The Key’s Year-End Mania: Josh Pelta-Heller makes sense of 2016 through concert photos

Ms. Lauryn Hill | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN
Ms. Lauryn Hill | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

Year-End Mania is the Key’s annual survey of the things below the surface that made 2016 incredible. Today, photographer Josh Pelta-Heller shares a collection of photos that highlight this year’s great moments of music in Philadelphia.

“2016 Sucks!”

It’s the generously sanitized version of the by-now-common mantra of many, as we plunge headlong into yet another unseasonably warm holiday season (this past Thursday’s cold snap notwithstanding), as our climate changes viscerally. This December probably won’t step up to break the trend of warmest months on record, but it will bring home a year of painful passings of a seemingly inordinate amount of beloved artists and cultural icons, and one that saw the anomalous rise to power of an unrepentantly solipsistic oligarch in an election that was at best questionably democratic and at worst finds even the sanest among us checking our toilet bowls for Russian spies again like it was 1962. Cue Dylan’s “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues,” maybe more relevant now than ever, even as we all watch in real time with mouths open as a once-satirical sentiment becomes the unchecked New World Order.

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XPNFest Preview: From the White House to Wiggins Park, Low Cut Connie unites the people

Low Cut Connie
Low Cut Connie | photo by Kirby Sybert | courtesy of the artist |

Every American president since Herbert Hoover has gotten a Presidential Library named in his honor, located in a town in or near where each president has grown up. In each library, it’s common to find artifacts of the corresponding presidency, many of which offer a chilling look into the president’s personal life.

For instance, in George W. Bush’s library, you can find letters written to him by U2’s Bono praising him for his humanitarian work in Africa; at the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, there are copies of President Clinton’s daily schedules from the White House’s Office of Scheduling and Advance; and at the Presidential Library for John F. Kennedy, you can see a picture of JFK with his future wife, Jackie Bouvier, playing tennis at Joseph Kennedy Sr.’s residence in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts.

President Obama’s presidential library won’t open for a few years after he leaves office, but one thing’s for certain: Inside, the library will contain a letter written to him by none other than Philadelphia’s own Adam Weiner of boozy rock and roll band Low Cut Connie. Talk about being the cool president*. Continue reading →


Tonight’s Concert Picks: Make Music Philly, Sleep at Union Transfer, Sean Hoots at Bourbon and Branch

penn museum
West Philadelphia Orchestra | photo courtesy of Penn Museum

Today is the summer solstice and Make Music Philly is taking advantage of all the extra daylight with a jammed packed schedule of performances throughout the city. A few weeks ago we highlighted five acts you should check out at the festival, including West Philadelphia Orchestra, JaE, Ai-Que and more. More information can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar. Continue reading →


The Key’s Ultimate Guide to Summer Music Festivals 2016 – Part One

Photo by Joe Del Tufo |

Over the past few years, the United States and Canada have finally made their mark in a tradition that’s been a longstanding one in Europe: Music festivals. This is happened to such a degree that it’s nearly impossible to keep track of them all. Wouldn’t it be great if someone singled out all your favorite XPN artists and which festivals they’re playing in one spot on the internet?!?!?!

Guess what! That’s exactly what we did here. But there’s a catch: There’s a lot of festivals that haven’t revealed lineups yet, so were only going to give you festivals for the first half of summer for now. A little later on we’ll give you the second half. (Okay, I guess that means the list is in two spots on the internet, but still. You get the point.) Without further adieu, here’s the first part of The Key’s 2016 Guide to Summer Music Festivals. Continue reading →


Tonight’s Concert Pick: Disappears at Kung Fu Necktie

Chicago minimalists Disappears are playing at Kung Fu Necktie tonight. The band is touring for their 5th LP, Irreal. Also performing is Myrrias and producer Jeff Zeigler’s electronic project Valley Exit. Tickets and more information here. Continue reading →


Ladies & Gents, here’s your Top 100 songs of the year as voted on by the WXPN listeners.

Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats | Photo by John Vettese
Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats | Photo by John Vettese

WXPN wrapped up its Best of 2015 programming with it annual best songs countdown. The XPN listeners were asked to vote for the best songs of the year, and they crowned “S.O.B.” by Nathaniel Ratefliff & The Night Sweats as the number one song of the year.

Following it was “Ship To Wreck” by Florence & The Machine at number two, “Pedestrian At Best” by Courtney Barnett at number three, Josh Ritter’s spunky “Getting Ready To Get Down” at number four, and “Pretty Pimpin'” by Philly’s Kurt Vile at number five.

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Five Years of Philly DIY: A musician’s perspective

Party Photographers at The Ox in 2010 | Photo by John Vettese
Party Photographers at The Ox in 2010 | Photo by John Vettese

In the wake of West Philly’s celebrated Golden Tea House closing its doors this winter, I’m torn between nostalgia and the hope that it’s not some trend of unconventional, all-ages venues throwing in the towel. In my heart of hearts I know that every time a DIY venue shuts down a demon gets it’s bat-wings or something, and there will be five more to take its place in a year or so. I hope so, anyway.

An intense show at the dearly departed Terrordome | photo via

This article will reminisce about the show houses that, in my opinion as a lowly musician, have dominated the Philly DIY “scene” the past four or five years. May this also be a rallying call to any person out there thinking about doing something similar: do it!

Get a PA, book a few bands to play in your kitchen or basement, make a rad flyer, invite everyone you know. You’ll be so happy you did, and if you just keep at it, this city will support you and you can eventually become as awesome (or more so) than the places in this article. GO! Continue reading →


XPN Weekend Arts Crawl…Mother’s Day, juried shows, MOMIX, and more theater than Broadway!


To get ready for Mother’s Day:

The Morris Arboretum has its Annual Plant Sale featuring annuals, new perennial cultivars, woody plants and heirloom roses, as well as the handy expertise of the Arboretum’s staff…

The Pennsylvania Guild Fine of Craftsmen is hosting its third annual Fine Craft Fair all weekend in Rittenhouse Square. The work of some 145 craftsmen encompasses furniture, pottery, photography, jewelry and much more…

Art Star Gallery and Boutique is holding its 11th Annual Spring Art Star Craft Bazaar Saturday and Sunday at the Great Plaza at Penn’s Landing. Over 100 local and national artists have been selected to set up shop and sell their products, which range from housewares to one-of-a-kind curiosities…

Main Line Art Center presents Jewels and Treasures, an exhibition featuring professional yet affordable works of visual art. Proceeds benefit the Art Center’s education and community outreach programs, which reach over 16,000 people annually. Through June 6, with a preview party Friday.

Screen Shot 2014-05-07 at 6.22.05 PMPeople’s Light and Theatre Company presents Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie. In this biographical musical, four actor-musicians play fifteen instruments, perform twenty-five of Guthrie’s songs, and celebrate the fascinating, beautiful, and sometimes tragic life of an American icon. Through May 25.

The Philadelphia Wine and Food Festival is Saturday at the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum with over 600 wines from around the world, food from some of Philadelphia’s most popular restaurants, an on-site wine and spirits store, and a silent auction benefitting the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Dance-illusionist company Momix returns to Philadelphia with its newest work, Alchemia. Choreographer Moses Pendleton’s latest creation is a multimedia spectacle of invention, thrills, humor and sensuality. Through Sunday at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts.

And there’s always more… Continue reading →


Why every musician in Philly should crash the Philly Music Scene Group Photo

Philly Music Scene Group Photo 2009 | Photo by Lisa Schaffer |

Next Sunday morning, scores of musically-involved Philadelphians will gather at the Art Museum steps to re-create an event that took place five years ago.

In 2009, local music photographer Lisa Schaffer organized what was billed as the first-ever Philadelphia Music Scene group photo. Through photocopied flyers handed out at World Cafe Live and The Fire, as well as word of mouth, Schaffer rounded up a gathering of musicians, concert promoters, studio owners, a few children and a dog, all of whom congregated just off of Eakins Oval, posing in a motley Sgt. Pepper‘s esque group.

I’ve long admired Schaffer’s photography; she has a knack for capturing intimate moments and candid details in a way that few others can match. Shooting concerts, she is the exemplary definition of “fly-on-the-wall” – Schaffer is not a photographer who makes a big production out of pushing and shoving around the foot of the stage with long lenses best used for covering the Syrian civil war. She’s somebody who chills to the side and, in the end, gets the best photos. (Check out her amazing coverage of the Last Waltz Philly show.)

In short, Schaffer rules. But something about how she called the resulting image a “Philadelphia Music Scene Group Photo” didn’t sit well with me at the time, and it makes me a tad concerned for Philly Music Scene Photo Shoot II.

A quick scan of the faces on display in the 2009 image finds people easily recognizable to the WXPN community – Jim Boggia, Birdie Busch, Rob Berliner of Hoots and Hellmouth, Raph Cutrufello of Hezekiah Jones, Adrien Reju, Mutlu, Ross Bellenoit, Phil D’Agostino. We also see musicians whose names maybe aren’t as prominent but are nonetheless active in the same circle: singer / pianist John Conahan, multi-instrumentalist Anam Owili-Eger of Up the Chain. Behind-the-scenes folks like Hal Real of World Cafe Live, and scene super-fans like Mandy Dollar.

There’s just one thing. This is only one group of musicians and associates – a thriving group, to be certain – but it’s nevertheless one small segment of a much broader, more vibrant, more eclectic music community. And while this portrait – an undeniably positive idea – was meant to showcase “The Philadelphia Music Scene,” it might be more accurate to call the resulting crew “The Fire Music Scene” or the “Folk Fest Music Scene” or the “People Ali Wadsworth Has Sang With Music Scene.” I’m teasing a little about that last one, of course, but the point is that this is a photo of a Philly music scene, not the Philly music scene.

In the photographer’s defense, I don’t think Schaffer necessarily wants it to be this way. In an invite-only Facebook event page for Philly Music Scene Photo Shoot II, she wrote “Please invite other Philly Music Scene favorites. I know I’m going to forget some. (sorry)” When I swapped messages with her about the shoot on Facebook, she said she invited everybody she could think of, irrespective of genre. Shaffer wishes to shoot an inclusive, comprehensive representation of the Philadelphia music community as much as I want to see one.

But that’s going to take some work. Everybody isn’t necessarily connected to everyone else, and the unfortunate result is that some scenes are left under-represented…or barely represented at all. In the 2009 photo, Kuf Knotz appears to be the lone delegate from Philly’s hiphop community. An amazing, thriving community that has nurtured the likes of The Roots, Meek Mill, Chill Moody, Lushlife, Reef the Lost Cauze, Tiani Victoria, Mic Stewart, Zilla Rocca, Curly Castro and more. One face in a crowd of a couple hundred.

You could say the same for the city’s indie rock, hard rock, electronic and punk scenes. I would love it if members of DRGN King, Ruby the Hatchet, City Rain and Cayetana showed up at the Art Museum next Sunday. The avant garde / experimental world that gave birth to the Data Garden label and the Fire Museum Presents series could stand to be showcased in this group. And while I’m still learning my way around Philadelphia’s classical and jazz worlds, I have a hunch they weren’t tremendously represented the first time around either. (Shaffer tells me that, thanks to the help of Jay Davidson, a number of jazz players made their way into Group Photo mark one.)

Suffice it to say, “music scene” means a lot more than folk / roots / Americana. And when the broad term “Philadelphia Music Scene” is applied to something, my ears perk up – and when I look at whatever that thing is, I want to see something as varied, as vibrant, as bustling and exciting as our city looks to me: all styles, all ages, all genders and races, all doing amazing things with music. The 2009 group photo felt, to me, like a party of one group of friends. For 2014, I encourage those who weren’t invited to crash the party. And you know what? They’ll probably be happy to have you.

The Philadelphia Music Scene Photo Shoot II is Sunday, April 27th at 7 a.m. on the Art Museum Steps, and if you’re a musician of any kind, I hope you can make it.