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Port, And New Orleans

What does Port Washington and PortFest have in common? Damon Gersh – the founder of HEARTS , a local, community organization whose mission for the past couple years has been to promote and enrich the arts in Port Washington and its’ public schools. PortFest is the brainchild of Gersh’s vision, which has hundreds of residents gearing up for the big day for its second consecutive year. The family event, free of charge, will hit the ground running on Sunday, May 11 from 11am-5pm on Schreiber High School’s south ball field directly behind the Weber track.

“Ever since I moved to Port, I fell in love with the town,” admits Gersh, a Bayside, Queens native. “I think it’s the greatest community I’ve ever lived in – a very unique place.” By day, Gersh is running his emergency property damage restoration company. By night, he’s a musician playing in a local band called “Rock Steady.” And how that got started is a whole different story.

When Gersh first moved to Port with his wife and two children, he had seen the live local band Tiberius performing at a block party.  A guitarist and singer himself on his spare time, Gersh was hooked  --  having always dreamed of being involved with music in some capacity. “I was so impressed that there’s this underground music scene right here in Port Washington.”

It wasn’t long before Gersh joined the bandwagon, playing in jamming sessions in people’s basements a few times a month. Until another local musician, Sam Fox, with rock n roll band Little Sammy and the Funked up Daddies,  invited him to join an “open mic” night at Sullivan Quay’s --or better known by the locals as “Sully’s” – the English pub and restaurant on Port Boulevard. “Come out of the basement,” recalls Gersh being told by Fox. And so he did and has been doing local gigs ever since.

Gersh’s passion for community fueled by his passion for the arts gave birth to Portfest. Imagine it as a New Orleans Jazz Festival right here in Port Washington. Only instead of the fine Cajun and creole cooking, there’s Harbor Deli’s bbq, Mi Ranchito, and Ralph’s Ices on board for eats.

Sherri Suzanne was the kindergarten teacher for both Gersh’s children. She had moved on from teaching to become the director of creative arts for the school district. Coincidentally, she too is a musician --  a singer who had performed with her own band. The two had shared ideas. “One day I just called to tell her I had an epiphany and had to meet with her right away,” recalls Gersh  They discussed his vision for a local festival – and the idea to offer a platform to other local musicians. “I figured there must be other people in the community who would want to showcase their talents.” That coupled with all of Port’s generous, local resources, and a tremendous amount of planning, would bring his vision to fruition.

Kickoff and outreach efforts began in January with a call for artists and volunteers . They started with an email list that from last year alone has amassed to 2,000 names .  No stone has been left unturned. If the sun fails to shine, Portfest will be covered --literally and figuratively by Schreiber’s roof. Anybody is invited to come and check out nine local bands formed by students and adults who will be playing continuous music all day long on two mobile stages. All seven schools in the district will host their own music and art experience (at a fee) through tented activities such as stencil and collage creations, face painting and tattoos, along with a high-end silent auction – all proceeds help fund music and art programs in the Port Washington School District. Community groups will be offering lots of free kids’ activities also. So remember to come out May 11, rain or shine to help be a part of this great community and help celebrate the arts that surrounds us all.

For more information and to view all the local Portfest participators, please visit pwportfest.org.