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“The ethic of taking care of ourselves” fuels new benefit comp with tracks from Void Vision, Plastic Ivy, and more

Casey Grabowski performs as Secret Societies | still from video

Cancer is a cruel disease. It kills slowly, sometimes over the course of years, and even when it’s been cut and irradiated out of the body there’s still always that worry it may come back. Likewise, there is no quick solution, no easy fix. Treating cancer can take years and is incredibly taxing on the body, mind, and last but not least the wallet.

Local musician and artist Casey Grabowski has been living with stage four pancreatic cancer since 2017. Known both in electronic music circles – he played as Nearest, Obligate Surrogate, and Secret Societies and booked events for years – and as the founder of the Philadelphia Zine Fest, Grabowski, a civil engineer by trade, has been unable to work during that time. His wife and main caretaker Michelle Dewey set up an ongoing digital fundraiser that has allowed the couple to tread water while he receives medical care.

Still, even with the help of friends and strangers, they are seriously struggling to get by. Continue reading →

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The Skeleton Key: October is haunted with thrift store discos, horror flicks in cemeteries, and gigs from Swearin’ to Sun Ra Arkestra

Sun Ra Arkestra | photo by Koof Ibi Umoren for WXPN

“This year Halloween fell on a weekend and me and the Geto Boys were …” Wait a minute! Halloween isn’t on a weekend this year! But even when it falls on a Wednesday I’m still more excited for Halloween than just about any other day out of the year. It’s not just the special, yearly concerts – Dead Milkmen, Sun Ra Arkestra, all the cover shows happening around town – though that’s a huge part of it. Halloween is this huge celebration of the weird and the wonderful, an excuse to dress up and have fun and get real obsessed with ghosts. And there’s really no better city for Halloween than Philadelphia, which embraces the holiday the second the clock turns midnight on October 1st.

Welcome to the Skeleton Key, your monthly DIY calendar and column here in The Key. Let’s get spooky! Continue reading →

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The Skeleton Key: Dancehall reggae from Jamaica, psych noise from Italy, post-punk from England…September has you covered!

Hurry Up! | photo via R5 Productions

It’s unreal just how much is happening in Philly this month. I know, I know: I say that every column. But it’s true! Never forget how lucky we are to be living in this great city that has so much going on every single night. Welcome to the September edition of the Skeleton Key. From space rock at PhilaMOCA to Mexican Independence Day at Penn’s Landing to all kinds of punk: we’ve got you covered. Continue reading →

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Volunteer Powered: Meet the people behind the scenes that make Philadelphia Folk Fest happen

Philadelphia Folk Festival | photo by Lisa Schaffer | SkylerBug.com

There’s a lot of things that make the Philadelphia Folk Festival one-of-a-kind. It’s not just that it’s the longest continuously-run outdoor festival in North America, having just completed its 57th year. It’s not just the lineup, which manages to be both entertaining but also diverse and interesting. It’s not even that it’s the first outdoor festival in the United States to take the Keychange pledge to achieve performer gender parity.

In fact, the festival has in many ways transcended the music by creating a community, a family really, that gets together for a few days out of the year to camp, catch up, and watch bands play on the stages and in the campsite. It’s within that group of festival diehards and excited newcomers that you find what truly makes Folk Fest unique: the more than 2,000 volunteers that serve as the backbone for this annual undertaking. Continue reading →

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Reconnecting with the past and looking to the future, Philadelphia Folksong Society casts a wide net year-round

Philadelphia Folk Festival | photo by Lisa Schaffer | SkylerBug.com
Philadelphia Folk Festival | photo by Lisa Schaffer | SkylerBug.com

Most organizations would sell their souls at the crossroads for even half the success the Philadelphia Folksong Society has achieved in the more than six decades since they were first founded. Not only is the Philadelphia Folk Festival the country’s longest continuously held outdoor music festival, but the Folksong Society is deeply ingrained in the cultural framework of the city. The organization’s archives, which have been continuously updated over the years, were recently found to house a fifth of all of Philadelphia’s musical history, an astonishing amount.

​So you might think that after all this that they might be resting on their proverbial laurels. But like so much of the music performed at the many concerts they host, the Folksong Society has remained dynamic and continued to grow. This is even more true since the organization moved into their new home on Ridge Avenue in Roxborough earlier this year. Continue reading →

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The Skeleton Key: Pilam is dead, long live Pilam

A flyer for Pi Lam’s notorious Human BBQ, circa 1987

Starting off August’s edition of the Skeleton Key with some breaking news, which for the record is a strange thing when it comes to a column that comes out once a month. Pilam, the venerated “freak frat” at the University of Pennsylvania, is closed, at least temporarily. After more than four decades of being a space for DIY music in Philadelphia, the organization has lost its home. Details are still emerging as to what’s going on but for the time being I’d much rather just focus on the positive. Which, to repeat what I just said, is more than four decades of serving as a home for music in our city. That’s just incredible.

If you were to compile a list of every band that ever played Pilam we’d be here for a very long time. Hell, just looking at the listings of who performed at Human BBQ, the annual all-day concert at the house, is wildly impressive in both quality and quantity. This past year was the 40th BBQ with bands including Old Maybe, Norwegian Arms, Slingshot Dakota, and EDO. Screaming Females and Sadie from Speedy Ortiz played last year, along with a ton of other great bands. Two years ago it was Moor Mother, HIRS, and Japanese Breakfast. We could seriously go on like this forever.

The first time I specifically remember being at the festival was way back in 2001 to see An Albatross, Stinking Lizaveta, and … EDO. Some things never change. Also, I somehow missed Wesley Willis. Maybe I was getting pizza? Continue reading →

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Breaking the Barrier: The Lehigh Valley’s Chris Reject talks punk, wrestling, and tonight’s Let’s Hang Out festival in Bethlehem

Dasher Hatfield vs Juan Francisco | photo by Zia Hitley | courtesy of the artist

Wrestling and punk go together like, well, wrestling and punk. They’re both aggressive, weird, fun, and straddling that line between the mainstream – WWE, Warped Tour, that recent Misfits reunion show where the tickets were like $500 each – and various levels of the DIY underground. Two sides of the same twisted coin. Just like in punk, the atmosphere of a wrestling match is dictated not just by what’s going on in the ring (or out of it!) but by how the crowd is reacting to it all. That’s why one of the most exciting moments in a match or at a show is when that barrier between performer and crowd is literally broken down and the two briefly become one.

It should be no surprise then that there’s been a lot of crossover between wrestling and punk over the years. This is both in the more metaphoric sense, with wrestlers being identified in some way as fans of the music, or quite literally with wrestling-themed bands. Scratch the surface of any self-professed punk and you’ll find someone who, even if they aren’t a wrestling fan, will at the very least admit to enjoying the chaos of it all. And the opposite is certainly true.

To that end, Chris Reject, very much a huge lover of DIY music and wrestling and the head honcho at Lehigh Valley Apparel Creations and Square of Opposition Records, has helped put together an event this Friday in Bethlehem that is all those things and more.

Called Let’s Hang Out! – named after the album by the classic Bethlehem hardcore band The Russian Meatsquats and using the album art as inspiration for the flyer – the night is divided into wrestling matches with the BWA followed by performances by Cheap Pop, Mannequin Pussy, and Spirit of the Beehive.

Continue reading →

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“It Takes An Entire Community”: Talking to the artists and organizers of the Shut Down Berks benefit concert

Hardwork Movement at the Shut Down Berks benefit | photo by Yoni Kroll for WXPN

Last weekend, Hardwork Movement and Frances Quinlan from Hop Along played a special all-ages matinee at Boot & Saddle on South Broad to benefit the Shut Down Berks Campaign, a coalition of groups fighting the incarceration of immigrant families at the Berks County Family Detention Center. Equal parts political rally and concert – Hardwork Movement repeatedly reminded the sold-out crowd that, “They work for us and not the other way around!” – the show raised more than $1200 for the organization. The whole event was organized by Katy Otto (Callowhill, Trophy Wife) in conjunction with Jasmine Rivera from Shut Down Berks. We spoke with the two of them as well as the musicians who played. Continue reading →

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The Skeleton Key: Multitudes of new music for July, a First Time’s The Charm recap, and gigs from black metal to beatmakers to punk wrestlers

First Time’s The Charm | photo by Yoni Kroll for WXPN

This is a special Skeleton Key and not just because I’m checking in with you a bit later than usual. Don’t worry, my neighbors are still shooting off fireworks all day every day so it’s basically still the 4th and will probably stay that way at least until August. For this column I want to talk about all the new music coming out this month because there’s seriously just so much of it. And check this out: last weekend was First Time’s the Charm which was the debut of eight bands playing their very first sets ever. So much new music! Let’s start with a list because you should always start with a list: Dark Thoughts, Smarthearts, Rosali, Lester, Dark Web, Rabbits to Riches, Empath, and Fleabite. Oh, and a just-announced split between Jenna & The Pups – the solo pop punk band from HIRS frontwoman Jenna Pup – and, well, herself. The PUP/HIRS album will be out in August. Continue reading →

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Ted Leo takes on the priesthood, irreverently, in Philly-made short film Main Blessings

Main Blessings | still from film

My friend BJ does this thing he calls The Challenge and the basic idea is that you listen to everything that a musician or band has done, in order, and if there’s anything bad you can’t skip it. It can be, well, pretty challenging sometimes to get through a band’s entire discography. Take for example Henry Rollins challenge, where you get the good – Black Flag, those first couple of Rollins Band albums – the bad – much of what he did in the late 90s, some of the more over-the-top spoken word – and… everything else.

If you were really going all out, you might want to watch some of the films he’s starred in, like The Chase (good) or Morgan’s Ferry (really not that bad!) It’s a great way to spend a long road trip or, if you’re the nerdy type, to just get really into a band or a specific artist who has made a lot of music over the years.

All this is to say that if you were to do Ted Leo challenge – from Citizens Arrest to Chisel and on through all of the Pharmacists and other releases – once you listened to his latest album, 2017’s absolute banger The Hanged Man, you’d truly be doing yourself a disservice if you skipped out on the short film he recently starred in called Main Blessings.

The Philadelphia-made movie was written and directed by Abigail Bruley, best known for the cult comedy series Down The Show. She first thought up Main Blessings while recovering from a traumatic brain injury following a car accident two years ago. Continue reading →