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Folkadelphia Session: Denison Witmer (with Ross Bellenoit)

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2005, probably around 8 PM – it’s a time dogeared in my memory. I cannot believe that it has been nearly a decade since I heard Denison Witmer for the first time. When I lived in New Jersey, I spent a lot of time at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, mostly seeing really bad mall punk-rock bands and inhaling too much second-hand cigarette smoke. I had a few very impressionable music discovery years there. That early summer evening in 2005, on the shore just off the boardwalk, remains one of the most formative experiences of that time period. Denison Witmer, from the Philadelphia area, opened the night. He was pre-selling copies of his forthcoming album Are You A Dreamer? which I promptly purchased (and listened to over and over in my dinged-up black Chevy Cavalier). Leaning against the on-stage monitor, I was amazed at how mesmerizing the simplicity of Witmer’s playing and singing could be. Lightly touched with reverb, the gentle songs kept flowing and drawing me in. I remember actually going slack-jawed when he hit certain chords – these angelic, dreamy, lighter than air bundle of notes. I left the concert changed (after staying for Rainer Maria).

Since that concert, Denison Witmer has continued to release engaging and wonderfully intricate albums – 2008′s Carry The Weight, 2012′s The Ones Who Wait, and his most recent, last year’s eponymous release. Each album is intimate, as Witmer invites you into a sacred and safe space. They radiate with a certain afterglow, vibrantly colored light that hits the evening sky as the sun sets. That’s what the albums sound like. You can’t just listen to one song, you are compelled to sit back, take a load off, and slide straight through these albums – the mark of a true professional, a most gifted songwriter.

Denison Witmer, joined by Ross Bellenoit, one of our favorite local guitarists, visited us in the studio late on evening in October of last year. We kept tracking songs, putting past woes and present worries to the side for the moment, and enjoying each other’s company, as the duo played the night out.

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Esmé Patterson’s perspective shifting EP and an intimate recording session with Dension Witmer, tonight on Folkadelphia

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Esmé Patterson cut her teeth playing with the sprawling indie folk-pop 7-piece Paper Bird. She’s currently prepping the release of Woman to Woman, a brand new solo EP that takes the point of view of many titular women characters in classic love songs like Townes Van Zandt’s “Loretta,” the Beach Boys’ “Caroline No,” and Elvis Costello’s “Alison.” By turning the perspective around, Patterson sheds new light on songs we’ve heard a million times and probably never truly absorbed their meaning. For deeper investigation, read Jon Solomon’s interview with Patterson. Look for the release of this great set of songs in mid-April.

Watch a video for “Swimmer,” a song from her 2012 release:

Esmé Patterson – Swimmer from Isaac Ravishankara on Vimeo.

On this episode of Folkadelphia, we invite you to sit back, relax, and enjoy the intimate songs of Philadelphia’s Denison Witmer, performing as a duo with local guitarhand Ross Bellenoit, and sharing a number of songs from his latest eponymous album, released last year via Sufjan Steven’s Asthmatic Kitty label. On a personal note, Denison has been one of my favorite songwriters for a decade and it has long been a dream to host him for a session. In October of 2013, we made it happen.

Watch a live video of Witmer performing “Hold On”

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Photos: The 5th annual 2nd Street Fest takes over Northern Liberties (ft. The Low Anthem, Denison Witmer, On The Water and more)

West Philadelphia Orchestra's set continues offstage and in the middle of the Piazza crowd | Photo by John Vettese
West Philadelphia Orchestra wraps up their set in the middle of the Piazza crowd | Photo by John Vettese

The fifth annual 2nd Street Fest brought a bustling crowd and wide assortment of food vendors, community organizations and local musicians to Northern Liberties on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Among those performing at the Fairmount and Germantown stages at either end of the mega-block party were Chambersburg indie-punk outfit The Shackletons, Americana ghouls The Bailey Hounds, singer-songwriter Denison Witmer and aggro-folk crew On the Water.

In the Piazza at Schmidt’s, West Philadelphia Orchestra stole the show playing a long set of eastern-European infused brass band dance jams; when they were notified that their time onstage was over, they marched off, still playing, and wrapped up their performance in the midst of a frenzied crowd. Electro-poppers Vacationer turned in an impressive performance as well, and the big stage show wrapped up with The Low Anthem‘s first post-hiatus Philadelphia performance, though the festival continued out on the street till 10, and into the wee hours at the North Bowl afterparty. Check out photos in the gallery below.

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Tonight’s Concert Picks: Mates of State at Underground Arts, Denison WItmer at World Cafe Live, Baths at Union Transfer

mates_of_stateThe last album from Jason Hammel and Kori Gardner dates back a couple years – 2011′s Mountaintops – so hopefully the Mates of State show at Underground Arts tonight will bring with it a helping of new material. The duo headlines, with Alec Ounsworth of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah playing a solo set of CYHSY material. Tickets and information can be found here. Below, watch the music video for “Palomino” off of Mountaintops.

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Tonight’s Concert Picks: XPN Welcomes ALO to The Blockley, Denison Witmer at Johnny Brenda’s, New Sweden at Steel City Coffeehouse, The Hooters with Good Old War at The Electric Factory

ALO photographed in Oakland, CA October 11, 2009©Jay Blakesberg/Retna LTD.

XPN welcomes California band Animal Liberation Orchestra (ALO) to The Blockley tonight.  SIgned to Jack Johnson’s Brushfire Records, ALO create a laidback, jammy brand of surf rock / pop that has bound them to other Johnson-fan favorites Donavon Frankenreiter, Matt Costa and G. Love.  In 2012 ALO released their seventh studio album Sounds Like This.  Tickets and information for tonight’s 18+ show with Ryan Montbleau Band can be found here.  Watch an acoustic performance of “Storms & Hurricanes” from the new album below.

Denison Witmer celebrates his album release at Johnny Brenda’s tonight.  The self-titled record is Witmer’s ninth and most personal effort since the start of his career fifteen years ago.  Recorded at his Brooklyn studio The Honey Jar (co-run by Philly native Devin Greenwood), the Lancaster-born musician called in friends Sufjan Stevens and Greenwood for creative collaboration, though the stories told on the album’s ten tracks are purely Witmer’s.  Tickets and information for tonight’s 21+ show with Soporus can be found here.  Below, stream and download “Asa,” a song named for Witmer’s young son.

 

New Sweden head down to Phoenixville for a show at Steel City Coffeehouse.  The Wilmington five-piece enthralled a Saturday morning audience at the 2011 Noncommvention with their rootsy, robust folk rock and they’ve been climbing the proverbial ladder ever since.  With two Tri-State Indie awards on the shelf and a buzzy appearance at SXSW earlier this year, the local band hasn’t slowed down one bit after the release of their debut LP The Mountain.  Tickets and information for tonight’s show with The Turnips can be found here.  Watch New Sweden perform “Frying Pan” below.

The Hooters and Good Old War play a hometown show at The Electric Factory tonight.  An institution in the Philadelphia musical cannon, The Hooters got their start in the 80s with hits like “All You Zombies” and “And We Danced.”  In recent years, members of the band have sparked their own projects, with drummer David Uosikkinen’s In the Pocket and vocalist / keyboardist Rob Hyman’s Elm Street Studios in Conshohocken.  Good Old War, a trio that is becoming a local institution in their own right, returns to the stage in support of 2012′s Come Back As Rain while working on material for a new album.  Tickets and information for the all-ages show can be found here.  Below, watch The Hooters’ video for “And We Danced” followed by Good Old War’s “Amazing Eyes.”

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Download a new Denison Witmer song, “Asa” (playing Johnny Brenda’s on 4/27)

Photo by Ethan Luck
Photo by Ethan Luck
“Asa” is another new song from singer-songwriter Denison Witmer’s forthcoming self-titled album, out on April 30th on Asthmatic Kitty. On Witmer’s new album he gets help from Sufjan Stevens and former Philly dweller Devin Greenwood. Below, download the gorgeous gospel flavored “Asa,” a tribute to Witmer’s son who was born in early 2012. Denison plays Johnny Brenda’s on Saturday, April 27th. Buy tickets here.

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Download “Keep Moving Brother, Keep Moving Sister” by Denison Witmer (playing Johnny Brenda’s on 4/27)

Denison“Keep Moving Brother, Keep Moving Sister” comes from Lancaster native Denison Witmer‘s upcoming self-titled LP.  It’s the singer-songwriter’s second full-length effort for Asthmatic Kitty Records and judging by the lyrics of this first sampling, it’s perhaps his most reflective on both his career thus far and his home life.  From Asthmatic Kitty:

In a world obsessed with “branding” and constructed media personas, he chose to call his tenth album Denison Witmer because “I started thinking about the implications of what it’s like to work in an industry where I operate under my own name,” Denison explains.  ”And my ultimate goal as a musician is to be honest with people, first and foremost.”

Denison Witmer (the album) will be released on April 30th, after Denison Witmer (the person) performs a set at Johnny Brenda’s on April 27th.  Tickets and information for the 21+ show can be found here.  Stream and download “Keep Moving Brother, Keep Moving Sister” below.

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