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Folkadelphia Suitcase Session: The Staves (recorded at Historic St. George’s United Methodist Church)

Halfway through the recording session, I started to feel like I was in an absolute time warp. Up to that point, I had been distracted taking photos, making sure that the equipment was functioning properly, ensuring that the band and my audio engineers were all set, and minimizing extraneous noises to the best of our abilities. However, once I settled down, I was instantly mesmerized by the scene in front of me and around me – The Staves were performing without our present time.

Back in May, we convinced the British folk trio, The Staves, who are the Sisters Staveley-Taylor – Camilla, Emily, and Jessica, to partake in one of our Folkadelphia Suitcase Sessions. These special sessions are our attempt at field recording, to leave the studio behind and to explore the unique spaces that Philadelphia has to offer (you may recall our previous Suitcaser with another English group Skinny Lister, which was recorded at the North Star Bar). This time, we voyaged across town to Old City and to the Historic St. George’s United Methodist Church. There is a pocket right around the area where the church is located that feels like a living museum, preserved history that you can touch and interact with in the here-and-now. Amazingly, St. George’s is the oldest Methodist church building in America, founded in 1769, and still maintains an active congregation. Inside, you walk through the small archive of churchly artifacts and lore, past the original wooden benches and tiny school room, which looks untouched in almost 250 years, up the stairs, and into the main sanctuary – a stately and spacious room, yet simple and unadorned with flair, except for a large pipe organ above the entrance, a beautiful pulpit, and a number of bright chandeliers. It was here, near the altar (because that’s where the electrical outlets were located), where we began setting up the microphones.

It’s easy to say that we quickly fell in love with the Staves when we heard their latest album, 2012′s Dead & Born & Grown. Perfect harmonies seamlessly mixed with perfect storytelling and a sound that is equally informed by past and present. So, maybe it was their music, maybe it was the location, but all of the details of the session conspired together to make me feel like I was removed from this reality and placed back in colonial times. Were it not for the occasional anachronistic bursts of noises of the nearby street traffic coming from the adjacent Benjamin Franklin Bridge (note: not built until 1926) and the rail line punctuating my daytime reverie, I might have really been convinced that my station in time had been altered. Alas, I snapped out of it, but the gorgeous music remained.

When you listen to the session, I can only hope that the time traveling Staves take you on your own journey, even just a brief one of the imagination. Please enjoy this very site specific recording session, complete with sanctuary reverberation and ambient Philadelphia transit sounds in the distance.

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Philly prodigal son John Francis returns from Nashville for a performance at St. George’s United Methodist Church on 9/29

After spending time in Nashville to pick up some country roots, Philadelphia native John Francis returns to the City of Brotherly Love Saturday, September 29th at Historic St. George’s United Methodist Church. His latest album, The Better Angels, is an Americana record heavy with  themes of justice for the working class hero. Francis’ latest work can be seen on the Johnny Cash Music Festival, a special PBS/ DVD to be released in October. His collaboration with Kris Kristofferson, George Jones, Rosanne Cash, and Gary Morris, “No One Gets Out of Here Alive,” will also be on the DVD. Francis joined The Key December 2010 to perform tracks from The Better Angels for The Key Studio Sessions; below, download a performance of “The Way the Empire Fell” from that session.