Tonight’s Concert Picks: Old Crow Medicine Show at the Electric Factory, John Francis at Tin Angel, Jukebox the Ghost at Morgan’s Pier, and Aesop Rock at Union Transfer

Tennessee roots rockers Old Crow Medicine Show have come full throttle since they began recording in 1998. After the release of their smash hit “Wagon Wheel” in 2004, it was a steady upward slope. Now they have just come out with their most recent album, Carry Me Back; a new step in their raw country rock sound. With four albums under their buckled belts and a slew of sold out performances, these boot stompin’ folksters have made their signature mark on Americana rock music with a slice of bluegrass. They play at the Electric Factory tonight with very special guests, The Lumineers who performed at our XPoNential Festival a couple weeks ago (you can listen to that entire performance here).

R5 Productions summer concert series at Morgan’s Pier continues tonight with a performance from Jukebox the Ghost. This show is totally free but apologies young’uns, you must be 21 to enter. The show kicks off at 6 p.m. Jukebox also played our free at noon in June, you can listen to it here (via the XPN media player). Special guests tonight also include Norwegian Arms, who you can read more about here (and listen to in the player below).

Ian Bavitz, who goes by the moniker Aesop Rock, practices hip hop while jumping the fence to a new wave underground sound. He’s an indie rapper, a hip hop producer, a San Franciscan. And you can catch him tonight at Union Transfer along with Rob Sonic and DJ Big Wiz. Tickets to this all ages show are $15-17; doors open at 8 p.m. Below watch a video for “Zero Dark Thirty” off his latest album Skelethon.

Tonight at the Tin Angel, WXPN welcomes John Francis. He wrote his first album, Strong Wine & Spirits while living in Philadelphia in 2005, and then followed with his sophomore album The Better Angels after relocating to Nashville. Francis takes inspiration from Johnny Cash and other blues rock influences. He performs tonight at 7:30 p.m., this show is 21+ and tickets are $10, grab yours here.


Additions to 2nd Street Festival include Lushlife, Purples and a pie eating contest

The folks at the fourth annual 2nd Street Festival are ramping up for a big Sunday in Northern Liberties this weekend. On Saturday, they announced their full lineup for Sunday Aug. 5 in a handy-dandy schedule spreadsheet. Additions include new bands, new DJs and even a pie-eating contest. We’re pretty psyched about that last one, so let’s hit it first – 3:00 p.m. at the festival’s Germantown stage, presumably during a set by Variable Elements, a funk cover band also added to the lineup. That stage opens with singer-songwriter Orion Freeman and wraps with a flamenco band.

A big addition to the festival’s main stage in the Piazza is Philly hip-hop impressionist Lushlife (listen to his Key Studio Session here). The Poplar stage now opens with a set from soulful songwriter John Francis (hear his Key Studio Session here), feisty Philly rockers Purples (their Key Session can be downloaded here) and ubiquitous MC Kuf Knotz (he did a Key Session too, and it’s here). Also on Poplar are mind-blowing Baltimore psych heads Secret Mountains, as well as DJ DNA of Johnny Brenda’s popular gospel brunch and twangy rockers Brooke Shive and the 45s.

Last, there’s the Fairmount Stage, which is pretty much entirely new additions. Two Philly dance troupes will perform – Philareyto, which specializes in Puerto Rican dance, as well as Fuego Nuevo, a group preserving Aztec dance and culture. Opening that stage will be The Webbs and a jam session with John Fuhr, as well as a set in the middle of the afternoon from the Philly School of Rock.

The 2nd Street Festival runs from noon to 10 p.m. along 2nd street in Northern Liberties; the day also includes craft and food vendors, is free and open to the public. More information at 2nd Street Fest’s Facebook page.


John Carter Cash, John Francis, and Hezekiah Jones to play two August 13th benefit concerts for Broad Street Ministry

Broad Street Ministry and the Philadelphia Folksong Society have teamed up to present a pair of back-to-back benefit concerts for BSM, set to take place on Saturday, August 13th. Both shows will feature an exceptional lineup of Grammy-winning producer and singer/songwriter John Carter Cash (also the son of Johnny Cash and June Carter), Philly-native and legendary lyricist John Francis, and the delightful local folk collective Hezekiah Jones.

The shows will take place at 7:30pm and 9:30pm at Fergie’s Pub, located at 1214 Sansom Street. Tickets cost just $10 and are available here. All contributions are tax deductible, and will go directly to Broad Street Ministry. There will also be a special $50 VIP event taking place before the first show, which includes cocktails, hor d’oeuvres, and a meet-and-greet with John Carter Cash.


The Key Studio Sessions: John Francis takes a tour through Americana

John Francis

Photo by Jesse Lundy

Philadelphia’s prodigal son John Francis moved to Nashville to make a record, but it sounds like he took the roundabout way, circling the country and absorbing sounds. When Francis and his band, hot off a sold-out record release at the Tin Angel, rolled into The Key Studio Sessions last weekend to play an assortment of new songs, his live audience was treated to a musical map. We heard the lap steel of long, dusty midwestern roads and the gospel vocal cries of the south. Stax-style organ, swinging bass, bouncy juke-joint rhythm guitar and my favorite bit: drummer Chris Giraldi’s chain-gang beat on “People On The Edge of the World.” I had to peek through the control-room glass to see how this was achieved. (Near as I can figure, it was a tambourine and shakers, resting against the snare drum, combined with a lot of fortuitous happenstance; whatever the case, it sounds huge.)

Despite returning home with a collection of distinctly American music (his new Better Angels reportedly hit #40 on the Americana Music Association charts last week), Francis’ songs criticize as much as they celebrate. The crowd pondered lyrics about corporate greed, class stratification, Native-American disenfranchisement, and a country that, through Francis’ lens, struggles when it comes to compassion. “America, I love you,” he sings. “But you’re breaking my heart.” Help yourself to the live set below, and stay tuned—these songs and his interview with Helen Leicht will air on a Philly Local hour coming soon.


John Francis: The Songs I Wish I Would Have Written

Tonight XPN Welcomes John Francis to the Tin Angel. The show is a CD release party for his excellent new album The Better Angels
that we featured here when it was released. John recently did a little guest blogging for us and while we were exchanging some e-mails we decided to ask him “what songs do you wished you’d written?” Considering Francis sets the bar pretty high as a songwriter himself, we were curious about what his answers would be.

“Wild Horses” by the Rolling Stones
Its speculated among Gram Parsons loyalists and folklorists that Gram actually penned this one, then the Stones made it their own. Either way, this is one of those songs that has always existed since from time immemorial, out there in ether where songs live. I wish I’d wrote it, yes, but in a way that’s like saying I wish I’d ‘discovered’ electricity. It was always there, it just took some lunatic with a key on a kite string to capture it. “I know I dreamed you a sin and a lie, I have my freedom but I don’t have much time. Faith has been broken, tears must be cried, let’s do some livin’ after we die.” What the hell does it mean? Well, I don’t know, but you sure can feel it. What a strong and brave statement of the nature of a real love…to really love somebody…its messy, bloody, brutal, but transcendent and eternal. “Wild horses couldn’t drag me away.”

“One” by U2.
Such a tactile description of those universal feelings…”You act like you never had love, and you want me to go without,” and “Love is a temple, love the higher law”. And the melody and the chord progression…the build and the climax at the end…its just a perfect song.

“Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen.
The original version with all the verses. This song levels me. Romance, sex, spirituality, existentialism. “I tried my best, it wasn’t much. I couldn’t feel so I learned to touch. I tell the truth, haven’t come here to fool ya. And when its all been said and done, I’ll stand before the Lord of song with nothin’ on my tongue but “Hallelujah.”

John Francis’s CD Release Party is at Tin Angel, 20 S. 2nd St., 10:30 tonight. Tickets are $10


Guest Blogger: John Francis picks his favorite video jams

Singer-songwriter John Francis just released his new album, The Better Angels (which we recently featured as one of our local picks of the day). We asked John to do a little guest blogging for us and pick some of his favorite musicians—one song from each them and why he chose them. (John’s CD-release party is Friday, December 3rd at Tin Angel.)

Bruce Springsteen – “Streets Of Philadelphia”
“Receive me brother with your fateless kiss, or will we leave each other alone like this on the streets of Philadelphia?” Springsteen is one of my favorite artists and this song embodies why. He’s got that “human touch,” he speaks for us, and for people who have no voice, giving shape and texture and flesh to those often times intangible places inside each of us. In my years living in Philadelphia, I lived some of the lines in this song, as many of us have.

Public Enemy – “Can’t Truss It”
I love Chuck D cause he is a teacher. A historian, a truth-teller. The record ‘Fear of a Black Planet’ came out when I was in the 9th grade. The lessons in his lyrics confirmed my horrifying suspicions about American history and racism. Public Enemy’s story-songs are also a call to awareness and action. Thanks Chuck, it’s not easy to tell the truth, I’m grateful.

Johnny Cash – “Folsom Prison Blues”
This is Johnny Cash performing “Folsom Prison Blues” at San Quentin Prison with his band. This is why I love Johnny Cash and consider myself to be his student: “I wear the black for the poor and beaten down, livin’ on the hopeless hungry side of town. I wear it for the thousands who have died, believin’ that the Lord was on their side”. (From the song ‘Man in Black). He distilled all of his rage against injustice and his empathy for society’s outcasts into a singular symbol: wearing the color black. That’s why everyone from old guard Southern Baptists to tattoo covered punks with green hair can relate to Johnny, prisoners to presidents. He transcends because he is earthed in his own humanity and in all of humanity at large.

Bob Dylan – “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”
Shakespeare, Camus, Whitman, Twain…got nothin’ on this guy. I don’t trust anyone who dislikes Bob Dylan. Listen not just to the words, but the inflection and delivery. “He not busy being born is busy dieing.” What makes Dylan great is how he gets out of the way of the song.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe – “Up Above My Head”
One of my favorite singers / guitar players. She just lifts your spirit, doesn’t she? How about her guitar playing! Can I get an ‘amen’? Feel it?


Helen Leicht’s Local Pick Of The Day: John Francis’ “Johnny Cash On The Radio”

John Francis

With John Francis‘ major-label debut, The Better Angels, ready to drop on November 9th, it’s safe to say that we’re looking forward to seeing the rest of the country heap the same praise on the Philly-based musician as WXPN has in recent years. It’s not just that Francis is a rural-Pennsylvania-raised local whose foot-stomping country-rock and commanding stage presence set him apart from every other would-be good-old-boy with an acoustic guitar. It’s that Francis also brings some considerable cred to the table: He’s the son of Christian ministers, and spent his youth listening to gospel and folk music while singing in the church choir; the record, meanwhile, was recorded at Cash Cabin Studio (which was originally built Johnny Cash in 1978) by John Carter Cash and will be released by the Nashville-based label Dualtone Music Group. (That kind of cred goes a long way when you’re trying to sell your dusty soundtrack to the American Dream gone wrong to the cowboy-boot-and-hat-wearing contingent.) And, with all of Francis’ obvious connections to Cash, it’s no wonder the refrain to the lead single off his upcoming album is, “Just let that country station play / that Johnny Cash on the radio.” John Francis’ record-release show for The Better Angels is at 10:30 p.m. on Friday, December 3rd, at Tin Angel Friday; tickets to the 21+ show are $10.