Saturday, Aug. 31
I brought a notebook with me today, something I don’t always do anymore—especially when I’m mostly expected to just Tweet and Instagram. No one wants to read big long features about the concert you went to. We live so in the moment that if there wasn’t digital evidence that you were there, right then at that moment, unless you’ve been granted access to some iconic artist, you’re just writing about the past. And everyone would prefer to hear about what’s about to big or going to be huge. And in a way, Made in America is a perfect weird blend of that mix: You get small-time, buzzing bands that truly do have potential, and start the day off with sparse crowds and those in the know, like HAIM, and finish with international superstars, like Beyonce. And I shouldn’t complain to be here. I’m not, really, but it’s been an arduous day, and the only thing that’s keeping me going is knowing that Beyonce’s only two and a half hours away.
I wrote this on my notebook this morning on the Broad Street line:
“There are TWO people at the Federal/Ellsworth Broad Street line stop – me and a woman on her cell phone eating some Chinese food from a styrofoam to-go container nested in a Have a Nice Day bag. A SEPTA announcer calls out that, due to Made in America, trains will be departing every five minutes from Fern Rock. Hard to believe. In its second year now, here’s hoping MIA runs like a well-oiled machine. Once I’m on the non-air conditioned train car, it hits me: It’s here again, and 60,000 people are about to descend upon the Parkway to guzzle overpriced Budweiser in the blaring last few moments of August heat. There are young white folks with American flag t-shirts, aged 18-23, on this train, and I’m about to immerse myself in a sea of them. And I’m nervous. At 30 years old, I still let ‘em get to me. Like this motherfucker who just stared me down when I got on the train, who is now reclined over three hard-plastic orange bench seats with high-tops on and a low-slung too-low jeans …
This turned out to be too ominous and true then I could have even imagined. This festival is not for the faint of heart, and right now, I’m feeling really faint. But as the sun sets, and it cools down, I can see the worth in making it through this day. The beginning of Phoenix’s set is calling me, though, and I’ve got so much more to say.
It’s hard to believe, but it was only one year ago that Philadelphians braced themselves for the unknown, when thousands would descend upon our city to see what Jay Z had brewed up with Budweiser. That successful two-day effort, Made In America, seemed to be a pretty time-hooked moment: Jay and Kanye West were creative partners at the time, still relishing in the critical success of Watch The Throne. And while Yeezy’s G.O.O.D. Music crew stormed the Rocky Stage for the last half-hour of Saturday night to blast through megahits (at the time) like “Clique,” “New God Flow” and “Mercy,” it seemed like no one could touch these hip-hop royals—like they were at the top of their game, and no one else was on their level. The royalty in reference, other than Messrs. Carter and West, would be the performers from last year’s MIA who graced the main stage: Rick Ross, Drake and the boys who jumped on stage with West, like 2 Chainz, Pusha T, Common and Big Sean. Odd Future graced the secondary Liberty Stage, but those OFWGKTW boys are a little more nihilistic and subversive than what I’m getting at.
But that was 2012. At 2013’s MIA, it’s really only about one emcee: Kendrick Lamar.
Indeed, Lamar blew up big over the last year, and mere weeks ago, he stepped onto a Big Sean track called “Control” that shook the hip-hop community up like it hasn’t been in a while. On it, Lamar spits: “I got love for you all but I’m tryna murder you n——s/Tryna make sure your core fans never heard of you n——s/They don’t want to hear not one more noun or verb from you n——s.” This after shouting out a roll call of his contemporaries, in order: J. Cole, Big K.R.I.T., Wale, Pusha T, Meek Mill, A$AP Rocky, Drake, Big Sean, Jay Electronica, Tyler (the Creator) and Mac Miller. Lamar also posits himself alongside Nas, Jay, Eminem and Andre 3000—as in they’re old, he’s new. It’s all anyone can talk about, Tweet and Facebook about. Well, before Miley.
This year’s lineup for MIA is decidedly hip-hop and young. With Beyonce headlining Day One and Nine Inch Nails headlining Day Two, you might believe that the festival was proportionately mixed in genre. Not really. Phoenix, Queens of the Stone Age, Imagine Dragons and the Gaslight Anthem are doing the heavy rock and pop rock lifting, with Emeli Sande, Miguel, Solange, Fitz & the Tantrums, HAIM and AlunaGeorge bolstering both days with modern R&B and soul. And yet, with one verse, all anyone cares about this weekend is catching Lamar’s Sunday set.
To our knowledge, none of the artists he noted by name are expected to be present, minus A$AP Rocky, who we’ll be sure to catch just to see if he addresses the call-out directly, hopefully in a hot verse of his own. Honestly, it’s just hip-hop—and admit it or not, hip-hop’s been pretty boring for a while. Diss tracks and petty beefs come with the territory and have since it began. Just ask Chuck D and Public Enemy, who’ll be performing on Saturday. Competition in hip-hop is as present as cheap gold, and Lamar will be strangely in his element all weekend, with all of his Black Hippie homeboys present and performing: Jay Rock, Ab-Soul and ScHoolBoy Q each go on earlier in the day on Sunday.
Otherwise, things appear to be pretty much exactly as they were in 2012. A map shows all the stages to be in the same places, with the exception of the Freedom Tent being turned into a Freedom Stage to showcase electronic dance music. EDM’s a strong component to the MIA lineup, for whatever reason, and, like the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Dan DeLuca told Daniel Rubin in a radio chat on The Talk: “If all EDM sounds like a car alarm going off to you, I would say you should bring earplugs and walk several blocks away in search of a fish taco during Deadmau5 or Wolfgang Gartner or Nero.” There’s also a brand new skate park smack dab in the middle of the fest’s campus, so there will now be a Skate Park Stage, with programming on it both days that’s in addition to the 30-plus acts slated for the main stages.
MIA has also ramped up its capacities by a not-insignificant number: 60,000 tickets can and will be sold for both days, as opposed to capacities capped at 50,000 in 2012. Warnings have been issued about what you can (one sealed water bottle) and cannot bring (everything) into the gates, and patdowns will be more substantial this year. The fuss that neighbors made leading up to last summer’s debut was significantly less this time around. There are always drunks and garbage on the streets, and businesses now know what to expect at midnight so have staffed and expanded their hours accordingly.
Speaking of hours, the music starts at 2 p.m., with gates opening at noon, and stops at 11:59 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday nights. There’ll be innumerable ways for you to spend money and get money to spend, and, hopefully, the two biggest kinks in terms of pure conveniences will have gotten ironed out: The beer will be cold, and your phone will work. Last year, on Saturday, nothing worked electronically: no cell phone service or WiFi all day, so no calling, texting, Tweeting, Instagramming and no journalists blogging—which may sound funny a year later, but sure as hell won’t be if there’s a repeat. Still, at the same time journalists like me are excited to blog and live-Tweet our wry observations and Instagram the shit out of the crowd antics and performances at Made in America, we’re also excited about the deliciously dank lineup of talent Jay’s put together. Oh, yeah: Beyonce included.
Sat., Aug. 31-Sun., Sept. 1. 2pm. $89.50-$499.50. Benjamin Franklin Parkway. madeinamericafest.com
Hope you’re getting as excited about Made in America as we are. A few reads from Philly.com (here, here and here) might help. So might this cute new map of the 2013 space, which is not very much different from last year’s, with the major exception of the Skate Park Stage and the elevation of the Freedom Tent—where most to all of the EDM madness goes down—to a Freedom Stage. Still no word on set times. But we know that the gates open at noon on both days, and that the music stops at 11:59pm. Care to revisit our cover story that tackled the festival’s inaugural debut? Check back in on Wednesday in those yellow boxes to see our take on the main vibe of the upcoming Labor Day Beyonce extravaganza (Hint: It has to do with Kendrick Lamar).
This weekend, we strolled into Ps & Qs, a new favorite shopping destination on Philadelphia’s South Street, and resisted dropping a couple hundred bucks down on swiping ALL of their spring and summer merch on sale. They’re making space for fall shipments and marking down t-shirts, tanks, hats and jackets with a fixture full of 50-percent off and another batch of 30-percent markdowns. You’re looking at purchases of $10-$20 on stuff that used to be $30-$50. Of course, it’s all about what’s left and what sizes have been snatched up, so it’s worth hustling in to get it while you can.
But the real star of the show is the brand new autumn jackets that are closest to the street, and one of them’s been running around my head since I laid my eyes on its beauty Saturday afternoon. K-Way’s a brand that’s been around for almost 50 years now. Born from Leon-Claude Duhamel’s brain in Paris 1965, it’s a simple achievement: waterproof, lightweight, packable and fashionable. As a cyclist and former Oregonian, waterproof’s gotta mean waterproof. Sometimes you’re all amped on your new windbreaker, and the first rain hits, and you think No bigs! I got this slick new pullover to fight that precipitation. Then you actually get rained on, and your shoulders start moistening, your forearms get wet and stick to the insides of the sleeves, and your hood isn’t cuttin’ the mustard. Well, the K-Way, the fine folks at Ps & Qs have assured us, is the real deal. They even did their own tests.
Now, the crown jewel in their lovely and colorful K-Way collection is the stunning collaboration between the French-born brand and the American-born kook and savant, Marc Jacobs. Pictured above, the heathered and treated mixed grey cotton zip-up is waterproof, features charming details and can be packed into itself for clipping around your waist or shoving into your weekend bag. Let’s not talk about price, however I will say that it’s the main reason I’m not wearing it right now. But while supplies last—and please, take this as a straight-up challenge— snatch those last two (there’s a small and a medium in stock) if you want to wear it this week or order it online if you can wait. In the meantime, rally up those pennies and head to a CoinStar to see if you’ve got room in the budget for one of the most beautifully versatile outerwear pieces I’ve laid my eyes on in a few minutes.
The week of our music issue is upon us. In just two short days, you can pick up a big, fat PW Music Issue in honor boxes waiting to be consumed. With great anticipation, we’ve been asking for some words from local musicians, writers and friends on their favorite place to see a show or perform. Here we have John Faye, lead singer for IKE and one half of John & Brittany, sounding off on the South Street fixture The Legendary Dobbs. He’s putting on a benefit for his friend and colleague, Brett Talley (who you’ll hear from tomorrow), called Brett Fest at World Cafe Live on this Friday night, Aug. 16th:
“I might be a little biased because I’m now the open mic host there, but for me, it’s Legendary Dobbs at 304 South St. It was the first place in Philly I ever played back when it was JC Dobbs, and I was underage, in my first band, and living in Delaware. I opened for the likes of Kenn Kweder and The Daves. Having seen the place through all its iterations since then, it has certainly had its ups and downs. That period when it was open as an all-ages club with no liquor license, selling some sandy drink made from Açaí berries, the name of which eludes me – that was a low. But like the beautiful shape-shifting cockroach that it is, Dobbs seems to find a way to survive.
Even though South Street is basically now a big shit show, something about the excitement of being on the strip immortalized by the Orlons still carries weight; every time I walk in the door, the sense of history is palpable. The posters from the early tours of Nirvana, Oasis, Green Day, as well as numerous local performers (some notable, some utterly obscure), are still on the walls, and they just give that little psychological nudge that pushes performers to put on the best show they can. In the couple of years since it re-opened as Legendary Dobbs, there have been countless great moments on the same cramped stage that all those who came before have shared. I’ve witnessed a lot of them; I’ve been part of some of them with my bands John & Brittany and IKE. The staff and the strange cast of characters the place attracts are the stuff of great rock ”n roll memoirs. Hopefully, there is a Legs McNeil among us.”
The third annual GayFest! is already in full swing (and significant ink’s rightfully been spilled about it). Though it launched on the 6th, you’ve still got weeks worth of gay theatre to take in, and there’s lots of it. With four feature plays, six one-night stands, and a few other parties and readings, it’d be nearly impossible to catch ALL of it, though some will give it their all. (Consult the Quince Productions website for the full run-down on ticketing, showtimes and venues.) We caught up with Rich Rubin, the festival’s founder and director, and Alexander Kacala to get the scoop on what to expect from some of the gayness going down.
Kacala, as you very well may know, is also known as Tammy Faymous. As Tammy she’s a dynamic emcee, performer and pseudo-drag queen. Because the thing is, Tammy doesn’t hide her hairy chest or pitch her voice up into unreachable female vocals territory. (That’s pretty much impossible if you still have testicles.) But Alex has been revering, listening to and imitating women his whole life. He loves them. He has a sister, Karina, whom he loves and sometimes works with on theatrical endeavors (more on that later), a mother he adores and loads of female friends. And the ladies will be shown love in his one-night stand titled The Lost Phone Diaries on Wed., Aug. 14 at Plays & Players.
“It’s a melange,” Kacala says, “kind of like Sandra Bernhard. There’s storytelling, stand-up, a live band”—and he’ll dish on how he started doing drag and being gay in Philly. After performing as a genderfuck drag gueen around the city, he’s looking forward to performing as a boy. “It’s always been on my radar to do things as a boy; the hardest part is putting together a band,” he confesses. He’s got Andrew Nelson on bass (who arranges and plays for Martha Graham Cracker), Clifford Hall on guitar (also of the local band Acton Bell), and Barbara Duncan on drums (one of the two backbones of Ang and the Damn Band), plus his sister’ll be providing some classically-trained backup vocals. It’s a lot of music with an anticipated 10-12 songs in a set, covering lots of ladies: Tracy, Patti, Beyonce, Rihanna, Cyndi, La Roux, Amy, and some songs from Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
“It’s about finding songs that fit into my range,” Kacala says “Doing drag is kind of like karaoke, and it’s so limited.” He’s excited to be doing this kind of performance because he can shape it mold it like he intends to: “I’m more in control of the whole experience. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. We can arrange with a band and I can bring LaRoux down two steps.” One thing he is coy about is whether there’ll be outfit changes. “Maybe,” he says with much intonation—meaning yes, there will be outfit changes.
Aside from Kacala’s performance, Rubin has amassed an awful lot of talent for GayFest!’s week of shows. “We began the one-night stands last year, and they were one of the most fun parts of the festival,” Rubin says. “What I love about the one-night stands is that they can push the envelope in a way we might not be able to do in a regular run of a mainstage play, and present a wide variety in both form and content.”
Rubin lays out the other five one-night stands for us like so:
“Queer Magic” brings together a wild group of musicians, magicians, and other gender-bending artists for a witch’s brew of entertainment that’s going to be unlike anything we’ve had in GayFest! before. (Sun., Aug. 11, Plays & Players, 7:30pm)
“PHIT Improv Night” is a night of GLBT improv comedy with two improv “teams” (”Hot Dish” and “Axis of Evil”) from Philadelphia’s leading improv comedy troupe. I’ve wanted to include improv in the festival and I was really lucky to get PHIT to agree to perform. (Tues., Aug. 20, Playground at the Adrienne, 7:30pm)
“I Am Because I Am” features singer/actor Sebastian (who’s also starring in “The Homosexuals”) in a theatrical concert with original electronic music and dance. (Wed., Aug. 21, Plays & Players, 7pm)
“Filthy Truth” combines music, movement, and the spoken word, exploring some of the most difficult issues of GLBT equality in an original and fascinating way. (Wed., Aug. 21, Playground at the Adrienne, 7:30pm)
“Manic Depressive Pixie Dreamboat” is a one-man show featuring the amazing Ben Storey, a Quince favorite (he’s also in “Someone Brought Me” in the festival, his fifth appearance with Quince) in an interactive, multimedia storytelling event. (Fri., Aug. 23, Plays & Players, 7:30pm)
In less than a week, you’ll be holding PW’s 2013 Music Issue in your hands. Next Wednesday, you can pick up a copy of this special issue we’ve been crankin’ away on. We’re counting down the days till then by sharing thoughts and reflections from musicians, writers and artists around the city on their favorite place to play or take in a show. Our old friend (as in we go way back) Joey Sweeney, of Philebrity fame, spun us a beautiful tale of where he first got the itch. We thought he might say Ortlieb’s because that’s where his upcoming show is. But nope. He went with friends’ homes:
“I’m in a funny spot with this right now. I’m just coming back to music after what was pretty much a six-year break that began not long after I started Philebrity in 2004/2005. Ask anyone, and they will tell you that that’s a long break for someone who was recording/writing/gigging/touring for some years previous, which I was. But I will tell anyone who’ll listen: Breaks are good. Don’t be afraid of them. Coming back now, I feel really lucky, even though I’m starting all over from scratch. The stakes are completely different: In my earlier music life, I really tried to define myself by being a musician or a songwriter. Now, though, I’m older: I’m not crying out for some kind of identity, which, let’s be honest, is really so much of what the young-dudes-in-bands game is really all about. I don’t have a lot of expectations, and I don’t have a lot riding on this, but what I do have is a real love for writing and singing and playing. And it’s occurred to me more than once over the last few months, that this has got to be the place where everyone starts. And it is perhaps the whole trick of a career to stay in that place.
“This is all a very roundabout way of saying that my favorite place to play is anyone’s kitchen or living room on a Saturday night. Because that is where playing for/with other people began for me. When I was a teenager, I had the profound luck to have a whole batch of recovering alcoholics hanging around my Dad’s, every Saturday night. That sounds funny, I know, but the thing is, when people are in recovery, and especially those first few years, the weekends are really difficult; where do you go? You can’t go to a bar like you always did before. Where do you go? My father and stepmother made dinner for all of their close program friends every Saturday night. This is in like the mid-1980s. There’d be spaghetti; there’d be cheesecake and then coffee and cigarettes all night long. My dad’s buddy would bring a guitar around and play like every Paul Simon and John Prine song ever. Eventually, I got him to teach me. And then I’d play with him. I’d bang out a Lou Reed or a Bob Dylan tune. I couldn’t have been great. But this was great—this thing we did, and that they let me do.
“And though there was a time around college age and right after, I guess, where it seemed like when I went to parties or to people’s houses, people would play, as I got older, it just seemed to drift away. Everybody’s in a band; nobody wants to seem too eager—who knows?—I don’t know what it was. It just disappeared, at least in my world. But then I took this break. And I kept writing songs, here and there, because I don’t think I can not do that. (I hope I can’t not do that.) And eventually, I had a whole bunch of them! And it got to this point: The kitchen, at my buddy’s house, on a Saturday night, was the only goddamned place these songs were going to get played. And so me and my buddy Jared just started busting out guitars any time we got drunk. You wanna talk about a quality of live improvement? Well, there it is. In the kitchen, brevity is the soul of wit; you don’t get a whole set. At most, you get the old Jesus & Mary Chain set time rule: Twenty minutes. So play what you got, and from the heart. These are your friends. You can’t bullshit them. And more than that, even, you can’t waste their time. I don’t know what exactly brought me to do it, but I figure now that I somehow workshopped the best album I’ve ever written in the kitchens of my friends over a period of like six years. I’ve been gobsmacked by their patience and support and encouragement. I’d quit! I was out of the game! They brought me back in.
“I have a record coming out in the fall. I’m really proud of it, and I think it’s the prettiest, sweetest, most honest thing I’ve ever done, and the people I got to do it with—and now play it live, too—are among my favorite people in the world. As we speak, it’s time for me to book a bunch of gigs around the release. But you know what? Before I start freaking out about not having a booking agent and all the rest of that shit, I’m just gonna spend September and October just hitting up as many kitchen tables on the East Coast as I can. Because fuck it: If you can’t do that, why even do it?”