15 reasons we’re thankful to be based in Philly in 2018

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clockwise from left: Hop Along | photo by John Vettese // Serious Rap Shit | photo by Kate Devlin | courtesy of the podcast // Uncle Bobbie’s | photo by John Vettese // Keyon Harrold at South | photo by John Vettese

It’s our eighth year covering the wild and wonderful world of the Philadelphia music community here at The Key, and we can’t think of any place in the world we’d rather be doing this. Some of the best artists in the world call this city home. Some of the most forward-thinking promoters give them places to play on the regular. And beyond music, the city gives us plenty of things to look forward to seeing and experiencing every day. This Thanksgiving, we give you a rundown of reasons why we’re thankful to be in Philly in 2018.


We’re the home of the Serious Rap Shit podcast. — We don’t toot our own horn enough about this, but when music critic John Morrison is not writing for us (or Bandcamp Daily, or Jump, or any number of other publications), he’s hosting the Serious Rap Shit podcast with longtime friend Josh Indi Leidy. On a semi-weekly basis, the two of them geek out for hours, riffing on their encyclopedic knowledge of hip-hop as well as sports, pop culture, and politics. The vibe runs the gamut from thought-provoking (they’d be the first to tell you that the Thanksgiving holiday has its origins in white supremacy and colonialism) to hysterical (please, please, please, if you do nothing else, listen to one of their conspiracy theory episodes). John and Josh’s tastes lean undeniably old-school, but they aren’t crotchety old men about it either, giving a fair shake to rap’s next generation, from the widely-embraced (Tierra Whack) to the easily-dismissed (Matt Ox), while also offering hot takes on the overexposed, ie. “I hope Drake’s new album is trash.” (They were right, sorrynotsorry.) We’re grateful to have them making moves out of our city.

We got to see Hop Along four times in the first few months of the year alone. — We know, we know…you feel like we’re always going on about Philadelphia rock four-piece Hop Along here at The Key. Take a listen to their brilliant new Bark Your Head Off, Dog, though, from the jangling pop hooks of the opening “How Simple” to the circuitous string meditations of the beautiful closer “Prior Things,” and tell me you don’t understand why. This band released one of the best records of 2018, a record that we’re happy to see getting widespread critical acclaim, and if that’s not enough, they’ve treated their hometown to a bounty of gigs this year. Free at Noon, Non-COMM, a Johnny Brenda’s pop-up on record release day, and a packed house Union Transfer show this summer. Four times in a two-month period, to say nothing of frontwoman Frances Quinlan’s solo appearances or DJ sets around town. We’re thankful that we’ve gotten to see more of one of our favorite bands this year than pretty much anywhere else in the world.

We can watch Hardwork Movement level up with each gig they play. — Every time I see Philly hip-hop crew Hardwork Movement, I walk away from the show thinking “that was amazing, how the hell are they going to top this?” And every time I see their next show, they’ve gone and topped it, whether it be through new jams, or crowd interactivity (Jeremy Keys and Sterling Duns holding a dance-off in the middle of Boot & Saddle), or increasingly tight playing, or just the overall spectacle (the band’s epic performance at Spruce Street Harbor Park in September that drew the biggest crowd we saw at the waterfront pop-up all summer). This is all the more impressive when you consider that they play dang near monthly, and have a ton of side projects on their plate as well, from trumpeter Becca Graham’s Honeychile to drummer Angel Ocana’s Presages. I don’t know how they do it — I mean, hard work maybe? — but this crew is a case study into how to make music your life. We’re thankful to be along for the ride.

We’re home to national artists who love to throw parties in December (and one in the summer). — The beautiful thing about Philly artists blowing up on the national and international level is that they then go and plan special things for their hometown. The longest-running example is The Roots Picnic every Memorial Day Weekend, but lately we’ve found December is the time for the local celebs to plan their hometown throwdowns. For the past four years, Strand of Oaks has taken over Boot & Saddle for a run of shows that main man Tim Showalter has dubbed the Winter Classic, and they’re incredible nights of music. This year, The War on Drugs has followed suit with A Drug-cember To Remember, a series that (thankfully) has no overlap with the Classic, taking place two weeks later at Johnny Brenda’s the first night (how the hell is all their gear going to fit on the JBs stage?), then Union Transfer, then The Tower Theater. And the run-up to New Year’s Eve has traditionally been a time for Philadelphia artists to get loose at Johnny Brenda’s; last year, The Districts played two sold-out nights; this year, Japanese Breakfast plays three sold-out nights. We’re grateful to embrace these folks the way they embrace us.

Strand of Oaks | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

We have a jazz scene that is having a moment. — The Center City Jazz Fest is one of my favorite musical events of the spring, a daytime jam-out where four venues on the Sansom Street corridor open their doors in the daylight hours for eclectic lineups of artists that wristband-wearers can spend all afternoon bouncing between. For newcomers to the jazz scene, it’s a great taste of what there is to see and hear, but over the past couple years, there have been a number of other events that have opened the doors to the oft-insular jazz scene, as well as helped mobilize the jazz scene to build. On the latter side of things, Jazz Industry Day in September was a by-musicians-for-musicians workshop to help artists continue parlaying their skills into a robust career; the Philadelphia Jazz Summit symposium found a spectrum of performers, promoters, movers and shakers contemplating the state of the scene and how to grow. And as to that growth, the wonderful Fairmount venue South is just about to celebrate its third year bringing a reliably exciting slate of programming to Broad Street in one of the city’s best listening rooms (Keyon Harrold was amazing there in a two-night-stand last weekend, and unlike other establishment jazz venues in Philly, South understands that music should always take precedence to dining). Ars Nova’s October Revolution returned for another autumn festival celebrating the avant-garde, Temple University’s Rite of Swing jazz cafe gives free performances every Thursday from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. with names like pianist George Burton and saxophonist Tim Warfield on the bill; and let’s not forget onetime Philadelphia City Paper jazz critic Nate Chinen (now a writer for much bigger-deal publications like NPR Music and New York Times), who released a must-read book called Playing Changes this year, surveying all that is great about 21st century jazz. Learning about jazz is a lifelong process, and we’re grateful that Philly gives us so many opportunities to do so.

We got to attend an incredible summer of music at Spruce Street Harbor Park. — This year’s lineup at what’s probably our favorite free summer concert series was amazing: emo-rock outfit Harmony Woods opened things in June, Hardwork Movement closed it out in September, amazing sets were in the mix from heavy post-punks Restorations, stoner thrashers Ruby The Hatchet, prog-fusion jammers Killiam Shakespeare, basement scene faves Radiator Hospital and so much more. Most impressively, only one show in the entire series was rained out this year. Spruce Street Harbor Park is a reliably awesome hang in the summer, and this year it was off the charts. Kudos to curator Chris Ward and the DRWC for their best year yet. We were thrilled to be there for so many shows and we can’t wait to see what’s in store next year.

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We have a giving-minded DIY community. — Our DIY scene is healthier than ever, from the Home Outgrown folks putting on sick gigs at Everybody Hits, to R5 Productions keeping things strong in the Church basement, to PhilaMOCA’s reliably awesome and weird run of programming. We’re also happy to see how, in these maddening times, so many artists and promoters are throwing shows with charitable ends in mind: a VoxPopuli gig to combat the opioid crisis, Nothing’s hometown headliner that advocated for criminal justice reform, and an incredible January of shows at Boot and Saddle where, betwteen Lame-O Records’ Rock Residency to the Peace and Noise shows and more, dang near every concert helped financially support some nonprofit aimed at making the world a little better. We’re grateful to be in the middle of a music scene that cares about more than selling tickets and t-shirts.

We love to take part in the annual Broad Street Run. — Not everything we love about Philly is music-related, of course, and here are a few things beyond the world of bands and shows that make the city great. A big one: the annual Broad Street Run, an early morning race where tens of thousands of people make the ten-mile dash from Broad and Olney to the Naval Yard, getting love and encouragement from all the neighborhoods along the way, North Philly to Temple to South Philly. This year, Philly rapper Reef The Lost Cauze summed up the run’s significance in a Tweet, and I totally agree: it brings the city together in a big way.

We’re finally able to walk the refurbished Rail Park and it is beautiful. — The Rail Park might be a multi-year, multi-phase project that won’t be full open and operational until the young Philadelphians exploring it now are pushing strollers on the same path as offspring on tricycles follow behind. But that’s fine, though: good things take time, and the quarter mile of the park that is open now is a joy to traverse, from its towering swings to its spectacular perch above the Eraserhood. (Or Callowhill, if you prefer.)

We regularly hit up movie nights at Uncle Bobbies. — Temple professor, political commentator, and activist Marc Lamont Hill opened Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee & Books one year ago this December, and it’s fast become one of my favorite places in the city. The Germantown establishment gets you caffeinated and gives you lots of reading options, with a mission of centering marginalized voices and authors of color. It also offers an incredible series of community events, from author talks to symposiums. My favorite thing to do there has been the Uncle Bobbie’s Friday night film series, where I’ve watched everything from Chasing Trane to Mudbound to A Great And Mighty Walk and Juice. Each film is followed by a discussion, where an expert on whatever subject matter was on the table that week offers insight and guides the audience through sharing their reactions.

We can party every month amidst paintings and sculptures at the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Final Fridays. — It’s already a joy to wander the PMA’s collection of Monet, Kandinsky, Duchamp, and more, but when you’ve got local synthpop legends Crash Course in Science rocking in an alcove, or poet Ursula Rucker speaking in a gallery, or party rocker Dan Deacon directing the crowd to create a human tunnel up the museum staircase, it’s a thing of pure immersive joy. If you only go to the Art Museum one day a month, go on Final Fridays.

We watched with pride as Tierra Whack took over the world. — Here at The Key, were familiar with hip-hop surrealist sensation Tierra Whack from seeing her name pop up on a few What Scene? gigs a couple years back, so when Whack World landed in the last weekend of May, it was a no-brainer to check it out. And like everybody else who has watched the brilliant 15-songs-in-15-minutes visual album, our minds were instantly blown. We knew from Soundcloud jams like “Toe Jam” that Whack was a singular, formidable MC — some of us, ahem John Morrison, knew her at a much deeper level — but this project amplified her creative vision in a massive way, and seeing her garner praise this year from all around the music press and all around the world has been an utter joy. If you haven’t already done so, give her Fader cover feature a read (as REC Philly points out on Twitter, the current issue is Philly on both sides with Japanese Breakfast on the other cover). We’re grateful that somebody who calls Philly home is getting her due.

We’ve (still) got the Made In America Festival. — After a dispute between City Hall and Roc Nation that played out awkwardly in public via national press coverage and social media trolling, we got word that Jay-Z’s annual Made In America Festival will remain in its place on the Parkway. Is it a perfect festival? Not by any stretch…but, what festival is? For what it is, a big party of EDM and hip-hop and pop music, with a bit of rock sprinkled in here and there, it’s a fun (if a bit sloppy) time. Are the NIMBY neighbors in Fairmount right in their concerns? Possibly…but isn’t noise and crowd congestion kind of what they signed up for by moving so close to one of the most highly-trafficked, event-filled streets in the city? Unless they’ve been living along the Parkway since like 1975, nothing about MIA is new. Bottom line, from our perspective, is MIA raises the national profile of Philly as a hub for music, and that is undeniably a good thing. We’re thankful it’s continuing.

We’re seriously psyched for The Met to open. — We’re less than two weeks away from the grand opening of Philadelphia’s latest music venue, and the fact that it has several previous lives dating back to the early 1900s has us eager to get there and see the fixed-up space ASAP. Flat artist’s renderings can only tell you so much; we want to see the room in three dimensions, we want feel the architectural flourishes on its walls, to hear what music sounds like in its halls that we can only assume are gloriously resonant. And that initial lineup? Holy smokes, they’ve got everybody playing there — Bob Dylan on opening night, John Legend on night two, Philly favs Kurt Vile and PnB Rock before December’s end, Boyz II Men for a Valentine’s-adjacent gig, major shows in the new year from Massive Attack, Gary Clark, Jr., Mariah Carey, and Amos Lee. Yes, it’s a LiveNation venue, and their status and financial resources as a national concert-promoting corporation absolutely made them able to land all these acts in its initial run. But while the independent music press is supposed to pooh-pooh corporate music venues, I’m not totally feeling that here — a solid lineup is a solid lineup, and the building looks like it’s going to be gorgeous.

We’ve got Gritty. — Seriously, how can you not love this guy? He’s brought all of the city (and all of the internet) together to experience weird goofy joy in otherwise polarized, trying times. We’re grateful that the Flyers chose Gritty; we’re grateful that Gritty chose us.

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