This Conference Celebrates the Ultimate Symbol of Community

Author: David McMillin       

Image courtesy of Conference on the Front Porch.

While many events are focused on creating high-tech environments with beacons and social-media walls, one conference is aiming to help attendees enjoy something much more simple: the front porch. In its second year, The Conference on the Front Porch will dedicate two days of speakers, sessions, and music to the role that the front porch has played in the American South. From Oct. 18–19, front-porch enthusiasts will settle in at The Mill at Plein Air, a 12,000-square-foot venue in Taylor, Mississippi. Campbell McCool, the developer of the planned Plein Air community and founder of the conference, told PCMA that he expects approximately 120 attendees this year, up from the 80 who registered for the first edition in 2016. “In year two,” McCool said, “we will extend [the discussion] into life on the front porch.”

In an age when email has started to feel like the most personal form of communication available, the conference’s agenda can resonate with anyone who appreciates the relaxed intimacy of a face-to-face neighborhood gathering place. (Disclaimer: I spent plenty of childhood evenings on my family’s front porch in southern Indiana, making me a natural advocate for a program on the art of porch-sitting.) The front porch’s current role in culture will be part of the discussion during architect Cooter Ramsey’s session,“The Front Porch in the Age of Facebook.”

“Our keynote speaker is John T. Edge, the founder and director of the Southern Foodways Symposium,” McCool said. “He will speak about food as a community builder and how food shaped the modern South.”

The educational program features a diverse lineup of academics, musicians, and artists. While the daytime offerings are inside, some of the evening entertainment will take place on a more fitting stage. “At night, we do a porch play on the front porch of [one of the houses in the Plein Air neighborhood],” McCool said. “The next night we do a porch concert on another front porch featuring a well-known singer and songwriter, Tricia Walker.”

Risa Darby, manager of the host venue, said that people from across the country came to last year’s conference for the chance to learn about and celebrate a piece of American history. The registration process feels like a walk back in time, too: Attendees receive their tickets once they’ve mailed in their checks. No credit cards are accepted to guarantee a seat on the porch.

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