Punk legend Patti Smith recieves the Hepburn Medal at Bryn Mawr College

Patti Smith | Photo by Chris Sikich |

Most colleges consign punk rock to dorm rooms, obscure airwaves or an out-of-the-way venue. Maybe even a class or two. But when it comes to the top brass, not too many pledge allegiance to the punk flag. Then again, not too many Main Line schools get to salute a legend like Patti Smith.

“I suspect Bryn Mawr actually has a punk spirit,” college President Jane McAuliffe said Thursday night before presenting Patti Smith with the Katharine Hepburn Medal.

Photo by Chris Sikich |

Kim Masters of The Hollywood Reporter, the night’s master of ceremonies, pointed to actress Katharine Hepburn and her mother, family-planning advocate Katharine Houghton Hepburn — both Bryn Mawr graduates — as “trailblazing women who defied convention.”

And while that description also fits Patti Smith, she’s not necessarily the first candidate you’d come up with for the Katharine Hepburn Medal, which was first awarded in 2006 to recognize achievement in film and theater, women’s health and civic engagement. The previous winners — actresses Lauren Bacall and Blythe Danner, mural maven Jane Golden and HIV expert Helene Gayle — fit more neatly into the medal’s mission.

But Smith’s CV is anything but neat; you’ll run out of hyphens before she runs out of energy. She’s a rocker-memoirist-photographer-actress-model-playwright-muse-critic-painter-poet — and you know I’m forgetting something. Not bad for a South Jersey girl who dropped out of Glassboro State College to be somebody in New York City. Continue reading →


The Key’s Year-End Mania: M.J. Fine’s five most memorable nights of music in 2012

For The Key’s year-in-review, we asked our trusted sources – our writers and photographers, XPN’s on-air staff, fellow bloggers in the Philly scene and even a few musicians – to send us their Top Five Whatevers. Could be the traditional music route – albums, songs, concerts of the year – or it could be only loosely connected. We’ll be sharing these recaps every day through to the end of the year. Today, contributing writer M.J. Fine recounts her five most memorable nights of music in 2012.

Working nights means I can’t catch every great band that passes through Philly.  But I do what I can, whether that means using up vacation time for a must-see show, cramming a few days’ worth of performances into a couple of hours, taking a quick trip to another town, or going the festival route. Here were my five most memorable nights of music in 2012. Continue reading →


Interview: Mirah on taking risks and returning east (plays Johnny Brenda’s on Tuesday)

No one would accuse Mirah of making the same album twice. Since she first came out of K Records’ storied stable with 2000’s You Think It’s Like This But Really It’s Like This, the singer-songwriter born Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn has recorded four-track treatises on love and lust, sonic experimentations with studio whiz Phil Elverum, and a string of collaborations that cast her as everything from anti-war folkie to biology-lab sweetheart to disco siren.

But since 2009, Mirah hasn’t released an album at all — at least, not a solo album like the ones that charmed her earliest fans, filled with intimate observations and masterful melodies. Last year, she first made the funky, organic Thao & Mirah with Thao Nguyen and tUnE-yArDs’ Merrill Garbus, then the one-off dance single “Low Self Control” with Tender Forever. While her next project is gestating, expect fresh takes on older favorites on Tuesday when she plays Johnny Brenda’s with a band that includes Lori Goldston (cello), Alex Guy (viola/violin/loop pedals) and drummer/vibraphonist Andrew Maguire (drums/vibraphone).

It’s a homecoming of sorts for the native Philadelphian, who recently relocated to New York after spending 20 years on the West Coast. (Talk about bad timing.) We spoke on the phone on Election Day about surviving Sandy, flexing new musical muscles and returning to the city where she was born 38 years ago. Continue reading →