Aaron and the Spell closed out Pastorius Park’s summer concert series with Philly soul

Aaron and the Spell | Photo by Chris Sikich |
Aaron and the Spell | Photo by Chris Sikich |

This past Wednesday, Pastorius Park in Chestnut Hill hosted their final outdoor concert of the summer featuring Aaron & The Spell. With gorgeous weather as the backdrop for their twilight concert, Aaron Brown and his seven bandmates spun a soulful 90-minute set that wandered the realms of rock, R&B and folk to the delight of the hometown crowd. Continue reading →


Rag-tag ragtime crew A Fistful of Sugar leads a stacked roots-scene lineup at World Cafe Live on 1/10

Photo by Lisa Schaffer |
Photo by Lisa Schaffer |

The opening trumpet burst on A Fistful of Sugar’s “Brother Brother,” is a pretty good indicator of where this track is headed. It’s a loose, banjo-in-hand folk number that tells the story of getting befriended by and traveling with a crew of hippies. Even though it’s pretty typical in style, lead singer and guitarist Mike Sha makes their hemp-necklace-making and patchwork-pants-wearing lifestyle sound pretty righteous over top a ragtime brass band. “Brother Brother” is the first single off of the band’s first full-length, Perspicacity, which they’ll be celebrating the release of on January 10 at World Cafe Live; check out a video for it below, cut to clips from the Prelinger Archives.

The soulful Aaron and the Spell will be joining that celebration as well. Back in December they played Stevie Wonders’ Innervisions in its entirety at World Cafe Live as a fundraiser for Pathways to Housing PA, a non-profit organization that helps chronically homeless individuals that suffer from mental illness find and maintain housing. Black Horse Motel’s grassy Americana folk, filled-out with lush harmonies, mandolin and fiddle will complete the folk end of the lineup. While Balkan klezmer jazz powerhouse, West Philly Orchestra, will bring the grooves, sure to get everyone on their feet. This lineup is stacked far too tall to be taken lightly. In fact, there’s a little bit of something for everyone that keeps an eye on the local folk scene. Just don’t forget comfortable shoes or a partner to dance with, because chances are you’ll be on your feet at this one.


Tonight’s Concert Picks: Basia Bulat at Boot and Saddle, Aaron and the Spell at World Cafe Live, Jonathan Richman at Union Transfer and more

Photo by Chris La Putt |

Canadian singer/songwriter Basia Bulat performs at Boot & Saddle tonight. Bulat swings from playing autoharp to guitar to ukulele, and her resonant voice, which manages to be raw yet full, has garnered comparisons to Joni Mitchell and Stevie Nicks. For Bulat’s most recent album, Tall Tall Shadow, she co-produced with Arcade Fire’s Tim Kingsbury, who also played guitar and bass on some of the tracks. Find tickets and more information for the Boot & Saddle performance here. Download her performance of “Tall Tall Shadow” from her recent World Cafe session below.

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Aaron and the Spell tap into Innervisions for charity at World Cafe Live tomorrow

Photo by Michelle Montgomery
Photo by Michelle Montgomery |

On the day that his boss approached him with the idea of putting together a benefit concert, Aaron Brown was listening to Stevie Wonder – not that this was a particularly unusual circumstance. “I don’t think that a day goes by when I don’t listen to at least twenty Stevie Wonder songs,” Brown says. “I’m a huge Stevie Wonder fan.”

But on this occasion, Wonder was particularly prominent in Brown’s consciousness. He had just played last summer’s XPoNential Music Festival, during which WXPN host Robert Drake posted on Facebook that hearing Brown’s band, Aaron & The Spell, was akin to “listening to vintage 1970s Stevie Wonder.” And he soon realized that the album he happened to be spinning that day, the 1973 classic Innervisions, would be celebrating its fortieth anniversary this year.

All of those factors combined to inspire this Wednesday’s show at World Café Live, where Aaron & The Spell will perform Innervisions in its entirety to raise money for Brown’s employer, Pathways to Housing PA, a non-profit organization which helps chronically homeless individuals suffering from mental illness with finding and maintaining housing. (A second show on Thursday at NYC’s Cutting Room will do the same for the organization’s New York chapter.)

“The pieces came together in my head,” Brown recalls, “and I realized this was a way to bring all of my worlds together and try to do something good and fun.”

For Wonder, Innervisions marked a turning point, with several lyric dealing directly with social issues. “Too High” dealt with drug abuse and “He’s Misstra Know-It-All” with political corruption, while “Living for the City” was the first of many songs to address race and struggles in the inner city. Those concerns made the album a particularly apt choice for Brown’s benefit show.

“That’s a really cool thing about getting deep into a record,” Brown says. “You can see his path from writing ‘Hey Love’ and ‘Uptight’ and all these love-based tunes to writing about more complex social issues.”

Brown finds himself following a similar path at the moment. Continue reading →


Aaron & The Spell will celebrate Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions at World Cafe Live on 11/20

Photo by Michelle Montgomery
Photo by Michelle Montgomery

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of Stevie Wonder’s 1973 record Innervisions, XPN will welcome Aaron & The Spell to World Cafe Live on November 20th for a special tribute show.  The Philly soul band got the idea to cover the album during this year’s XPoNential Music Festival after XPN’s Robert Drake commented “The #XPNfest has just started and I already have a new favorite band!! Philly’s own Aaron & The Spell … it’s like listening to vintage 1970s Stevie Wonder….” on Facebook.  Aaron Brown and his band will revisit Wonder’s sixteenth studio record from cover to cover, performing tracks like “Higher Ground” and “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing.”  A portion of the proceeds will be donated to Pathways to Housing PA, benefitting homeless men and women with severe mental illness in Philadelphia.  Tickets and information for the special event can be found here.  Listen back to Aaron & The Spell’s XPo Fest set here and watch them perform “Don’t Cry” below, followed by Stevie Wonder performing “Higher Ground.”

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From The Districts to Dr. Dog, local artists shine at XPoNential Fest

Photo by Eric Ashleigh
The Fleeting Ends | Photo by Eric Ashleigh

Despite age, genre and prominence, local acts who played the 2013 XPoNential Music Festival showcased their best for a hometown audience, both on the stage and on the air.

For Aaron Brown, front man for Philadelphia-based rock and soul band Aaron and the Spell, kicking off the festival on Friday night made for an “absolutely fantastic” experience.

“For me and my music, its helping me to find an audience,” Brown said. “It’s really hard to break out there, it’s a lot of bands doing a lot of great work. It’s hard to get out there and get people to even know about you.”

Brown said he hopes playing the festival helped him come away with a few new fans, if not for him personally, than for any members of his talented nine-piece band comprised of all Philly musicians.

“I’m blessed and thankful that new people can find something in me and my band that they appreciate and, hopefully, want to follow, whether it’s the amazing background singers or the amazing horn players or the amazing drummer or guitar player,” he said. “Even if I’m at the bottom of the list, I don’t care.”

Though his soulful voice and sound is sometimes compared favorably to Stevie Wonder, Brown said he doesn’t mind getting constructive criticism from listeners.

“If you see music and you don’t like it and it’s bad, tell the artist,” Brown said. “Don’t be mean, but tell them so artists can get better, some critical thought there that artists can continue to improve. I appreciate that. People do that to me all the time, people tell me I suck non-stop. But you know what, it’s cool and it helps me out.”

Photo by Eric Ashleigh
The Districts | Photo by Eric Ashleigh

Lancaster-based bluesy rock band The Districts have had little time between playing Philly house shows and one of its biggest festivals, but didn’t falter during their first set for such a large crowd.

The four-piece band of 18- and 19-year-old musicians agreed that, aside from playing for new people, the best part of the festival was playing alongside some of their favorite national acts on the line-up.

“It’s coolest from like a fanboy stance,” said frontman Rob Grote (even though high-pitched screams from female fans echoed during their own set).

The Districts also cite Philly favorites like Dr. Dog, Man Man and Toy Soldiers as some of their biggest influences, and enjoy playing in the city because of the huge amount of other great acts.

“There are so many people to meet, so many places to go, and the connections between [bands], you find out they’re all connected somehow,” said guitarist Mark Larson. “So once you’re in, word just kind of spreads around. It’s a very music- accepting city.” Continue reading →


XPoNential Fest: Aaron and The Spell get things going on the Marina Stage

Photo by Michelle Montgomery
Photo by Michelle Montgomery

Aaron and The Spell kicked off the XPoNential Music Festival on the Marina Stage this evening. The local R&B outfit welcomed the quickly-growing crowd with songs off of their most recent album Sing (released last August) as well as several new tracks.  Accompanied by a trumpet player, tenor sax player, guitarist, bassist, keyboardist, drummer and two back-up singers, the set was a smooth ride of uplifting and sometimes funky soul songs that had the audience singing and swaying along on the breezy hillside.  New track “Bleed Me Dry” was a standout, with Aaron Brown easing in on his acoustic guitar before some gospel-esque “oohs” and organ filtered through and a rousing electric guitar solo got the crowd clapping.  See photos of the performance in the gallery below, read the setlist after the jump, and listen to the set in its entirety here (via the WXPN media player).

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Get to know the Philly artists on #xpnfest in this Key Studio Sessions sampler

XPoNential Fest

The XPoNential Music Festival starts in afew hours, and to properly prepare, we’ve dug into our archives so you can get acquainted (or re-acquainted) with some of the local bands and musicians that will be lighting up the stages this weekend. Six of the Philly-based bands on the lineup have recorded Key Studio Sessions: Aaron and the Spell, The Districts, Alo Brasil, The Stray Birds, The Fleeting Ends, and DRGN King. Take a listen and download some of their tunes after the jump.

If you like what you hear, check out their set times this weekend. For full information on the XPoNential Music Festival go here. Continue reading →


Tonight’s Concert Picks: Belle and Sebastain and Yo La Tengo at The Mann Center, Los Lobos and Los Lonely Boys at Sands Bethlehem and Many Free Concerts

First up tonight is the incredible double header of Belle and Sebastian and Yo La Tengo.  The Glasgow band Belle and Sebastian have been making beautiful indie pop since the 90s and they’re releasing an album of rarities and B-sides this August.  But before they do that, they’re going on a huge tour, including a stop at The Mann Center.  And joining them is another legendary group Yo La Tengo.  Bouncing from genre to genre and covering numerous songs along the way, Yo La Tengo have been making music their way since the 80s and just released an incredible new album, Fade, in January.  Tonight you can catch both groups at The Mann Center.

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Dawes, Dr. John, Lianne La Havas, Phosphorescent and more playing XPoNential Music Festival 2013

DawesLos Angeles rockers Dawes, New Orleans piano legend Dr. John, UK soul singer Lianne La Havas and Brooklyn Americana outfit Phosphorescent are among the 20 acts announced today for the 2013 XPoNential Music Festival, happening July 26th through the 28th at Wiggins Park and the Susquehanna Bank Center in Camden, NJ.

Joining the already-announced Saturday night SBC lineup of The Lumineers, Dr. Dog and Polica is Vancouver ethereal roots act Wake Owl. In addition, local acts on the bill include Aaron and the Spell, DRGN King and The Districts.

Weekend passes to the XPONential Music Festival are available now through WXPN membership. New and renewing members will get a pair of weekend passes to Wiggins park and lawn seats to the SBC show for a pledge of $24 month. More information can be found here.

The Lumineers (Sat 7/27 @ Sus. Bank Ctr.)
Dr. Dog (Sat 7/27 @ Sus. Bank Ctr.)
Polica (Sat 7/27 @ Sus. Bank Ctr.)
Wake Owl (Sat 7/27 @ Sus. Bank Ctr.)
John Butler Trio
Dr. John
Trampled By Turtles
Michael Kiwanuka
Brett Dennen
Lianne La Havas
Justin Townes Earle
Jose James
Last Bison
Kopecky Family Band
Lord Huron
Fleeting Ends
The Stray Birds
The Districts
Aaron & The Spell
Alo Brasil