“One Book, One Philadelphia” Events Are Underway

Cold Mountain

Events for the Free Library’s annual “One Book, One Philadelphia” citywide book club are underway. This year’s book is Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier.

The events started Tuesday night with a discussion between Frazier and composer Jennifer Higdon, who created the Cold Mountain opera being performed as part of “One Book’s” events and which premieres Friday. Today’s events include a screening of the movie at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute, as well as screenings of other Civil War movies, Glory and Lincoln, at other locations. (The full list of upcoming events in the series can be found here.) Read more »

INTERVIEW: Grammy Nominee Lianne La Havas

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Lianne La Havas has arrived in the United States from London for a eight-concert solo tour that wraps up a few days before the February 15 Grammy Awards. Last year’s Blood is nominated in the Best Urban Contemporary Album category. It’s the 26-year-old artist’s first Grammy nomination.

We’d planned to talk by phone from her hotel in Manhattan a few hours before the first show the tour, but the connection is awful. I briefly hear her rich, friendly voice, “Sarah?” — before we must disconnect and try again. But, the minutes are ticking by and the phone isn’t ringing again. I’m worrying now that I won’t have time to ask her about when Prince, yes, The Purple One, came to her apartment in London for a cup of tea (with honey), or when she went to Prince’s personal recording studio, Paisley Park, to lay down vocals for his 2014 album, Art Official Age.

Minutes are passing. Now I’m guessing I won’t have time to ask her what it feels like to be 26 and be able to count Stevie Wonder, Robert Plant and John Legend as fans. La Havas caught the music world’s attention with Lost & Found, her 2011 EP, and then with Is Your Love Big Enough, her 2012 debut studio album. Her versatile soprano voice suits her heartfelt and elegant songwriting.

The phone is finally ringing. I pick up and hear La Havas gently laughing, “Wow, that was a terrible connection. You had some crazy robot voice.” Thanks phone company. I hate it when Grammy-nominees and friends of Prince think my voice sounds like a crazy robot.

Today in New York, she’s gone for a run, a bit of shopping, lunch and is ready to chat. Later, she’ll head downtown to perform in a cozy club in Chelsea, just La Havas alone with her guitar. She toured with her band earlier this year to support the album, but in these intimately scaled venues, like our Ortlieb’s Cafe, she gets to set her vocals free and take a deep dive into her jazz and neo-soul sound. Those lucky enough to get a ticket for the show at Ortlieb’s will get an evening of R&B grooves and powerful, textured vocals that can easily go from to-the-bone intensity to playful purr.

On to the interview… Read more »

INTERVIEW: Six Questions with RAIN Creator Mark Lewis

A scene from "RAIN."

A scene from RAIN.

It isn’t the first time that the wildly popular touring Beatles tribute show RAIN is playing in Philly, and it won’t be the last. The concert, which features band members who look and eerily sound like the real Fab Four, has origins in the ’70s when Mark Lewis, a trained pianist and musician, helped transform the group formerly known as Reign into one of the most authentic Beatles cover bands in the world. I sat down with Lewis before his iconic show returns to Philadelphia at the Merriam Theatre this February to discuss his early inspiration, the new features of the concert, and why seeing RAIN might be better than an actual Beatles concert.

I’ve read multiple times that you claim you owe a lot of your inspiration to the original Ed Sullivan broadcast when the Beatles were introduced to America. It really was one of the most iconic pop culture moments in American history. What about that moment on the Sullivan show do you remember the most?
I was really into music, and I was only 12 years old when The Beatles performed on the Sullivan show. I was into the Four Seasons and I had an older sister who was into the early rock ’n’ roll. The Beatles came out on Sullivan, and I wasn’t even watching it at that moment. My mother was watching in the other room, and she came in and said, “You have to come in and watch this group!” I thought it was going to be some sort of Liberace-type thing. I went right out and bought the Meet the Beatles! album in stereophonic! I remember being blown away with these multiple guys who sang, who played their own instruments, and the way they looked and talked. After I got the album, I remember figuring out that they were writing their own music. It was so different. It was so far from anything I’d ever seen, plus there were all of these girls going nuts in the audience. You really hadn’t seen anything like this since Elvis Presley. Every song was great. Usually when you buy an album, there’s a hit record, and a bunch of stuff that sounds like the hit record, but every song on that Beatles album was great. It was a life altering moment for me. Read more »

Decoding ESPO’s Old City Mural: Rick Ross, RUIN, Revival and the Death of Jawn

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Previously:  Part 1  |  Part 2  |  Part 3  |  Part 4

ESPO Doesn’t really court controversy in his massive Old City Mural installation on Second Street, but burying the word “jawn” will surely seem premature to some people. It’s true, Creed let the world in on the city’s curiously long-lasting neologism (I first heard it in ’94), but does that mean it’s time for a tombstone and a setting sun? It might. It did have a good run.

Now, let’s look at this multi-color block of odds and ends:

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Read more »

Roots Picnic 2016 Lineup Announced by Abbi and Ilana of Broad City

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Once again, Questlove and co. have put together a killer lineup of awesome-but-not-obvious talent for their annual show by the river. This year it’ll be Saturday, June 4, at Festival Pier. Tickets go on sale Friday at noon.

Atlanta headliner Future gets top(-left billing), but he’s already playing here between now and then (Feb. 28 at the Fillmore), so I’m thinking the Usher/Roots set will be the highlight of the evening. At past Roots Picnics, legacy acts like Run DMC and Public Enemy have played with the house band; unless I’m forgetting somebody, Usher is the most current artist to land that spot. I’m probably most excited to see gospel/soul guitarist/singer Leon Bridges (born Todd Bridges, poor guy) play the mainstage. And it’ll be nice to see DMX bark live and in person; we usually have to wait for “X Gon’ Give It To Ya” to turn up in another action movie commercial. Where silky smooth R&B/hip-hoppish singer Jidenna may wilt in his blazer under the summer sun, R&B/electropoppy group Lolawolf (featuring Fury Road badass Zoë Kravitz) could shine. Willow Smith probably won’t be allowed to check out the Lil Dicky set without parental supervision, so maybe we’ll spot her famous mom or dad in the area. And once that happens, would a Will Smith walk-on be too much to ask?

Full lineup below: Read more »

Project Turns Military Uniforms Into Paper and Vets’ Experiences Into Triumph

Keefe, center, with participants at a Combat Paper NJ workshop.

Keefe, center, with participants at a Combat Paper NJ workshop.

David Keefe holds a MFA with a speciality in printmaking and painting, and is a practicing artist in New Jersey.

He’s also a Marine vet, who served in Iraq, 2006-2007.

Needless to say, when the Printmaking Center of New Jersey suggested he cut up his old military uniform and transform it into paper, he had to think about it.

“I decided to go ahead with it because it was a good way for me to tell my story, my complex vet experience,” he said. “Once I did it, it was an immediate transformation on my part. It was something that I wanted to communicate, and a lightbulb went off.”

In a nutshell, Keefe teamed up with co-director Eli Wright to establish a New Jersey branch of Combat Paper, which offers workshops all over the Mid-Atlantic region, providing military vets and community members a chance to not only make paper out of their old uniforms, but create something much more profound. Read more »

INTERVIEW: Choreographer Justin Peck

Scene from Ballet 422 (courtesy Magnolia Pictures).

From Ballet 422 (courtesy Magnolia Pictures).

There’s a powerful scene in Ballet 422, the 2014 documentary following New York City Ballet dancer and choreographer Justin Peck as he creates a beach-themed love story ballet “Paz de la Jolla.” The most cinematic moment unfolds after the then 25-year-old Peck, in suit-and-tie and his Clark Kent glasses, modestly takes a bow on stage as the audience enthusiastically applauds his new work. After his demure smile and wave, the camera follows Peck as he quietly heads backstage and proceeds alone to his dressing room to transform from wunderkind choreographer — out of his suit and glasses — into an anonymous corps de ballet dancer with make-up and costume. It’s a wonderful moment that captures a hard-working young man on the cusp of a brilliant career that promises to shape the future of ballet. Peck’s ordinary demeanor is a mask for his extraordinary talent.

It’s only been three years since the “Paz de la Jolla” premiere, but there’s been significant change for the dancer from San Diego. Peck was promoted to the rank of soloist in 2013. He was named resident choreographer in 2014, only the second person appointed to that position at NYCB ever. And he’s established himself as the future of classical ballet dance-making, injecting a dose of youth culture and hipster cool into the sometimes fussy world of ballet. Peck has drawn in the millennial set by collaborating with indie rockers Sufjan Stevens and The National; visual artists Marcel Dzama, Shepard Fairey, and Sterling Ruby; as well as edgy fashion designers Huberto Leon of Opening Ceremony, Mary Katrantzou, and Prabal Gurung.

Critics have taken note, too. Alistair Macaulay, chief dance critic for The New York Times, raved about him last year: “Mr. Peck has quickly become the most eminent choreographer of the ballet in the United States — and two particular characteristics have propelled him to the top: the exciting formal architecture of his dances and the kinesthetic thrill of his movement.” Macaulay also described Peck as: “The third most important choreographer to have emerged in classical ballet this century.” Not too shabby.

Now 28, Peck contributes his 2013 work, “Chutes and Ladders,” (set to music by Benjamin Britten) to Pennsylvania Ballet’s February program (running February 4-7). It also includes dances by Nacho Duato, Jerome Robbins, and Christopher Wheeldon.

Peck informed me he won’t be in attendance for Thursday’s opening night at the Merriam Theater because he will be in New York dancing George Balanchine’s “Symphony in C.” Two days prior to that, Peck will premiere his own 45-minute narrative ballet, “The Most Incredible Thing” at City Ballet. He’s spread pretty thin these days, but he found some time to talk with me by phone between rehearsals at Lincoln Center and a performance later that evening. Read more »

Concert Review: Muse invades the Wells Fargo Center

Muse at the Wells Fargo Center. (Photo by Tom Beck)

Muse at the Wells Fargo Center. (Photo by Tom Beck)

Muse doesn’t do “subtle.” The British band’s most recent album, Drones, is all about the terrors of modern technological warfare — specifically drones. So, yes, they flew a giant inflatable drone around the Wells Fargo Center during the song “Uprising.”

It was all part of a shock and awe campaign that included balloons, confetti, a pulsing light display and a 360 degree stage in the dead center of the arena.

Despite attempts to engage the audience with the new material, it was the old songs like “Starlight,” “Resistance” and “Time Is Running Out” that drew the best reaction. Throughout the evening, however, frontman Matt Bellamy proved himself to be one of the most talented in his craft, displaying a vocal range the rest of us couldn’t even attempt without a helium tank. His guitar playing shined on a new track called “Reapers” and during a brief cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Heartbreaker” early on in the set. And he never stopped moving. Read more »

REVIEW: #therevolution

Anita Holland, Brett Ashley Robinson, and Mary Tuomanen in #therevolution. (Photo by Kathryn Raines / Plate3)

Anita Holland, Brett Ashley Robinson, and Mary Tuomanen in #therevolution. (Photo by Kathryn Raines / Plate3)

Location, location, location. This realtor’s mantra is not just for house-hunters — it’s at least as significant for theater companies, for whom space is often a critical factor in defining an individual production, even a company style.

For decades, InterAct, under Seth Rozin’s leadership, has been devoted to cutting edge, politically-steeped theater that sometimes seemed at odds with its rather boxy, conventional home at the Adrienne. Rozin and company always made the best of it, but now, thanks in large part to his influence, InterAct and four more theater companies have a new venue, tailored to their specifications. So it was especially intriguing to see how Rozin would launch his first project at the Drake — #therevolution, a world premiere play by Kristoffer Diaz. Read more »

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