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Building Up From Rock Bottom: Philly’s Matt Kerr on making music with incarcerated youth

Matt Kerr of Beyond the Bars at Philadelphia Industrial Correction Center | Photo by Rachel Del Sordo | racheldelsordophotography.com
Matt Kerr of Beyond the Bars at Philadelphia Industrial Correction Center | Photo by Rachel Del Sordo | racheldelsordophotography.com

Restorative. Not punitive. That’s what musician and teacher Matt Kerr believes all prisons should be.

Kerr, a teacher in the Philadelphia school district and former guitarist in the local band Family Vacation, decided this year to start a music after-school program at the school he was teaching at, which led to a thought-provoking conversation with the mother of one of his students. Continue reading →

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Girls Rock Philly will host Sustaining Our Sounds gala on Saturday

Girls Rock Philly
Girls Rock Philly campers | photo via www.GirlsRockPhilly.org

Girls Rock Philly launched in 2006 and held its first camp in August of 2007 with just 20 campers – including yours truly. The next year, it more than doubled in size, and the organization has been growing ever since. For most of its early years, Girls Rock Philly was entirely run by volunteers; in 2012, Diane Foglizzo became the first paid staff member, and now it has several people on staff in addition to its many volunteers. This has opened up many more opportunities for the organization and year-round programming for youth.

Continue reading →

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Expat Chats: Attia Taylor on life in the Big Apple

Attia Taylor in Paris | via Facebook
Attia Taylor in Paris | via Facebook

Attia Taylor released her very first EP, Dear Universe, in 2009 and quickly started playing shows across the city and in the northeast. Her dream-pop jams were infectious and quickly won over many showgoers’ ears. In 2012, she made the move out of Philly to New York City. It has taken some to time to get accustomed in the mega-metropolis, and she tells us she’s still getting settled three years later.

“I wanted a bigger environment,” she said of the move. “It was a big transition. Trying to feel comfortable in a new place. [In New York] there’s a lot of places in fit in. Whereas, Philly you fit right in. You kinda just play music and get to know everyone and it’s kind of a family. It’s a bigger pond here.”

She hasn’t been playing out too much lately. “I actually played more shows in New York before I moved here,” she said. But Taylor tells us she has been working on a top-secret project that’s close to seeing the light of day.  Continue reading →

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The Key’s Year-End Mania: Maura Filoromo’s Five Favorite Philly Releases of 2014

Tutlie | Photo by Debbie Zak Cohen | dkzak.com
Tutlie | Photo by Debbie Zak Cohen | dkzak.com

Year-End Mania is the Key’s survey of the things below the surface that made 2014 awesome. In this installment, Key contributor Maura Filoromo shares her favorite Philly records of the year.

This has been a great year in Philly music and for so many genres! Bad Canoes and Allison Crutchfield’s solo album are among the best Philly debut releases this year. It’s amazing how much the scene has grown. So much music was cranked out locally in this year alone and Philly is showing the country what we’ve always been: a major hub of talented bands and artists. While the scene doesn’t get the national notoriety of say New York or Austin, we’re getting there. Just like our bud SEPTA! These are my Top 5 Philly releases of 2014 that are poised to get the attention of the nation’s ear. Continue reading →

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An Umbrella for the Music Scene: Tracing the evolution of Broad Street Music Group

Broad Street Music Group founders (from left) Will Toms, Dave Silver, and Andrew Rohe | Photo courtesy of BSMG
Broad Street Music Group founders (from left) Will Toms, Dave Silver, and Andrew Rohe | Photo by Chelsea Memmolo | chelseamemmolophotography.com

2014 marked the official end of an era when Philadelphia International Records closed. The revered label saw artists such as Teddy Pendergrass and Patti LaBelle working with the legendary producing team of Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff.

One local organization wants to do Gamble & Huff did for artists. They want to connect all the music resources in the city and make Philadelphia a top music market.

Broad Street Music Group is a name you may recognize. The event production company has been committed to the music scene for over two and a half years. Their goal was to “discovered the undiscovered.” And they’re not slowing down at all. Continue reading →

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Expat Chats: Corey Duncan of Oh! Pears checks in from the Pacific Northwest

Corey Duncan of Oh! Pears | Photo by Adam Haney
Corey Duncan of Oh! Pears | Photo by Adam Haney

If you ask Corey Duncan where he is from, he’ll tell you Philadelphia.

The man behind Oh! Pears, is well known to Philadelphians in the music scene. With his everlasting love for quality pizza and of the word “jawn,” you’d probably think he is a Philly native, but geographically he is from Seattle. He grew up in the suburbs there.

Two years ago, he moved back to the West Coast after living in Philly since he was 19. Continue reading →

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Rockers BBQ promotes cultural diversity in Philly this weekend

Shinobi Ninja performs a Rockers! show at Kung Fu Necktie last summer | Photo by Geoff Hall | via facebook.com/thegoodfolksatrockers
Shinobi Ninja performs a Rockers! show at Kung Fu Necktie last summer | Photo by Geoff Hall | via facebook.com/thegoodfolksatrockers

Many events strive to be diverse. Few are as deeply committed to the cause as the people behind Rockers!.

A long-running monthly series in Philadelphia that promotes cultural diversity, the Rockers! shows are mix of genres, ethnicities, and even mediums. Spoken word events and workshops occur often—it’s not strictly music. The event series grew out of a desire to see more bands of color playing punk shows. Continue reading →

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Expat Chats: Cheers Elephant visit from sunny California to headline Union Transfer on Friday

Cheers Elephant | photo by Debbie Zak Cohen
Cheers Elephant | photo by Debbie Zak Cohen

Surf. Sand. Warm weather year-round. Does the West Coast feel like paradise? For Cheers Elephant, the answer is definitely yes. Southern California is now home to the formerly Philly-based band.

Cheers Elephant formed in 2007 and built up quite a name for themselves in the local Philly scene. As the years went on, they started booking more shows and doing larger tours. Earlier this year, the band made the cross-country jump to California.

So why did they leave?  Moving was something they always knew would happen, The band describes themselves as outdoorsy people, so the environment of California was fitting. Signing with a management company based in L.A, and having a few girlfriends locate west, they all agreed it was the right time to move.

Thus far, the band loves the Californian laid back vibes, and they have been keeping busy with writing and planning shows.

Besides weather, there are definitely differences in the way people interact and the music scene. “Philly is more tightly knit. We were good friends with a lot of bands. It was a close-knit community. L.A. is all sprawled out,” said bass player Matt Rothstein. They haven’t really discovered the music scene of Southern California or if there even is one.

Continue reading →

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How Laura Baird blends elements of the past with music of the present

Laura Baird | photo via laurabaird.com
Laura Baird | photo via laurabaird.com

History runs deep in Old City. It’s evident from the cobblestones, the 17th century buildings, and the re-enactors dressed in colonial garb.

This Thursday, Old City Coffee will be host to a night of music that is reflective of a multitude of histories. An outdoor concert will be held featuring Laura Baird and Ember Schrag as part of the Night Market.

It is more than fitting for Baird, a musician with a rich history of her own, to be playing in this part of the city with the banjo. The building where Old City Coffee sits was once a prosperous banjo factory and helped popularize the instrument.

From 1886 to 1899, 219 – 221 Church Street was The S.S. Stewart Banjo Factory, according to Mira Treatman, marketing manager at Old City Coffee; the business made banjos, guitars, mandolins, and published an accompanying trade magazine.

“It was the cat’s meow at the time in the burgeoning pop music world,” said Treatman.

For Baird, music runs in the family. It’s even documented in the Library of Congress. Her great-great-uncle, I.G. Greer, is the first person to be recorded playing Appalachian music. Greer was from a town called Zion in North Carolina. He taught at Appalachian State College in nearby Boone. Baird traveled down there once to see a collection of his writings and compositions at the college. She also wrote to Library of Congress and attained a copy of Grier’s LP recording.

For years Laura performed with her younger sister, Meg Baird (of Espers). The Baird Sisters are well known in the folk community and have released several albums, the most recent being Until You Find Your Green in 2012 on Grapefruit Records. Despite an established association with this genre, Laura Baird actually didn’t like folk music until high school. “There was a folk show on XPN. I started listening to it and recorded on tapes. Then I took some of those tapes to college and really started to get into the genre,” she said.

Laura grew up in Burlington County, New Jersey where there was always a presence of music around the home. She took piano lessons from an early age until college. Over time she’s learned to play the trombone, sousaphone, flute, guitar, and banjo. Elements of the past definitely work their way into the songs.

“I play a lot of traditional songs. It’s always a part of my set,” she said. Her influences include medieval music, Celtic traditional folk music, and the Methodist Hymnal.

“We would go to church sometimes, and there is a real simplicity in the songs that I love,” she said.

Baird didn’t start composing her own music until college. She went to Duke University for electrical engineering and graduated in 1986. There she played in the orchestra and “hung around the music buildings,” she said.

It was also at Duke that she was exposed to more banjo music through a unique job. Continue reading →

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Philly punk party Rockers! returns to showcase diversity in a multisensory weekend festival

Rockers! founder Camae Defstar, left, performs at an event in 2011 | Photo via facebook.com/thegoodfolksatrockers
Rockers! founder Camae Defstar, left, performs at an event in 2011 | Photo by D1L0 via facebook.com/thegoodfolksatrockers

Few events can sustain themselves for periods of over 10 years. Few shows offer such diversity in terms of people, genres, and art. That’s what makes Rockers! so unique; it has both.

A long-running music and art showcase that promotes diversity, Rockers! began because of a desire to see more bands of color playing punk shows.

Camae Defstar is one of the founding organizers of Rockers! and books almost all of the shows. Defstar started Rockers! around 2005 with her friend and band member, Rebecca Roe.

Growing up, Defstar didn’t see people of color in punk music. They didn’t receive recognition. She felt like she was the only one into the punk scene. She says Rockers! showcases bands who have something to say and don’t fit the traditional mold of their respective genres.

“We wanted our band, the Mighty Paradocs to play. We didn’t know too much about booking, so we said ‘Hey let’s book an event with bands we like and want to play with.”

Rockers began at the now-defunct venue Aqua Lounge that was located near Front and Girard Streets. The series then moved to Tritone on South Street, where it grew and created a community.

“There [at Tritone] we started to have a community of artists that were trying to play but didn’t have the access or connections to do so. That’s how Rockers started getting steam,” said Defstar.

Tritone was the host location of Rockers until the venue closed in 2012. During that year, Kung Fu Necktie became the frequent site of Rockers.

Joe Jordan, right, performs at a Rockers show at Kung Fu Necktie | photo by D1L0 via facebook.com/thegoodfolksatrockers

Joe Jordan, former Mighty Paradocs drummer, has been a part of Rockers since its inception. Now, he creates music under the name the Joe Jordan Experiment. He still is a “regular” at the shows as a performer and spectator. He said Rockers gave him a sense of community.

“It’s like a home for a lot of us bands,” Jordan said. “I’d liken it to CBGB’s during its punk heyday. No fighting, just high-energy excitement. Usually people of color. [but] it’s all-inclusive. People of colors… any color…white, black, red. It’s about unity,” he said. Continue reading →