Inside the Aspiring Young Artists program, a six-week songwriting workshop for high schoolers

Nyjiah Jenkins
Nyjiah Jenkins | photo by Nnamdi Ejim | courtesy of AYA project

Across the street from the Kensington High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, through the rusted blue foundation of the Market-Frankford Line and past the opposing gravel-filled vacant lot, there are murals. On the left is a zoomed-in portrait of a hoodied black teen with the caption, curving around his head, “Trying to be a good person.” To the right, another face, this one anonymous, silhouetted with black paint. Inside the face is an assurance, or maybe even a plea. “Don’t worry I’m not gonna rob you.”

Ricky Strickler, a 27-year-old master’s student at Temple studying Urban Education, sees beyond this stereotype. An experienced worker in Philadelphia schools through programs like AmeriCorps and YouthBuild Philly, a charter school specifically for high school dropouts, he got a firsthand view of a school system that was both broke and failing to recognize its own students’ talents. “It was amazing to see how much incredible music talent was passing through that building, who had been pushed out or had left our regular high schools,” he says. “So that got me thinking about music and how it could be used pedagogically, in education.”

Before grad school, Strickler majored in business and wanted to pursue a job in the music industry. A drummer since age 12 and a member of a multiple bands growing up, it seemed the natural path. Until it wasn’t anymore. “Somewhere along the way, my last couple of years in college,” he says, “I got really interested in education in America and the inequalities that exist, specifically in inner cities.”

Strickler was still passionate about music; he just had to figure out how to combine this with his newfound interest in education. The result is the Aspiring Young Artists program, which piloted this year at KCAPA. Serving also as the capstone project for his Urban Education degree, the program is a six-week songwriting workshop that culminates with students taking their carefully crafted compositions to the studio and turning them into real, tangible songs. Continue reading →


Tonight’s Concert Picks: The Lawsuits at The Foundry, The Thermals at Union Transfer, Cakes Da Killa at Johnny Brenda’s and more

The Lawsuits | Photo by Jeremy Zimmerman |
The Lawsuits | Photo by Jeremy Zimmerman |

The Lawsuits‘ clever take on Americana, country-infused rock has made them one of our favorite local bands of late. The group released their most recent EP, Tumbled, back in 2014, but have recently been gearing up for the release of their sophomore album, Moon Sun, on Randm Records. The record’s first single, “Romeo,” is Wilco-esque, a calm two of half minutes of understated beautiful music. The Lawsuits play tonight at The Foundry and are likely to feature more tracks from the forthcoming Moon Sun. Grab tickets via the XPN Concert Calendar. Continue reading →


Meet Queue: a new five-piece spinning effortless dream pop melodies

Queue | Photo by Tina Letter
Queue | Photo by Tina Letter

“Falling Into Skies,” the debut single from Philly scene newcomers Queue, is like waking up. First, your pupils contract, adjusting to the light. Then your surroundings slowly come into focus, but you’re still groggy.

Queue perfectly captures this feeling of early-morning haze. Singer Olivia Price’s voice is thick and smooth, lethargically holding on to syllables at the ends of phrases. Even the drums have a muted quality to them.

The five-piece is split between D.C. and Philly, but you wouldn’t know it from how cohesive “Falling Into Skies” sounds. Although three-fifths of Queue currently works in corporate, nine-to-five jobs, the goal is to one day all live in the same city and focus on the band. It’s still early, but after listening to “Falling Into Skies,” that proposition doesn’t sound all too unreasonable. In the month since its release, the track has received over 5,000 listens on Soundcloud and has been picked up by radio stations in both the U.K. and France. Continue reading →


Tonight’s Concert Picks: Polica at Union Transfer, Delicate Steve at Underground Arts

Poliça | photo courtesy of the artist

Minneapolis five-piece Polica announced their tour dates, which included a stop in Philadelphia, all the way back in November. Well, the day has finally arrived — Polica will be performing at Union Transfer tonight. The group recently unveiled their third release, United Crushers, an album that provides an endless supply of synthesizer-driven hooks, but often with a dark, serious undercurrent (one of the album’s singles, “Wedding,” bluntly tackles issues of police militarization and the drug trade). You can find tickets and more information about the show via the XPN Concert Calendar. Continue reading →


Tonight’s (Non-KeyFest) Concert Picks: Into It. Over It. at TLA, Christine Havrilla at Tin Angel, and Charles Bradley at Union Transfer

Into It. Over It.
Evan Weiss of Into It. Over It. | photo by Cameron Witting | courtesy of the artist

Key Fest comes to close tonight, featuring Americana headliners Hezekiah Jones. But if you have your eye on some other shows, check these three out.

Into. It. Over It. is the emo-rock project of Chicagoan Evan Thomas Weiss. Having just released his new record Standards, Weiss is stopping by TLA tonight. If Into. It. Over It.’s own emo-revival music wasn’t appealing enough, the band is also touring with the acclaimed The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die. Find tickets and more info at the XPN Concert Calendar. Continue reading →


Tonight’s (Non-KeyFest) Concert Picks: Heart Harbor at Tin Angel, Rene Marie at Exit 0 Jazz Fest, and Spirit of the Beehive at the First Unitarian Church

Heart Harbor 0 Jessica Kourkounis
Heart Harbor | Photo by Jessica Kourkounis | courtesy of the artist |

So, you might have heard that night two of Key Fest is tonight. If you like punk/indie rock, it’s going to be awesome. If you like good music in general, it’s going to be awesome. But, this is Philly, which means there are always plenty of other concerts going on. Here are three other concerts happening tonight. Heart Harbor is the project of Kerry Hallet. But while Hallet is grounded by a singer-songwriter character, her music is recorded with a full band and is overflowing with catchy pop hooks. Think Aimee Mann but with a more upbeat, carefree sound. Hallet just released her debut EP, Tender Trap, and will be celebrating the occasion with a show at Tin Angel. Read Hallet’s conversation with The Key here, and grab tickets to the show over at the XPN Concert Calendar. Continue reading →