saturday doing manual labor.

They cleared away overgrown vegetation, fixed damaged fences and repaired ailing porches.

Many of those porches would become stages a few hours later, with local musicians playing for tired workers and others.

Geraghty compared the inaugural Fitchburg Porchfest to any other music festival, in which audiences can choose between multiple stages featuring various performers.

"Porchfest is taking that music-festival thinking, putting it into a neighborhood, and turning porches and backyards into the stages," she said.

The festival included nine acts scattered throughout the city's North of Main neighborhood. Performers ran the gamut of local residents, volunteers that had been involved in the cleanup, and general fans of all things Fitchburg.

"I feel like my life didn't really take off until I came to this town," said Walter Oppenheimer, an acoustic guitarist who spent his afternoon playing for an audience gathered at the end of a High Street driveway.

Oppenheimer, who has lived in Fitchburg for five years, had high praise for Porchfest.

"I think it's fantastic. We need more of this in Fitchburg," he said.

One street over from where Oppenheimer was belting out Patti Smith songs is the house of Marshall Street resident Susan Lugo.

Originally, Lugo had been planning to play with her band, but last-minute issues canceled her performance. She was, however, able to enjoy the event as a spectator.

"I think this has been a great idea to get the community and the neighborhood together," she said. "It lets everyone get to know each other, and it maybe cuts back on some of the tension."

The porch Lugo and her band had originally intended to play on was her own. Much of it was reconstructed during the day by cleanup volunteers.

As much as the North of Main cleanup was intended to physically revitalize the neighborhood, ReImagine North of Main project director Tricia Pistone said it was also a way or revitalizing a sense of community.

"This addresses the quality of life and cleaning the neighborhood, but it's also about creating social cohesion and bringing everyone together to achieve a common goal," she said.

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