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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 →

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Getting to work with Philly punks Dark Thoughts

Dark Thoughts
Dark Thoughts | photo by Yoni Kroll for WXPN

While not all jobs are bad, we’ve all had bad jobs. Maybe it’s a boss who expects you to do twice the work for half the pay. Maybe it’s a coworker who seriously just won’t shut up. Maybe it’s the customers or the owner or the commute or the hours or literally anything. We’ve all been there and it sucks to know that day in and day out nothing will change until you finally get fed up and quit. Work is a necessary and generally positive aspect of life but sometimes it can be such a drag.

At Work, the new album by West Philly punkers Dark Thoughts– Jim Shomo on guitar and lead vocals, Amy Opsasnick on bass, and Daniel Cox on drums – definitely tackles all the important topics: mental health, punk, and coffee. Oh, and work, of course. This isn’t some anthemic diatribe about factory life; it’s a lot more fun than that. Clocking in at just over 20 minutes, the twelve songs on the album hit that perfect sweet spot of poppy, catchy music and introspective, intelligent lyrics that you can still very much sing along to.

The record was digitally released on June 15th, physical copies are available this week, and the band plays a release show at the Church on August 24th. We recently sat down with Jim Shomo to talk about some of the bad jobs he’s had – including stints as a toy train conductor and way too much time spent serving coffee – and if you can turn a BFA in sculpture into riches. For the answer to that age-old question, read on! Continue reading →

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“Both Sides of Love” will celebrate Elaine Hoffman Watts’ life and work in classical and klezmer this Sunday

Elaine Hoffman Watts drums at a Curtis Institute of Music holiday party in 1951 | photo courtesy of Mark Rubin

When noted klezmer and classical percussionist Elaine Hoffman Watts passed away in September, it seemed like a given that there would be a memorial concert for her at some point. After all, how else do you honor the life and career of someone who made music for more than seven decades and taught literally thousands of students? This Sunday at Temple Beth Hillell-Beth El in Wynnewood is “Both Sides of Love,” a celebration of Watts and her contributions to the music world. Continue reading →

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The Skeleton Key: June is jumping with Kids of the Black Hole film series, Harmony Woods on the river, theremins in Laurel Hill cemetery, and Philly Still F’n Shreds fest

Out of the Blue screens at International House’s Kids of the Black Hole series this month

I am an unapologetic cheerleader for summer. There’s water ice, hang outs down the shore, you can ride your bike everywhere, and most importantly there are outside shows! I mean, say what you will about the beauty of West Philly in winter – and it really is quite nice, don’t get me wrong – but given the choice between sledding down the rock-strewn hills of Clark Park on a ripped pizza box I just found in a trash or sitting around and watching a bunch of bands play while eating ice cream during the annual music festival there, I know where I’ll be. Continue reading →

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Break Free Fest Spotlight: Rare Form

Rare Form | via rareformhc.bandcamp.com

After a successful inaugural year, Philadelphia’s Break Free Fest returns to The Rotunda this weekend for two days, bringing POC and other marginalized voices in the punk scene together and to the front. All week long leading up to the event, we’re highlighting some of the performers on the bill.

Rare Form / Philadelphia, PA
rareformhc.bandcamp.com

For the final preview of this weekend’s Break Free Fest, we spoke with Kayla Bastos, singer of Philadelphia hardcore band Rare Form who will be playing their final show at The Rotunda on Sunday.

Despite only being around for a couple years, the band managed to accomplish a lot. From touring the West Coast to opening up for a bunch of legendary acts including Madball to putting out a fantastic album to … having their song “Not Ur Baby” covered by Radigals, a feminist hardcore band from Singapore? Yup, that happened, and it’s amazing.

So watch that video, listen to the Rare Form album (it’s short and sweet and will take about 10 minutes), read this interview, and get yourself pumped for Break Free Fest! Continue reading →