Folkadelphia Session: Denison Witmer (with Ross Bellenoit)

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’s perspective shifting EP and an intimate recording session with Dension Witmer, tonight on Folkadelphia


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:

Esmé Patterson – Swimmer from Isaac Ravishankara on Vimeo.

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”


Ross Bellenoit will go undercover for a performance of Elvis Costello’s Blood & Chocolate at Milkboy on 11/1

Photo by Lisa Schaffer Photography, Design by Snakes Will Eat You, Design.
Photo by Lisa Schaffer Photography, Design by Snakes Will Eat You, Design.

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.”

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Listen to three tracks from Dawn Hiatt’s new LP Goodnight Boots (playing World Cafe Live on Sunday)

DawnHiattDawn 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.


Liberty Bell Sessions takes Philly artists outside of city limits (kicking off at Studio 34 tonight)

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 →


Tonight’s Concert Picks: Turning Violet Violet at Kung Fu Necktie, Bleeding Rainbow at Johnny Brenda’s, Mary Lattimore at Kung Fu Necktie, Philebrity Valentine’s Day special with Juston Stens at Underground Arts, plus more

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.

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Tonight’s Concert Picks: Ellie Goulding at The Electric Factory, Auctioneer with Ross Bellenoit at Puck, Leather at Kung Fu Necktie, Dope Body at The Depot, Riley Road at World Cafe Live at The Queen, XPN Welcomes Tommy Conwell to The Blockley

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.”

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John Francis’ City of Love Festival to benefit local church’s hospitality effort

The Broad Street Ministry

One of the many wonderful things about the Philadelphia music community is its desire to rally around causes and make a difference in the city.  As cliched as that sounds, its true – the latest example being hometown musician John Francis‘ new City of Love Festival, benefiting Broad Street Ministry and their “Breaking Bread” hospitality initiative.  Amidst debate over whether or not outdoor meal services for the homeless should be allowed in Philadelphia, the Broad Street Ministry has created its own safe haven for the city’s homeless men and women where they can receive a hot meal and a variety of services (including medical attention, art therapy and assistance for veterans) every Thursday afternoon. Continue reading →


Unlocked: Get a sampling of Ross Bellenoit’s genre-crossing work

This week, we welcomed the return of Unlocked – The Key’s regular series spotlighting new and significant releases by Philadelphia musicians – with a look at Ross Bellenoit and his Home Songs project.  The Boston-native-turned-Philadelphia-resident shared his solo craftemanship with three home-recorded EPs released over the span of several months this year.  The songs on the three EPs represent a transitional period in Bellenoit’s life; though some of the songs were started in 2010 (when the guitarist began experimenting with his home-recordings abilities ) they really came together in the last six months, after Bellenoit took a hiatus from touring with other bands to focus on his own material.

We went in-depth with Bellenoit’s solo work in this Unlocked installment – from a review of Volume 3 and the Home Songs trio as a collection, to an interview with Bellenoit on his process and influences – but that paints only a partial picture of Bellenoit’s life as a musician.  To gain a complete understanding of just how big a role Bellenoit plays in his peers’ careers, we have to look at his discography as a whole.  With production, songwriting and instrumentation work for Lauryn Peacock, Birdie Busch and Hezekiah Jones (just to name a few) under his belt, the full picture of Bellenoit’s life as a musician shows a ubiquitous and deeply respected talent in the Philadelphia music scene; a true musician’s musician.

Check out a selection of Bellenoit’s genre-crossing work below. And celebrate the completion of Bellenoit’s Home Songs project tonight at Underground Arts. Continue reading →


Unlocked: Ross Bellenoit on progressing from classical to rock to recording at home

He was trained in music in his native Boston, but Ross Bellenoit came into his own as a musician here in Philadelphia. When he arrived in town nearly ten years ago, he formed an early bond with a community of musicians based in South Philadelphia and was quickly enlisted to play guitar for many of them. Soon, he began playing for touring groups as well – like Brooklyn-based alt-folk combo The Sweetback Sisters – and in 2010, released his first collection of his own songwriting, Eight Track Mind. This year’s Home Songs series of EPs, which we’ve featured all week on Unlocked, show a tremendous growth in songwriting, production and overall style – which is interesting, considering that these songs are essentially demos recorded at home, with slight studio embellishments after the fact. Bellenoit and I grabbed lunch a couple weeks ago to talk about his growth, his process and parallels he has with a certain pop singer from Sweden.

The Key: With everything that you’re musically involved in, how do you find time for your solo stuff in the midst of all that?

Ross Bellenot: I find myself consciously having to make time to do it. It’s actually really interesting lately, for the past maybe like six months, because I’ve been not on the road anymore. And when I initially made that decision to not be on the road anymore, you know, I was like, “Great, I’ll have more time to focus on my own stuff.” It doesn’t quite work that way. I have to hustle a lot more than I was when I was on the road to sort of keep the same sort of level of income coming in. A lot of things have been taking up a lot more of my time, and I ended up delving into a lot of other projects, too – like Divers, and I started playing with Matt Landis’ group Minor Arcana, and Early Ape, I’ve been playing with those guys.

TK:  Wow.

RB: So, yeah, it’s like, there’s been a lot of things on the plate. And, uh, I was hoping to have started recording the next full-length while all these EPs were being released. It’s been really hard to like set that time aside to make it happen. But, I’m always writing songs Continue reading →