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Interview: John Wesley Harding opens up his Cabinet of Wonders (performing at the 215 Festival tonight)

Wesley Stace has always had a witty way with words. That’s both in his career as a songwriter, which stretches back to the 1980s (you might know him better by his stage name, John Wesley Harding), and more recently as a novelist. A couple years back, he launched the Cabinet of Wonders, an occasionally traveling roadshow and regular monthly showcase in New York that brings together musicians, authors and comedians in a very irreverent, lively variety-show format. The Cabinet made a Philadelphia appearance this summer at the XPoNential Music Festival – you might recall Rhett Miller absolutely nailing David Bowie’s “Five Years” during their set, or Eugene Mirman’s madcap comedy – and returns tonight for a 215 Festival performance at Underground Arts. We caught up with the England-born Philadelphia transplant by phone yesterday to get some background on the showcase and see what’s in store for tonight.

The Key: How long have you been putting on the Cabinet of Wonders, and how did it start?

John Wesley Harding: We’ve been doing it a few years now. It came about because I had a new album out two albums ago, and I wanted to do an album release party. An my publicist said “Well, you write novels now. Why don’t you bring the two things together?” After the first one, we saw it was such a fun show, we kept doing it. We took the cabinet on tour, we moved around to different venues in New York, and then NPR picked us up.

TK: How often to you hold cabinet events? What’s the next one?

JWH: Apart form extraordinary cabinet meetings like the one at this weekend, or the one at XPN’s festival over the summer, we just have our once-a-month performance in New York.

TK: It was great to watch people’s reaction at the XPN festival who might not have been familiar with the Cabinet. It was a mix of surprise, delight and total confusion. Is that a reaction you encounter often, or do people attend Cabinet performances knowing what to expect?

JWH: I think people generally come in knowing. At a festival, crowds are most used to seeing music act followed by more music. And with the Cabinet at the XPN festival, I tried to make a miniature version of what I do every month – almost a festival within the festival. Continue reading →

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Celebrate Hideaway Music’s ten-year anniversary with John Wesley Harding (instore appearance on 11/3)

A favorite off-the-beaten-path destination of Philly audiophiles, Hideaway Music in Chestnut Hill celebrates its ten-year anniversary on Saturday, November 3 with an appearance by folk / rock singer-songwriter John Wesley Harding. The instore performance begins at 1 p.m., admission is free, and for those who grumble about making the trip out to Northwest Philly, here’s a transit tip – SEPTA’s Chestnut Hill West line drops you off practically at Hideaway’s front door. It’s really easy, y’all. Below, watch Wes’ recent video for “Making Love to Bob Dylan.”

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215 Festival music lineup includes Dean & Britta, The Spinto Band, Lushlife, Light Heat and more

Literary arts showcase The 215 Festival is making its grand return to Philadelphia this year, and the announcement today reveals an all-around exciting lineup, especially in the musical realm. New Eraserhood venue Underground Arts is ground zero, and The West Philadelphia Orchestra throws a “Ladies Night Balkan Dance Party” on opening night, November 1. The following night, John Wesley Harding’s Cabinet of Wonders performs – this time featuring members of The Spinto Band, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and Dean & Britta. Lushlife and Light Heat play the Bibliodiscotheque Dance Party on Nov. 3, and John Hodgeman closes out the festival on the 4th. No word on whether humorist Hodgeman’s performance will be musical or not, but perhaps one of his TBA guests will bring instruments with them. Check out the entire lineup here.

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Read John Wesley Harding’s review of Neil Young’s memoir, Waging Heavy Peace, in the Wall Street Journal

This weekend, witty folk / rock songwriter (and recent adopted Philadelphian) John Wesley Harding reviewed Neil Young‘s new memoir, Waging Heavy Peace, in the Wall Street Journal. Writing under his offstage name, Wesley Stace, he observes that Young’s book follows in step with Bob Dylan’s Chronicles and Patti Smith’s Just Kids – both of which were free of co-authors, both of which capture a specific moment in music history. However, this book has a unique slant:

But Neil Young—Californian hippie, Canadian folkie refusenik, Godfather of Grunge—isn’t so easily sold. “Waging Heavy Peace” will likely find most of its readers among his audience, the “Rusties.” That is a shame, because the book is terrific: modest, honest, funny and frequently moving—an antidote. “Waging Heavy Peace” is typical, in structure and tone, of a man who has seemed at times to be consistent only in inconsistency, both in his artistic output and in his views: a songwriter who once scrapped album after album and now releases everything, a guitarist who creates unearthly random noise yet is annoyed by minor mistakes on the recording of “Like a Hurricane.”

You can read Wes’ entire review here. Find out more about Waging Heavy Peace here.

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Tonight’s Concert Picks: Instamatic at North Star Bar, The Tweeds at MilkBoy Philly, Patrick Watson at World Cafe Live, Strawbs w/ John Wesley Harding at Sellersville Theater

Tonight Philly synth pop band Instamatic will be bringing their electronic vibes to the North Star Bar for a melding of contemporary electo music with Chicago indie electronica band Gemini Club and Philly electro band The Bad Doctors. The 21+ show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets are available here for $10. Below, check out Instamatic’s new remix EP.

Philly psychedelic dream pop band The Tweeds are set to play MilkBoy Philly tonight with local bands The Gazettes, We Are Fauna, and Forest Fools. Doors for the 21+ show open at 8 p.m. and the show kicks off at 9 p.m. Tickets are available here for $10. Listen to The Tweeds’ latest release in the player below.

Montreal singer-songwriter Patrick Watson and his eponymous band will be playing a show tonight downstairs at World Cafe Live. The show also features fellow Canadian folk rock band Great Lake Swimmers. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and the show starts at 8:30 p.m. Ticket prices range from $16 to $22 and are available for purchase here. Below watch the music video for Patrick Watson’s song “Into Giants” from the band’s latest album Adventures in Your Own Backyard.

Finally, WXPN welcomes English rock band Strawbs, who formed back in 1964, to the Sellersville Theater tonight for a show with English folk singer John Wesley Harding. The show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets are available here for $25.

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Watch John Wesley Harding’s video collaboration with Megan Reilly (playing Sellersville Theater in September)

John Wesley Harding brought his comedy / music variety show, The Cabinet of Wonders, to our XPoNential Fest a couple weeks ago, incorporating storytelling and poetic interactions among himself and different musicians. The Cabinet series has been playing on various NPR stations, including WXPN, but it is hardly Harding’s only creative outlet. He recently collaborated with singer/songwriter Megan Reilly on “Old Man and the Bird,” where total of 1,100 photos were taken to create a stop-motion video which you can watch below. Harding will perform at The Sellersville Theater with Strawbs on September 6, you can buy tickets here. Listen to The Cabinet of Wonders’ XPo Fest set here.

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XPoNential Fest: John Wesley Harding’s Cabin of Wonders (photos, audio, setlist)


On Sunday, a new twist for the XPO Fest included a comedy/musical variety show hosted by John Wesley Harding entitled “John Wesley Harding’s Cabinet of Wonders”. Harding curated, hosted, and performed during the set renouncing stories, live poetry, and sing-a-long’s. For each show, he handpicks different artists to collaborate together to perform weird, out of the ordinary pieces. This performance featured guests, Megan Reilly, Rhett Miller, and others. To learn more about the show go to NPR’s website. Check out the photo gallery above and listen to the entire set here (via the XPN media player). Continue reading →

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