Damon Gersh was sitting on the beach in Montauk, thinking about how he could give back to the community. A musician in his free time and married to an artist, Gersh wanted a way to promote the arts in his hometown of Port Washington.
“I was just sitting there, and then it hit me,” he said. “We should have a music festival in town.”
The seventh edition of that festival, PortFest, will be held on the grounds of Paul D. Schreiber High School on Saturday, May 19. It is hosted by Gersh’s HEARTS, a nonprofit group that supports the arts in Port Washington.
The event is free and lasts from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m.
The event will center around a main stage that will feature performances from local rock bands, ensembles and choirs. At 4 p.m., Berest Dance Center will teach attendees some simple salsa dance steps.
“They always do something to involve the crowd,” Gersh said of Berest, which has been a sponsor of the event since the beginning. “A few years ago they did a flash mob.”
There will also be performances by local theater groups. Among those is Curtains Up, a theater program for students in the fourth and fifth grade. There will also be a performance by alumni of Curtains Up, which is supported by HEARTS. There will be a reprise of selections from this spring’s Schreiber High School Theater Company production of “The Little Mermaid.”
The festival will extend beyond live performances. There will be art displays from local artists and several demonstrations on painting with oils and pastels, using wood blocks and an interactive art display.
For those looking for a more hands-on experience, the schools in the Port Washington school district will each have a tent with an activity.
“For example, Guggenheim [Elementary] is doing an arts and crafts activity where you can make your own maracas,” said Eric Gewirtz, a spokesman for HEARTS.
Food from local restaurants will be available, and a silent auction will be held. Gersh said that this — along with the money provided to HEARTS through sponsorships — helps to fund the organization’s programs and make this a free event.
Gersh plays guitar and sings in the band Rock Steady, which will be among the performers on May 19. He said that playing music is a great source of happiness for him, and he wants others in Port to have that experience.
“This is about expressing individuality and having something you can do for the rest of your life, whether they go into a career in the arts or not,” he said. “It’s intrinsically satisfying, and that’s the essence of why I think it’s important and I think we can spark that in kids.”