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Kill, Jay-Z: HOVA reigns supreme at Made In America day two with Meek Mill, Japanese Breakfast, Kelela and more

Jay-Z and Meek Mill | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Two-plus decades into the game, hip-hop icon Jay-Z is still full of surprises. First there was the lowkey release earlier this summer of 4:44, a terrific back-to-basics collection that easily sits along his canonical records Reasonable DoubtThe Blueprint and The Black Album. Then there was yesterday’s closing set at the Made in America Festival.

After a wide ranging, 90-minute performance touching on everything from “Heart of the City” to “H.O.V.A. (Izzo)” to “Hard Knock Life,” Jay swiftly exited the Rocky Stage after dedicating “Numb / Encore” to the late Chester Bennington of Linkin Park. The lights around Logan Circle came up, the crowd looked around and, perplexed, shrugged to one another, figuring the show had just come to an abrupt conclusion. As the exodus began, stage lights flickered on over at the festival’s Liberty Stage a little ways down the Parkway. Continue reading →

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10 artists you didn’t realize are playing Made In America this weekend

Rapsody | via The Source

The Benjamin Franklin Parkway will be teeming with music and meyhem this weekend when the annual Made In America festival kicks into gear Saturday at noon. There are some incredible big names on the bill – the brilliant Solange and the charismatic J. Cole; the emotive Sampha, whose record Process is one of 2017’s best; Philly-rooted pop sensations Marian Hill, who play the main stage on Saturday; and of course Jay-Z himself, returning to the festival stage to celebrate his latest outing 4:44.

But there’s been a modest amount of grumbling about the lineup this year, in no small part because the polarizing dance-pop outfit The Chainsmokers are a co-headliner on Sunday night. People are either “I passionately hate this band and all that they stand for” or “yay music, I listen to whatever’s on the radio!” — and for those in the former camp, once they saw The Chainsmokers’ name on the lineup, they stopped reading further. But as always, the Made in America undercard is reliably awesome, and the early-afternoon slots as well as the out-of-the-way spots (helloooooo Skate Stage) are packed with goodness.

Here are ten artists that you maybe didn’t realize are playing Made in America, but who you definitely should not miss. – John Vettese
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Heavyhitters Jay Z and J. Cole join Solange, Sampha, Lizzo and more at Made In America 2017

Photo by John Vettese

Christmas comes only once a year? False. See: Made in America announcement day. Philadelphia’s Labor Day party is back for another round, and with the announcement of this year’s lineup, we imagine the entire city is excited.

Headlining performances from Jay Z (obviously), J.Cole and The Chainsmokers top of the list of 50+ artists, with featured performances from Run The Jewels, Solange, Lizzo, SamphaMigos, and a heck of a lot more. The local scene is also well represented, as PNB RockBeach Slang, Mannequin Pussy and Queen of Jeans nab some earlier spots.

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The Key’s Year-End Mania: K. Ross Hoffman’s alternate reality chart-toppers of 2016

The Monkees | still from video

Year-End Mania is the Key’s annual survey of the things below the surface that made 2016 incredible. Today, Key contributor K. Ross Hoffman imagines a world where these songs ruled the charts.

Sometimes reality just utterly fails to live up to even the most modest standards of reasonableness.  2016 was one of those times.  Or, actually, many of those times.  Fortunately, we music critics have a long-standing tradition of inventing alternate realities.  Granted, it’s mostly limited to the realm of the pop charts, which all things considered represented some of 2016’s lesser transgressions.  (Hey, the Chainsmokers’ “Closer” was only the #1 song in the country for a mere quarter of the year – it could have been worse!)  But just in case you feel like dreaming up a nicer, happier parallel universe version of 2016, you might as well have a re-tooled mainstream cultural soundtrack to go along with it.  Here are a few of the massively successful, inescapable smash hits of 2016… in my dreams. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Bel Heir

It may be the first day of autumn, but Philly modern rock four-piece Bel Heir are firm subscribers to Brian Wilson’s “endless summer” school of thought. In other words, today’s Key Studio Session does not shy away from sunny vocal hooks, energized riffs and rhythms and breezy hints of reggae, and it’s all the awesomer for it.

The regional band first caught our ear in 2013 when brothers Paul and Patrick Mencel began dabbling in a new studio recordings after the dissolve of their previous band Find Vienna. Where that crew aimed for Kings of Leon-style arena rock stratospheres, Bel Heir takes a more contemplative and laid-back route — “beachy,” as the kids like to say, and very much in step with the globally-informed electronic pop tones of Vacationer and Vampire Weekend. Continue reading →

Support for The Key Studio Sessions, from Dogfish Head
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The Key’s Ultimate Guide to Summer Music Festivals 2016 – Part One

firefly
Photo by Joe Del Tufo | joedeltufo.com

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 →

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Load-In to Load-Out With The Districts: A photo essay by John Vettese | 2

Photo by John Vettese
Photo by John Vettese

Not used to having this much square footage to have total creative reign over, The Districts cover the stage in colorful fabric, Christmas lights and painted mannequin torsos.

Photo by John Vettese
Photo by John Vettese

“They haven’t been on the rest of the tour,” Grote explains. “But we wanted to fill out the stage.”

Photo by John Vettese
Photo by John Vettese

Lawrence and Grote soundcheck…

Photo by John Vettese
Photo by John Vettese

…while McCann sorts prints and t-shirts at the merch stand…

Photo by John Vettese
Photo by John Vettese

…and the crowd lines up outside.

Photo by John Vettese
Photo by John Vettese

EDM party rockers The Chainsmokers were the last band to play the Factory before The Districts, and there was so much confetti. Here, the Factory crew sweeps of the last remains of it from the floor.

Photo by John Vettese
Photo by John Vettese

Purples loads its gear onstage…

Photo by John Vettese
Photo by John Vettese

…while The Districts gather round tour manager Ryan Farber to finalize the guest list for the night as manager Marley McNamara looks on.

Photo by John Vettese
Photo by John Vettese

Philly musician Matt Kerr is a close friend of the band, and he’s in a suit and tie tonight because his nonprofit Beyond the Bars has a table set up in the Factory lobby. Here, he pops in the wish his buds well and say thanks – BtB later got a shoutout from the stage during The Districts set.

Photo by John Vettese
Photo by John Vettese

John and Kyle have been waiting in line in front of the Electric Factory since 2 p.m. The former has seen the band six times, the latter five times, and both are pumped.

Photo by John Vettese
Photo by John Vettese

7 p.m. rolls around, the Factory doors open and the the crowd files in…

Photo by John Vettese
Photo by John Vettese

…taking their places at the foot of the stage, waiting for the show to start.

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Introducing the synth-pop dance vibes of ROZES

ROZES | Photo via https://www.facebook.com/ROZESsounds
ROZES | Photo via https://www.facebook.com/ROZESsounds

As a musician who chooses to work in the synth-pop EDM/dance genre, it’s likely pretty easy these days to get lost in what is a seemingly overcrowded dance oriented, synth pop musical landscape. Unless of course you’ve got the songs and vocal chops that will allow you to transcend above the ocean of “just average” electro-groove laden music that is smothering Top 40, Soundcloud remixes, and the iTunes economy. Continue reading →

Support for My Morning Download, from Flying Fish Brewing Company