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XPN Fest Preview: Meet Rosemary FiKi, the force of nature kicking off the show on Friday

Rosemary FiKi
Rosemary FiKi | photo by John Vettese

Need a compelling argument to get to XPNFest early this year? Two words: Rosemary Fiki.

The Philadelphia singer / songwriter / rock and roller / entertainer caught our ear this past year based on an eclectic assortment of streaming songs on her Soundcloud page. One moment, it was a vibrant nightclub bump with soaring diva vocals, another moment there was an acoustic guitar strumming and FiKi’s plaintive vocals doing a sensitive Feist / Laura Nyro kind of thing.

These days, she’s straddling both of those worlds; as we saw when FiKi recorded a Key Studio Session last fall, she’s currently backed by a high-energy three-piece band, freeing her to dance at the mic, shake her tambourine and work the crowd with relentless energy. That’s on prominent display in the fired-up “Come To Me,” which you can watch a video of below, and the endlessly catchy “Ooh” — but FiKi and the band also delve into a more nuanced side of things with ballads like “The Great Unknown,” and the groovy askew rhythms of “Pro.” Chatting with her over email, it sounds like her music is about to explore another direction still after XPoNential.

For now, read on below to get to know Rosemary FiKi — and make sure you arrive at Wiggins Park tomorrow in plenty of time to catch her 4 p.m. set. Continue reading →

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XPN Fest Preview: Veteran sidewoman Eliza Hardy Jones takes center stage

Eliza Hardy Jones
Eliza Hardy Jones | Photo by Ryan Collerd | ryancollerd.com | courtesy of the artist

Eliza Hardy Jones is a seasoned side-woman. She plays keys and sings in the Grace Potter band, Strand Of Oaks and Nightlands, she’s one-half of the founding partnership in Buried Beds. She excels in maintaining a stage presence that adds to live experience, begs the audience to turn their glances to her.

“Part of your job as a side person is to be a part of the performance,” she says. “You can’t stand there like a sad lump, like you’re bored. You have to be engaged to the music because that helps other people be engaged with the music.”

Hardy Jones has performed twice at XPoNential Music Festival before – once with Grace Potter and the other with Strand Of Oaks. This year she’ll perform, on the River Stage at Wiggins Park at at noon on Sunday, July 24, for the first time as herself. As a frontwoman. Continue reading →

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XPN Fest Preview: Billy Hector brings his blues rock from the beach to Wiggins Park

Billy Hector | Photo courtesy of artist
Billy Hector | Photo courtesy of artist

You can take the man out of the shore but you can’t take the shore out of the man. Blues rock vocalist and guitarist Billy Hector has earned himself a rightful place as one of the Jersey shore’s musical legends, playing up and down the state for nearly four decades and counting. From opening shows for Buddy Guy and running in the same circles as Bruce Springsteen and Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, Hector is as vivacious as ever and ready to take on one of his most exciting gigs to date — the band is packing their things and trading coastlines for skylines to perform at this weekend’s XPoNential Music Festival. Hector and his band, composed of drummer Sim Cain and bassist Winston Roye, have a set of big proportions planned, with an even bigger point to prove. Continue reading →

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Time Capsule: Kurt Vile on channeling blue-collar blues into “Space Forklift”

Kurt Vile
Kurt Vile | Photo by John Vettese for WXPN

In Time Capsule, we ask artists to revisit songs they may have forgotten: pieces they wrote, released, and packed away—until now. Each month, we’ll pick one band who will pick one song and tell us the story behind where they were and what they were thinking when they wrote it.

It’s not news that Kurt Vile used to drive a forklift for a living; a lot of his work is influenced by a blue-collar attitude — from folky fingerpicking to his gravely voice and lyrics. In this city, to gain any respect, you better have worked a dead-end job shoveling shit, fixing radiators, or some day in, day out task that propels you to dream of something better — and deserve it when you get it.

Kurt spent two years handling a mini tractor, rising its giant prongs up and down, over and over, 9 to 5, between lunch and dinner. He lived in Boston at the time. Then, he quit and moved home.

Which is how “Space Forklift” came about. Continue reading →

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Summertime Sips and Summertime Sounds: Queen of Jeans

Queen of Jeans | courtesy of the artist | photo by Bob Sweeney
Queen of Jeans | courtesy of the artist | photo by Bob Sweeney

South Philly in the summer doesn’t get enough credit. Sure, we don’t have the natural shade, or farmers markets, or outdoor screenings of other neighborhoods—but we have something else. There’s a certain summer vibe that seems to seep into the air when you cross Washington Ave; a sense of solidarity that’s palpable, as you sit on your stoop, air-conditioning units humming above. A few houses down, someone’s selling clothes and cookwear on the sidewalk; a block away the ice cream truck—not Mister Softee, but the South Philly ice cream truck that plays “Fur Elise”—is meandering toward you, offering temporary relief from the pounding sun.

I’ve lived in South Philly for 3 years now; Philly rock band Queen of Jeans live here as well (in fact singer/guitarists Miriam Devora and Matheson Glass are practically my neighbors). Their name, Queen of Jeans, is both a re-appropriation of, and commentary on, the iconic (if misogynist) “King of Jeans” sign that hung on East Passyunk Ave. at 13th Street for 21 years, before being removed in 2015.  It’s a sweet name for a (mostly) girl band from South Philly, but it’s also more—as if adopting the name, the band acknowledge the sign’s legacy, while at the same time offering their own (non-misogynist) alternative. Also it’s pretty funny. Continue reading →

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Dweller bridges the gap between abstract and concrete on debut album, This Is What Happens When You Wait Too Long

Dweller | photo courtesy of the artist
Dweller | photo courtesy of the artist

Luke Harsel and Cody Bluett have been making music together for many years, and at this point they are two sides of the same coin. They met early on in college at Temple University and spent most of their time at school with Family Vacation, the breezy beach-pop band who recently called it quits when the several band members decided to go in different musical directions.

“We just wanted an outlet for other musical ideas than we were getting at the time through Family Vacation, and once that band broke up we put all our focus on just writing and recording new songs,” said Harsel about Dweller, the duo’s new project that just recently released their first album, This Is What Happens When You Wait Too Long. Continue reading →

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XPNFest Preview: A beer with Ben Arnold at Dawson Street Pub

Ben Arnold | Photo by Matt Montella for WXPN
Ben Arnold | Photo by Matt Montella for WXPN

“I’ve learned that if you keep doing it and keep producing quality music, things happen. It’s what I am, it’s what I do.”

Ben Arnold is a lot of things: a singer, a songwriter, both a piano player and a guitar player, a super cool dude. But most of all, he’s a music man. He’s been writing, playing, and performing his whole life, and for most of his life he’s been doing it in and around Philadelphia. Arnold will be playing the XPoNential Festival next month (his 4th time!) and he played at Dawson Street Pub in Manayunk on Thursday, June 28th, which he said was both a “warm up gig” and an opportunity to play in his own neighborhood.

“Some of my family still lives in Western New York, but Philly is my adopted hometown. I love the city. I think it is one of the most culturally vibrant cities on the East coast,” said Arnold when I met with him earlier that day. “I think the music scene is killer, and its growing rapidly. This is where I really say where my family is. My base is here.” 

Arnold has been playing in various bands since he was a kid, when he went to a performing arts high school in Center City. As he has gotten older, his sound has matured with him. His most recent record, Lost Keys, was released earlier this year and features Motown and Stax influenced rhythm and soul. Continue reading →

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Meet Philly singer-songwriter-producer Xilomen, see her tonight at Voltage Lounge

Xilomen | Photo courtesy of the artist
Xilomen | Photo courtesy of the artist 

A singer, a composer, a producer and performer, Philadelphia’s Xilomen dropped her debut full-length, Gata Negra, this wintervia Bandcamp, and it immediately impressed us. The record boasted a heady mix of electronic pop sound-collage and live band instrumentation, giving it stylish vibes of Frank Ocean and Erykah Badu, as well as (for 90s alternative heads) Sneaker Pimps and Morcheeba. In short: beats, textures, vibes and incredible vocals front and center by 24-year-old Xilomen herself.  Continue reading →

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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 →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Birdie Busch

Birdie Busch | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN | hellerhound.com
Birdie Busch | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN | hellerhound.com

High Key” is a series of profiles conceived with the intent to tell the story of Philly’s diverse musical legacy by spotlighting individual artists in portrait photography, as well as with an interview focusing on the artist’s experience living, creating, and performing in this city. “High Key” will be featured in biweekly installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

Birdie Busch’s new record Thunder Bridge is beautiful, meditative, with an attention to production details and sonic textures that would make Yankee Hotel Foxtrot-era Jeff Tweedy envious. Recorded in Germantown, Busch’s sixth LP sees the introduction of longtime friend Jaron Olevsky as keyboardist, as well as co-producer along with her partner, bassist Todd Erk. It’s a pensive, reflective collection of eight tracks that might remind you of Lucinda, Feist, or the moods of Beth Orton, and you’ll be comforted to know that Busch is a local Philly girl too.

What’s more, on June 18th, the Philly songstress will host a record release party at Boot & Saddle in celebration of the new work (get tickets and more info here). She’ll also be around town with a handful of show dates this summer, and come Fall, Johnny Brenda’s will host her seventh annual Philly Opry, a night of music cultivated by Busch, and conceived to mix-and-match local and traveling acts.

In her interview with us, Busch related her eclectic influences, her love for the city and its arts community. She speaks thoughtfully, poised with deliberation and without calculation, and throughout shares her contagious outlook of renewal and rejuvenation, whether it’s with reference to her relationship with live performance or just walking or biking the city’s streets and neighborhoods. Continue reading →