Photo by Fred Knittel
Cancer Treament Centers of America
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.
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:
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”
Local musician Ross Bellenoit has announced plans for a show at Milkboy on November 1st, where he will cover Elvis Costello’s Blood & Chocolate in its entirety. The All Saints Day event was inspired by the season of alternate reality and Bellenoit has put together a knock-out band to stand in for The Attractions, including drummer Patrick Berkery (The War on Drugs), bassist Todd Erk (Birdie Busch), keyboardist / vocalist Matthew Landis (World Inferno Friendship Society), guitarist Joe Baldacci (DRGN King) and vocalist Sonja Sofya (Ryan Tennis). Philly favorite Pete Donnelly will also lend a hand during the evening. Tickets and information for the 21+ show can be found here. Below, watch a live video of Costello performing “Uncomplicated” off of the record, followed by Bellenoit performing his own song “Besides.”
Dawn Hiatt is one of those faces you’ve seen and voices you’ve heard if you frequent the Philly-area roots rock scene. She’s collaborated with The Lowlands as well as Johnny Miles and the Waywards, and is getting ready to release her latest solo album, Goodnight Boots. Recorded in collaboration with her husband, Turtle Studios honcho Jeff Hiatt, the record runs a range of styles, from very Nashville country-pop (“Blue”) to introspective folk (“Meet Me In the Middle”) and expressive, Fiona Apple-esque piano numbers (“Bad Chemistry”). A lineup of major scene players worked with Hiatt on the album as well, including Ross Bellenoit and Brad Hinton, and Hiatt performs with them and others at a CD release party this Sunday, September 22nd at World Cafe Live. Also on the bill are Divers, Adrien Reju, Honey Watts and Chelsea Reed; tickets and information can be found here. Below, listen to a three-song sampler of Goodnight Boots.
So many times, great song writers get stuck in their hometown or the city where they started performing. Many times, it’s because they don’t have the funds or support needed to showcase anywhere else. Some have day jobs. Others have families to support. But you always notice them when they open for a band you like, or catch them at your favorite venue. These artists always have dedication, animation, and passion to pull off a great performance with carefully crafted talents.
Liberty Bell Sessions is a project created to get Philadelphia artists out of their locality and in front of a wider audience. “I am constantly amazed by the quality and power of songs that come out of Philadelphia. I think it’s something in the water,” says creator of the project, Ross Bellenoit. “Even when I moved to Philadelphia back in 2003, I was in awe of how many great songwriters there were in this fair city of ours.”
The idea came naturally through a conversation with Club Passim’s (in Cambridge, MA) owner, Matt Smith. Originally Bellenoit was being asked to come back and play a set after being featured on one of Peter Mulvey’s Lamplighter Sessions last November. It was his suggestion to get other Philadelphia artists on the bill with him that got the wheels turning. “After being on the road for several years, I was always pining to bring these great contemporary songs out to the rest of the world.” Bellenoit ran with the idea after Smith coined the term “Liberty Bell Sessions”.
“We want to present each other’s songs in ways that are new to each of us. Since we all have our own projects and people that we play with, this new environment lends to more spontaneous and fresh collaborative ideas for each other’s songs.” Continue reading →
Local indie group Turning Violet Violet play Kung Fu Necktie tonight. The Key Studio Session alums carve out chamber alt-rock songs on the fringe of art-rock that seem bathed in a purple glow, though that might just be residual effects of their band name. Either way, the songs on Turning Violet Violet’s debut full-length Double Cure are swathe-y, sweeping compositions that strike all the right feelings chords. Tickets and information for tonight’s 21+ show with TeamMate and Donora can be found here. Revisit Turning Violet Violet’s Key Session here and watch their video for “Cold Bread” below.
Following up her Free at Noon performance today, Ellie Goulding headlines the Electric Factory tonight. The British electronic / pop musician released her LP Halcyon late last year after topping both BBC’s The Sound Of 2010 poll and the Critic’s Choice Award at The Brit Awards that same year. Blending infectious synth hooks and soulful singer-songwriter lyrics, Goulding has placed herself in the center of a resurging musical venn diagram that includes Lykke Li, Jesse Ware and Emeli Sande. Tickets and information for tonight’s all-ages show can be found here. Below, watch the video for Halcyon single “Anything Could Happen.”