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