The Key Studio Sessions: Bethlehem and Sad Patrick

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If you’re in search of evidence that the Philly open mic scene is very much thriving, look no further than Bethlehem and Sad Patrick.

The local duo blends the focused minimalism and poetic lyrics of folk tradition with simmering, freewheeling jazz and blues — slick guitars, soaring vocals, nuanced melodies. And it all came together by chance.

A few years back, Patrick Arkins was running an open mic at what is now Malelani Cafe in Germantown, when Bethlehem Roberson stopped by one night to sing with her family. Arkins was blown away, and when he saw her returning to the series on the regular to perform, he approached her with the idea of singing one of his songs.

This led to her singing more of his songs, which led to Bethlehem and Sad Patrick’s first home-recorded EP release in 2012. The two continued performing and collaborating, recording Bethlehem’s 2013 solo release Bigger Than Music in Sad Patrick’s spare bedroom — a space he dubbed Purple Room Studios. It’s also where they worked on songs and sounds for Did You Ever Do?, the first Bethlehem and Sad Patrick LP, released in 2015.

For rhythm, Bethlehem began using a tarima, a raised wooden box that amplifies footstomps to kickdrum levels; her handclaps and finger snaps accentuate the beat. Sad Patrick, meanwhile, plays a Godin electric guitar through a very portable Fishman amp. They like the setup due to its simplicity, and say that audiences respond to its uniqueness. Occasionally, instrumental collaborators color the studio soundscape with solos and guest spots — listen for the subtle horn arrangements on Did You Ever Do? — but the project is a duo at its core, with a very natural give-and-take. When pressed about it, Bethlehem and Sad Patrick tell us they will likely remain a duo, to keep that chemistry intact.

You can hear it in action in this week’s session, starting with the Emma Lazarus-referencing “Mother Of Exiles” — their incorporation of the famed poem about the Statue of Liberty provides a moment of reflection in the societal climate of late 2016. We also hear the snappy emotive pop of “Maybe You’re Amazed” and “Better Days,” and a powerful set-closing performance of “Rise (Oh My City),” which stews in the struggles and ennui of city life but shines with hope and resilience.

Watch a video of “Rise” via VuHaus and stream the entire session below; you can grab a free download of the set at our Soundcloud page. Bethlehem and Sad Patrick have a few gigs of note this autumn. This Saturday, they’ll be at the Big Tree Music Studio showcase in Richlandtown (more information on the event can be found here); the following weekend, they’ll be at the For The Love of Germantown release party at Rittenhouse Soundworks (details here); and on November 5th, they play WaR3house 3 in Swarthmore with Danie Ocean and the Soul Tide (more information can be found here).

Then, once winter settles in, Bethlehem and Sad Patrick plan to retire to Purple Room to work on their next LP, tentatively titled Love and Other Struggles. Look for it in 2017.

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Support for The Key Studio Sessions, from Dogfish Head
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