With this post, we cross another milestone — 20,000 stories posted since The Key began covering the Philadelphia music scene on August 18, 2010.
Benchmarks like these are always a wonderful occasion for taking pause and looking back — as we did in 2014, upon hitting 10k posts — and I am pleased to say that our top twenty biggest stories, per Google Analytics, remain a perfect cross-section of what The Key is all about. Stories that are important Philadelphia music community; major happenings from the WXPN airwaves; and an appreciation of local and national music history, with an eye to the music of tomorrow.
Thank you for everybody who continues along this journey with us, and please enjoy this survey of the stories you’ve been most excited, inspired, and moved by along the way.
20. – Download Meek Mill’s new Dreamchasers 3 mixtape – September 29, 2013
This was number three in our list last time; basically, we spotted a mixtape that Philly rapper Meek Mill dropped when he was legally prevented from touring to support his popular debut LP Dreams and Nightmares. Bruce Warren drew up a quick, just-the-facts post right away. Not sure if this release was widely covered or if we were the only ones — there was a bit of pervasive disappointment that the rapper kept falling back on the cusp of breaking out, so perhaps — but in either case, we to this day still get a few hundred visits on this story per month. Bizarre.
19. – XPN Fest Recap: Father John Misty gets a lot off his chest – July 22nd, 2016
Oh, right, this blowhard. Round these parts since July of 2016, I tend to operate on the principle that the less said about F____r J__n M___y, the better — neither his ego nor his brand’s SEO needs further enhancement — but our coverage of his political-speech-in-lieu-of-XPNFest-performance (minus a Leonard Cohen cover and single zygotic new song, sticklers) made some serious rounds on the internet. Which was exciting, even though the act itself incensed me to no end. It’s not even that I disagree with the point the dude was trying to make (quite the opposite) but more that I was incredibly put off by the condescending way he went about it. But whatevs, we got a huge story out of it, and he got a nice publicity stunt for his next album cycle. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
18. – R.I.P. Damien DeRose of Peasant, 1985-2015 – November 19, 2015
A lot of times, our most widely-read stories are also the most heartbreaking. Almost two years ago, Damien DeRose — who performed beautifully aching acoustic music under the name Peasant — passed away at age of 30, a huge blow to the local music community, particularly the fertile ground of Doylestown, where DeRose called home. I did not know him personally, though I worked with him once on a Key Studio Session in 2012, and I admired his writing, going back to his 2008 label debut On The Ground. For this piece, I reflected on what his music means to me and by extension what it means to the scene: “[DeRose] was an expert at writing about personal issues – heartache, loss, self-doubt, depression – in a way that transcended himself and became universal.”
17. – Meet Kristen Kurtis, WXPN’s new Morning Show host – September 22, 2015
Two years ago, Kristen Kurtis was about to step into her new gig as the voice that greets the XPN audience in the mornings, Monday through Friday — and this post on The Key was her introduction. Through a lively bullet-pointed list she shared prior to her move from Austin back home to her native Philadelphia, Kurtis established herself as a No Doubt-adoring, Wes Anderson-watching, David Sedaris-reading, improv-practicing, Wawa-frequenting cat mom and a generally awesome lady. We were collectively converted into instant fans.
Pretty much tied for pageviews with the “welcome, Kristen” story was our “farewell, Michaela” story — seriously, only a couple dozen visits separated the two. For this piece, I sat down with the long-running XPN host to reminisce about her experience on the radio and in the Philadelphia community, and get an idea of her plans for the future — all while sharing some great photographic moments involving Rhett Miller, Alejandro Escovedo and news anchor Bob Bumbera from the XPN archives.
15. – #885countdown Talk: What makes a song “the worst?” – October 24, 2014
The annual 885 countdowns were a staple of WXPN’s fall programming for over a decade, and for the final one — before we tried to determine The Greatest Year In Music two years ago, and went into A to Z mode last year — was the ambitious 885 All Time Greatest Songs Countdown, which took place in October of 2014. This was paired with a companion countdown, the 88 Worst Songs of All Time. Though “good” and “bad” are totally subjective when it comes to music, we attempted with this piece to unpack what it is, qualitatively, that makes a song suck, and a discussion ensued on social media ensued. Oh, and in case you forgot, the XPN audience near-universally agreed that the following was the worst song ever.
14. – Happy 40th Anniversary: Listen to Bruce Springsteen live at the Main Point, February 5th, 1975 – February 5, 2015
There are not very many sure things in this world of confusion, but one of them would probably be that XPN Listeners Would Love To Read a Story About Bruce Springsteen, Thank You Very Much. This story hit a lot of touchpoints — The Boss, beloved Main Line music venue The Main Point, an unbelievably high-quality audio recording, and a knockout setlist. Yeah, it’s not a four hour set or anything, but even in 1975, Springsteen was stretching out over the course of 18 songs, from “Incident on 57th Street” to a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Back In The U.S.A.”
13. – Watch an incredible montage of Bruce Springsteen playing “Thunder Road” over 41 years – March 3, 2016
It’s just a supercut of us, woah woah oh…uh, hold up, this is Springsteen we’re talking about, not Lorde. Anyway, The Boss makes his second appearance in this countdown of our all-time biggest pageview-drivers for this incredible video. A fan by the name of Phil Whitehead collected and intercut four decades worth of live footage of The Boss and the E Street Band playing one of their most beloved songs, “Thunder Road,” in theaters and arenas and stadiums the world around. The footage sync alone is remarkable, and paired with something this musically uplifting makes for powerful viewing.
12. – Watch Philly’s Evening Magazine explain The Grateful Dead to viewers in 1979 – September 16, 2014
The other sure thing in this world of confusion that I’ve learned editing The Key is that XPN Listeners Would Love To Read a Story About the Grateful Dead, Thank You Very Much. Jerry Garcia and his band of merrymakers make a walloping three appearances in this top twenty list, beginning here — an uncovered video from Philadelphia’s Evening Magazine, a features news program that aired on CBS-3 in the 70s. Fifteen years into the Grateful Dead’s reign, the show visited the Vet to talk to Deadheads in an attempt to explore the phenomenon and convey their appeal to the uncool dads and moms watching from home. Some of it is hysterically tone-deaf, some of it is so Philly you’ll cry, and some — particularly Garcia and Bob Weir’s interview segment — is poignant and touching.
11. – Watch Chuck Berry jam with John Lennon on the Mike Douglas show in 1972 – March 19, 2017
To mark the passing of rock and roll pioneer Chuck Berry this spring, we uncovered another gem from the YouTube vaults of broadcast news in Philadelphia. Mike Douglas produced his famed talk show in Philadelphia studios from 1965 to 1978, and welcomed a variety of musical guests to the city and the airwaves during that time — including this “holy smokes how did this actually happen” jam session between Berry and founding Beatle John Lennon. Need proof that it actually did happen though? Watch closely at the 10:48 mark of the video, and you’ll see XPN’s Helen Leicht in the audience, clapping along. She worked in production on KYW TV at this time, and in this story, she shares her firsthand account of watching the two legends jam on “Johnny B. Goode.”
10. – Why the heck did somebody think it was okay to deface the Kurt Vile mural? – June 28, 2014
At nine in the morning on a Saturday during the balmy summer of 2014, a man took a bucket of white paint up to the corner of Front and Master Streets in Fishtown and began covering up the mural painted by acclaimed visual artist Steve Powers for the cover art to Kurt Vile’s expansive 2013 album Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze. We reported on the incident early and updated the story frequently, so it had a lot of legs — eventually Pitchfork and other big indie rock pubs weighed in, along with Philly Mag and the Inquirer — but looking back on our coverage, I kind of cringe. Why? My perspective in writing it was so rooted in the disbelief of “what the hell, you Philly dummy, you took away our supercool indie rock monument from this neighborhood, that’s not cool”…which, in retrospect, comes off as incredibly spoiled-bratty. Obviously what happened here speaks to larger issues of Old Philadelphia v. New Philadelphia, of changing neighborhoods, even of gentrification and displaced residents. Not that the buffer was a Fishtown lifer — they’d lived in the neighborhood since 1999, as revealed in an interview with local journo Leah Kaufmann – but they were distanced enough from the music scene that they didn’t see “Kurt Vile” and think “acclaimed local music guy,” they thought “this ugly thing is attracting graffiti and crime to my neighborhood, I love my neighborhood, this needs to go.” Eventually all wrongs were righted, the buffer profusely apologized and got Powers to restore the mural, but looking back on it — for me, anyway — is nevertheless an important lesson in perspective. I’d like to think I have more of it today than I did three years ago.
9. – XPN Presents the 50 Greatest Guitarists of all time – April 21, 2017
Speaking of looking back and cringing, it seems nobody was happy with XPN’s special recounting the 50 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. The long weekend showcase was curated by our programming department, and this Key post was used as an ongoing tally-keeper. Whenever you make a list proclaiming anything the “greatest” or “worst” (see above), a lot of people with a lot of opinions are going to weigh in, and they’ll probably not going to be happy. For my part, I didn’t love that the list was such an unapologetic sausage-fest; it only features two women, Bonnie Raitt at number 36, Joni Mitchell at number 23. For certain, all the guitar players listed have skill and style, but to include The Edge and not St. Vincent’s Annie Clark? Come on now, people. Evidently I was the only one who cared about the issue of gender representation in the conversation, as the comments section was mostly alight with people namechecking other dude-guitarists from the classic rock canon that were left out or improperly ranked. Ultimately, the stunt was a conversation-starter and the post a conversation-hub, and that was a good thing. But I’m inclined to agree with FB commenter Will Mason in this instance — “There is no ‘greatest’ guitarist. If you think so, you have very limited exposure to music.”
This was number two in our list last time; Amos Lee, Philly favorite and a gifted writer of songs and interpreter of classics, lent his cover chops to this John Denver nugget for The Music In You, a 2013 tribute album. Amos totally makes it his own.
Honestly, though, I do love the Grateful Dead. I love Deadheads, even. I just don’t always find them — how to put this delicately? — the most willing to listen to artists they have not already heard. Which, when you’ve got a band’s catalog that is so sprawling and immersive that you can probably spend the remainder of your life listening to it and only it and still not hear all there is to hear, it makes total sense. But the Dead were such a massively influential band across the board, it seems a shame that artists who took cues from them — beyond the obvious jam-band mimics — aren’t given due consideration. In this piece, published on the 20th anniversary of Jerry Garcia’s passing, I picked out 20 currently-active bands that are worth any Deadhead’s time, from The Weather Station to Warpaint, Built to Spill to Kamasi Washington
6. – Watch The Grateful Dead play the last-ever show at JFK Stadium this day in 1989 – July 7, 2016
And for some straight-up Dead nostalgia, here’s some incredible footage from Philly concert history — Jerry and the boys playing the final show held at JFK Stadium, the storied South Philadelphia stadium where Live Aid happened, where The Stones rehearsed and more. This post was exciting not only for the incredible pro-shot footage of the concert, but the opportunity it gave me to dig into the history of a music venue I never got to experience in person.
5. – R.I.P. Erik Petersen of Mischief Brew – July 15, 2016
The longer you cover a music scene, the more the musicians you’re covering become something like friends. And even though Erik Petersen, leader of gnarly Philly folk-punks Mischief Brew, certainly had closer people in his life than myself, I considered him a friend…and have you ever had to write an obituary for a friend? It’s difficult. While still processing the shock of his passing, I had to report on it as well, and I wasn’t sure what to say. Erik is the first artist I ever recorded at WXPN studios; he was the catalyst in my journey to what I do today. He’s a guy who would give me bear hugs when I’d bump into him at shows or at coffeeshops in Lansdowne. I kind of just wrote from the heart with this one, and paired with archival audio — including his aching not-heard-before cover of “My Hometown” by (you guessed it) Bruce Springsteen — I think it made for a fitting tribute to somebody whose music and presence in the scene meant a lot to me.
4. – Remembering Dante Bucci: A unique voice in Philadelphia music – August 15, 2014
Sorry, I forgot to warn you that this was the section of the list where tissues might come in handy. Dante Bucci wasn’t just a much-loved musician in the Philadelphia Folk Festival community, he was an artist doing something that literally nobody else in Philadelphia was trying. Bucci was a master of the Hang drum, a metal instrument that was both percussive and melodic, sort of like a variation on steel drums played with your hands. Whether it was from the Folk Fest Stage or busking spots around Philly, his playing made you stop and listen — like I said in this story, “nobody could make the drums sing” like him — and when Bucci passed suddenly in 2014, I talked to some of his closest friends, including singer-songwriter Multu Oneral.
I knew this post was going to do well. It was such an absurd idea, how could it not? I came across the Jay-Z project from Jersey’s 4:44 while listening up on new music for my Items Tagged Philadelphia series, and even though this release — being the product of a local artist we’ve never covered before — fell underneath that series’ jurisdiction, I felt that it was deserving of its own post. So I put one together, and then Reddit got a hold of it. Tens of thousands of pageviews later, here we are. Anthony Friedlander from the band sent me a really sweet e-mail later in the summer thanking me for what I did for the band. It’s strange to hear it put in those terms — I look at it like I’m just writing about a band of talented musicians who did something I thought was hysterical — but considering the crapshoot of digital music and self promotion, considering how often artists put their music online and just hope for the best, I guess it really is that way.
2. – This is what the Philly punk scene looked like in the 1980s – September 18, 2013
My jaws still drop when I see these photos Pier Nicola D’Amico shot in Philadelphia during the 1980s. As soon as I encountered it, his web gallery The Lost Archive struck a huge chord with me — and just about anybody else who clicked through to view it — and my stumbling upon it four years ago gave me an opportunity to write about visual art, something I hadn’t done for a long time and missed dearly. Thanks to a speedy viral dissemination accelerated by shares on NPR Music and NPR, this remained our most-visited Key post for a very, very long time.
1. – The Trocadero calendar from fall 1994 was ridiculously awesome – August 31, 2015
Another lesson in perspective — sometimes, when you’re in the thick of an active music scene, you can’t see the forest for the trees. You might look at an upcoming calendar of gigs and think “my goodness, there are a lot of shows this week” rather than “we are living in an incredibly important and historic moment in time and we should do all that we can to savor it.” An illustration: my buddy Jesse uncovered a 21-year-old flyer advertising the October show schedule at The Trocadero, my favorite venue growing up. And, holy smokes. As I wrote at the time: “Jesus and Mary Chain with Mazzy Star opening? Pavement and GBV on the same bill? (Bet every indie rock dude in the city was at that show.) Beck‘s first Philly show, Dead Milkmen‘s final pre-reunion show, freaking Deee-Lite. New Hope oddballs Ween on the Chocolate and Cheese tour, perennial industrial faves Pigface, freaking Velocity Girl. This is the very definition of a stacked concert calendar.” That sense of wonder propelled this story into our current top spot, a celebration of memories for those who were there and a enthralling time capsule for those who were not.
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