This is basically as early a show can happen, was the sentiment Darlingside shared as they stood on stage. Performing this week’s Free at Noon, WXPN’s weekly free live show, today taking place at Ardmore Music Hall, the crowd certainly didn’t seem to mind the “early” start. In fact, it was a sold out show.
As Don Mitchell, Auyon Mukharji and Harris Paseltiner, original Darlingside members, opened up the set with some three part harmonies, it was hard to not watch Molly Parden, a more recent addition to the tour, stare at them in her own awe. Staying true to Americana folk as Mitchell played the banjo, we all swayed to and fro as the band alternated between cuts from their latest release, Everything is Alive, and some of their older favorites.
Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing countless Free at Noon shows, and I’ll certainly never pick a favorite. But my favorite moment is never my own, but instead the reaction of the band. They’re always so surprised at how many folks come out in the middle of the day, grab a drink, and want to see some live music. And while they’ll occasionally shout out the listeners at home, too, I hope the feeling of surprise in the room never changes.
I grew up in a house that was never quiet. The noise wasn’t coming from kids yelling or loud TVs (though I’m sure my parents would’ve said differently at the time)—no, the constant noise was music. I come from a family who loves music. I mean, really, truly, loves music. My father would be drumming along to James Taylor while my mom was dancing to Linda Ronstadt in the kitchen. My brother strumming his guitar playing Ozzy Osborne’s Crazy Train while I listened to Sarah McLachlan on my Walkman, desperately wishing I could go to Lilith Fair (an aside—LADIES, let’s bring it back!) We never told one another to turn it down, pausing our own music to make room for others’, and instead allowed the sounds to blend and merge, creating a new sound all their own. In a way, we were creating our own version of Americana.
Now residing in our own homes, the Anderson Americana may not still carryon, but our shared love for it hasn’t faltered. And on July 2, 2023, my dad, brother, and I did something we’ve never done together—we went to a concert together. The show that finally got us all together? James Taylor and his All-Star band at the Mann in Philadelphia. Yeah, you could say we went from zero to 100.
It almost feels silly to try and review the show. After all, it’s James Taylor. To say that the man knows how to put on a show would be an understatement. Yes, he played the hits, and even held up an oversized, handwritten set list to let the audience know what was coming. Yes, he can still play the guitar with an ease that is humbling to a novice player such as myself. And yes, his charisma on stage has the ability to make you forget about the heat and be encapsulated by what’s happening on stage. But last night at the Mann, there was more—there was the draw of family.
On stage last night with James and his incredible band was his son, Henry, who has joined the tour on backup vocals. Let’s just say the musical gene clearly runs strong in the Taylor family. As I looked over at my own family, clapping along and just as mesmerized as I was, a warmth rushed over me. Taylor’s music has surrounded me my entire life, from bopping along to Mexico on car rides, to Shower the People backing a video my dad made of my childhood, to hearing The Water is Wide at my mom’s funeral. It’s not just about the music, it’s about the common and shared experience of music and the memories tied to the tracks. It’s listening to a song you’ve heard for as long as you can remember, with the people who have known you for just as long. Yes, I’ve had amazing solo experiences at shows, bouncing around to Maggie Rogers or getting in the feels with Bon Iver, but being with family, whether chosen or blood, just hits different. It feels like love.
And I guess being in the presence of a true legend like James Taylor helps, too.
Shower the people you love with love
Show them the way that you feel
Things are gonna be much better
If you only will
“Did we just join a cult?” my friend yelled into my ear as we raised our arms to the sky. Cued by the band, we swayed back and forth as we listened to the jam. “If this is a cult,” I thought, “I’m in.”
Dustbowl Revival hails from LA, but their musical influences span far beyond the west coast. Described stylistically as an American roots band, you can hear nods to blues, Americana folk, funk, and New Orleans brass in their music. The crowd was eclectic as the music styles, and folks young and old shook their hips as the band performed old favorites like Honey, I Love You and new staples such as Set Me Free.
Most bands I’ve seen in the last year or so have mentioned how it’s incredible to be back to live shows, and Dustbowl Revival was no exception. But they took it a step further, voicing how they feel a responsibility to speak up on political and social matters, a thing too many artists won’t do, for fear of losing an audience. Performing The Truth, a deeply personal song to frontman Z. Lupetin, the band shared their outrage at the overturn of Roe v. Wade. Folk music, specifically, gave a voice to generations in the 1960s who were protesting change for equality and justice, and Dustbowl Revival is continuing to act as a sound chamber for those voices today.
Towards the end of the evening the band invited opener, Stella Ruze, a local Philly band, to join them onstage. The gang harmonized to The Band’s The Weight and despite a few forgotten lyrics, the audience mouthed along in sync. Lupetin had one ask for us—to tell one person on the west coast and one person on the east coast about them. To share their name. To share their music. Consider this your notice.
I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again—WXPN’s Free at Noon Fridays are truly one of my favorite activities in the Philly area. Today, WXPN and host Dan Reed visited Ardmore Music Hall to welcome Rayland Baxter and his band (who are playing the same venue tonight). And oh, what a show.
After introducing the band, Baxter slid into the title track from his latest album, If I Were a Butterfly. Slightly more…transcendental…than his previous work, the band jammed as bright, colorful lights washed the stage. Bodies swayed around me, while I did my own hippie shake, the crowd forgetting their responsibilities they left in the middle of their Friday workday. As Baxter, Barney Cortez, and Todd Bolden played their fingers out on the strings, you could feel the electricity radiating into the crowd.
Soaring past the normal 30 minute length of Free at Noon shows, Baxter played a few more tracks off his new record, along with some old favorites. Olivia and Mr. Rodriguez were crowd pleasers, and the live version of Buckwheat blew the album version out of the water. Nearing the end of the set, Baxter asked the crowd who was coming to the show tonight. Myself and others yelled out, while a gentleman at the front said he wanted to come. Hearing this, Baxter asked the man to write down his name and he’d put ‘em on the guest list, as he audibly questioned if tickets were left.
Reed wrapped up the extended show, but the band had one last act up their sleeve—Yellow Eyes. We all continued our hippie shakes until the last note was played, before we headed out into the cold, bright November day.
There’s nothing I love more than going to a loud rock show. Feeling the bass vibrate in my bones, ticking my head to the drums, and screaming out loud with the other show goers, acting as backup vocals for the band. Now at the age of 35, the mid-week concert isn’t as easy as it once was, but that didn’t stop me from checking out We Were Promised Jetpacks (WWPJ) at Ardmore Music Hall. After bopping along to opener Breakup Shoes, who were surprisingly moving, WWPJ took the stage.
It took a few tracks for the crowd to warm up to the band. And the band to warm up to the crowd. But then, we had a rock show. I watched gen-zers try to start a two-person mosh pit on the side of the stage, so ecstatic from seeing this band they couldn’t contain their bodies. I saw men from older generations play air guitar, pretending they were the ones on stage. And then there was me, swaying along, earplugs and all.
WWPJ rolled through their hits, including a personal favorite, “The More I Sleep, the Less I Dream.” The crowd hollered as Adam Thompson started the opening riff for “Quiet Little Voices” and then mouthed along the words, remembering each lyric from its initial release over a decade ago. As the show started to feel like it was reaching its end, Thompson mentioned how there wouldn’t be a separate encore. Side note: this made me like them even more. Why do bands do encores? If the house lights and music stay down, we know the band is coming back. The jig is up. Just let us stay in the groove of the show. But, the band did play one more before sending us out into the balmy Wednesday night air—“It’s Thunder and It’s Lightning.” The perfect track for us to scream our lungs out to before heading home.
Right foot followed by a left foot
We’ll guide you home before your curfew
And into your bed
In the before times, before we all carried masks in our pockets, before the phrase “vaxxed and waxed” appeared in dating profiles, and before “have you had it?” was asked as casually as someone asking how your weekend was, I’d occasionally wander over the Walnut St bridge to WXPN on Fridays a bit before noon. Since 2005, WXPN, arguably one of the best public radio stations in the country, has hosted free mini concerts at noon at their headquarters in Philadelphia. Typically the set featured artists who are touring through Philly that night or weekend. I’ve made the stroll across the bridge to see The Bahamas, Hop Along, and The Pixies (!) and countless others.
After almost a year and half of cancelled and postponed shows, Free at Noon kicked off again in October 2021 with Heartless Bastards (side note: while I missed the noon show, I did see them later that night in the same space. If you get a chance to go hear Erika Wennerstrom sing live, GO!) And now, just a few months later, WXPN brought their Free at Noon series to Ardmore Music Hall, featuring Langhorne Slim, who was scheduled to play that same venue to a sold out crowd later that night.
To be honest, I didn’t know much of Langhorne Slim’s music before registering for a ticket. But it’s conveniently located, free, and I missed the smell of patchouli surrounding me, so I took my lunch break and headed to the show. At 11:57am, I slid my sunglasses down my nose as I walked into Ardmore Music Hall, shocked at the packed space. All of these people stepped away from their work, their lives, to spend 45 minutes listening to live music. Promptly at noon, Dan Reed, host for WXPN, stepped on stage to start the show. Airing across the local airwaves and accessible to anyone with an internet connection, Dan warmed up the crowd and then welcomed Langhorne Slim to the stage.
Langhorne Slim aka Sean Scolnick sauntered onto the stage in a grey suit and a beanie atop his head. It would be a solo set. He started strumming his guitar and after a few notes of singing, I was hooked. And really kicking myself for not buying tickets to the night set. He has an ease about his playing that is mesmerizing, and you can tell he feels every word he sings. Encouraging the crowd to sing along, we hopped and clapped along as we were all ignoring the realities of our workdays.
About half way through the set, he took pause to reflect on the past two years, the feelings of isolation, asking the crowd “who is in therapy?” After a few raised hands and yells, the man next to me proudly screamed “that’s not enough of you!” after he pulled his own hand down. Langhorne Slim looked out at the crowd and remarked on the “divine dance floor that we’re all gathered on today.” He mused how it was only noon and some of us were already a little drunk or high. He guessed that some of us may be on lunchtime Tinder dates, and hoped those that did got lucky after. He talked about how I think a lot of us felt during the early pandemic days: alive but not living.
Every show I’ve been to since the pandemic began, the artist has dedicated time to connecting. Connecting with the crowd, connecting with their feelings, and connecting with their deep gratitude to be able to perform again in a crowded room. Even if only for 45 minutes, we all experienced a lot more connection than at least I normally have on a Friday at noon.
This whole world is full of fear and grief
Love, it is the door, and faith's the key
Nothing is deserved nor guaranteed
I offer myself to Thee
This time almost exactly two years ago, I was blasting Begonia through my headphones at work. Her 2019 debut album, Fear, filled my ears with electric energy and personal lyrics. I was getting ready to start a new job, take a trip to Mexico, and then return to see Begonia perform at MilkBoy in Philly. Excitement was in the air.
But this was March 2020, aka when the world was put on pause.
Instead of going to a show on Friday, March 15, 2020, I was hunkered down at my apartment trying to figure out how to make a mask while eating too much charcuterie and DIYing cocktails. If anyone had told me it would be over a year until I saw another show, I think I would’ve laughed. And then probably cried.
But flash forward to Friday, March 11, 2022. Begonia’s tour was rescheduled, and she was back in Philly. After my ID and vaxx card were checked at the door, I noticed a bar full of people as I climbed the stairs to the stage at MilkBoy. House music was playing through the speakers as fellow concertgoers packed in towards the stage. I ordered a gin and soda and felt the familiar hug of the environment. While this wasn’t my first show since the pandemic began, it was the first time I was in a venue this small, packed to the brim, with folks who love live music as much as I do.
By 8:30 the opener, who I won’t name, went on. They crooned and overly vocalized every original and cover song they performed. Hot take: acoustic versions of Drake and Outkast should never be performed. Ever. After 45 minutes they cleared the stage (finally) and patrons headed to the bar to get in another round before the main act.
But then she came out. Alexa Dirks aka Begonia walked through the crowd towards the stage, her band mates in tow. Dressed in a matching set with jewels on her face, the crowd gently parted as applause and yells grew in waves. She opened the set with my personal favorite “The Other Side,” showing off her dynamic vocal range and captivating stage presence. You know how sometimes you’re disappointed with how an artist sounds live? This was the opposite.
And with my eyes closed
I listen in the night
Thinking it'd be nice
Just to see
The other side
A bit into the show, a friend joined me. He had never heard of Begonia, but trusted my taste. I think he’d say how glad he was he took the chance on coming out.
As the end of the show rolled in, she had performed most of Fear and a few hit singles. We had danced and swayed our bodies to the beats, singing along to some of the bigger hits like “Beats.” Despite her powerful voice and catchy songs, Begonia hasn’t reached mainstream success quite yet in the US. During the show she remarked how she’d be happy if only ten people were at the show, and I’m happy that the 200+ people in the room were a visible symbol of how talented and loved she is.
Begonia walked off the stage, again cutting through the crowd that parted as congratulations and praise were shouted her way. As she approached my direction, I couldn’t help but look her square in the eye, saying “that was absolutely incredible.” She paused, sweetly smiled and said thank you, and gently patted my arm as she walked by. The power of connection after two years of varying degrees of isolation…well, there really aren’t any words.
Go hug your friends if you can, listen to your favorite artists, and remember that electric feeling that can strike through your bones when the beat hits. Go enjoy the show.
Can you describe how to catch a feeling
Changing your mind isn't worth the dealing
But once you decide you're living at the ceiling
You can't get no high
You can't get no higher
Its' nothing, they explain it's like a diesel train
Better not be there when it rolls over
And when that train rolls in, you won't know where it's been
You gotta try to see a little further
They love each other, Lord you can see it's true
Lord you can see it's true, Lord you can see it's true
525 days. That’s how long I went without being in a dark music venue, surrounded by the smells of spilled beer, too much cologne, and my heart thumping in time to the bass level. Throughout the pandemic, every single person on this planet has suffered some sort of loss; family members, friends, connection, jobs...the list goes on. In times of great loss, we often seek comfort from the things we love most. For me, that love has always been live music. With the world beginning to open up (and precautions in place to ensure safety to staff and guests), it was time to break my 525 day streak. The show? Everyone’s Dead at Ardmore Music Hall.
After stumbling to show both my COVID vaccine card and ID at the door while a man checked my fanny pack, my ticket was scanned and I walked into the venue. Overwhelmed by the amount of actions that happened in under a minute, a woman grabbed my focus with a “welcome back” as I entered the hall. Sliding my sunglasses off my face, mask up, my eyes readjusted to the space. The smell of patchouli wafted through my mask, and I stared out at the sea of tie dye and concert goers of all ages. It was 7:40, and frankly forgetting what time concerts start, I took a walk around before grabbing a beer from the bar. It was impossible to not notice the eyes that peered out above everyone’s masks, full of both excitement and a subtle “does this feel weird to you, too?” kind of vibe.
20 minutes later, the crowd hushed briefly before filling the air with applause as the band came on stage. As I held my beer in my hand with my back pressed up against the bar ledge, my body felt heavy as the band started playing. It was the feeling described in romance novels, when the woman finally realizes she’s madly in love with some man, and her beloved appears in front of her. It was a swelling of the heart triggered but the sudden, all encompassing feeling of being near what you love most. It was the feeling of returning to my love, live music.
Let me start by saying that this is my personal top-10 album list of 2018. Ignoring what the critics say (though a few of these are critically-acclaimed), these are the albums I just can’t stop listening to from start to end. 2018 was a big year for female-driven work, from pop to folk to country, and all the genres in-between. I got to see 4 out of the 10 below in concert this year, and that definitely played into the ratings below. So without further ado, here are my top-10 albums of 2018. Comment below with your favorites!
10. Julia Holter, “Aviary”
I’ve been a fan of Holter’s since 2013(ish), and this album beautifully blends her atmospheric voice with ambient electronics and instruments. “Voce Simul” is one of my favorite songs to listen to while walking around the city on a cloudy day. There’s something sexy and haunting and intriguing about this album; each song is a new chapter that needs to be explored.
9. Frank Turner, “Be More Kind”
When asked to describe Turner’s music, I often describe it as “grown-up punk rock.” I saw my first Frank Turner show this past September at “Sea. Hear. Now.” and he, his band, and the crowd that loves him blew me away. “1993” will have you hopping up and down and “Blackout” reminds me of being at an underground pop rock concert in college in the best way possible. Listen to this when on a run, when you need a pick-me-up, or when you just want to feel good.
8. Cat Power, “Wanderer”
I’ve loved Cat Power since hearing her cover “Sea of Love” (originally by Phil Phillips) in the 2007 movie “Juno.” Mixing originals with covers, Power delivers another strong record after a 6 year hiatus. I love her cover of Rihanna’s “Stay,” and “Woman,” which she co-wrote with Lana Del Rey, is another stand out.
7. Kacey Musgraves, “Golden Hour”
Is she country? Is she pop? Does it matter? Admittedly I didn’t listen to Musgraves before this album, but after seeing her debut on SNL, I knew I had to take a listen. “Slow Burn” is my favorite track off this album, but the album in its entirety is surely worth a listen (or two). Her lyrics are honest, yet playful and catchy.
6. Ariana Grande, “Sweetener”
I’m pretty sure this album is on everyone’s top lists, whether they are a pop fan or not. Grande’s latest album broke genre barriers and had everyone bopping along with her sometimes sugary, sometimes soulful, “Sweetener.” If you somehow haven’t hear it, start with “God is a Woman” and still listen to “Pete Davidson” to temporarily mourn the loss of the relationship. Follow that with “No Tears Left to Cry” and you’ll be singing along with Grande in no time.
5. Foxing, “Nearer My God”
I was turned on to Foxing with the release of this album, and I’m kicking myself for not listening to them sooner. This is one of the small handful of albums I turn on when I don’t know what to listen to. There’s energy, there’s power, there’s rock––it’s just a solid album. Hoping to catch them live in 2019. “Gameshark” was one of my top listened to tracks of 2018.
4. Florence and the Machine, “High as Hope”
I’ve never met a Florence and the Machine album that I didn’t like, and “High as Hope” is no exception. I saw Florence and the Machine in concert earlier this year, and that woman has more energy and spirit than any artist I’ve ever seen. Not to mention vocals that are almost unearthly. “Patricia,” a tribute to Patti Smith, is one of my favorite tracks on the album, and Florence’s full range really comes out in the opening track “June.”
3. Mitski, “Be the Cowboy”
I don’t even know what to say about this album, just that it’s really, really freaking good. There are pop elements in “Washing Machine Heart,” disco elements in “Nobody,” dynamic vocal range in “Geyser,” Robyn-like beats in “Why Didn’t You Stop me?” and the list goes on. Seriously, just listen to this album. “Old Friend” is my favorite track off of “Be the Cowboy.”
2. The Boxer Rebellion, “Ghost Alive”
Saw these guys perform at World Cafe Live in Philadelphia this year in support of this album, and hands down, it was my favorite show of the year. The album starts strong with “What the Fuck,” my favorite track off the album. Ranging from loud rock to softer melodies like “Here I Am,” the album highlights Nicholson’s dynamic vocal range and the undeniable talent of the entire band. In only 11 songs, “Ghost Alive” encompasses an entire range of emotions, and I am so there for that.
1. Brandi Carlile, “By the Way, I Forgive You”
Seeing Brandi Carlile perform at “Sea. Hear. Now.” slides in as a close second in the “favorite show of the year” category. Carlile puts her all into her performances, and that’s the same case in this album. Stand out tracks for me include “The Joke” and “The Mother,” and she’s recently released a breathtaking and moving music video for “Party of One.” Do yourself a favor and listen to this album at home, with the speakers up loud, and let her words and melodies fill your home and soul with all the feels.
There are some bands that put out a solid record among an otherwise lackluster discography, and other bands that evolve in such a way that the listener can identify with each album on a personal level as times change. For me, The Boxer Rebellion is set firmly in the latter category. Though I’ve been a fan since hearing We Have This Place Surrounded off their first album, Exits, in 2005. After 13 years of fandom, it was time to finally see their show.
If you’ve never been to World Cafe Live in Philadelphia, let me set the scene. In comparison to their larger downstairs venue, upstairs (where The Boxer Rebellion would be playing), is an intimate stage most often used for smaller acts. A bar lines one side of the space, with tables set amongst the floor for patrons to eat a meal and have some drinks while watching an act perform. Not exactly the traditional rock and roll concert venue. We were sat close to the stage, and as the band came out on stage, Nathan made the joke “I don’t think we’ve ever played while people are eating dinner.” But as soon as he started singing “When you fail to understand, you fail to recognize” from What the Fuck, a song from their latest album Ghost Alive, everyone put down their forks and knives.
The Boxer Rebellion is a LOUD band. Not loud as in “we are going to push our amps to the range limit” loud, as in, they are a fantastic rock band that produces music that fills the room. Their music takes over the space. Nathan Nicholson has a voice so pure, so strong, so impassioned, that it’s hard to not be mesmerized. I was sitting maybe 15 feet away from him and the band, and I could feel the music consuming me. He took the microphone off the stand and walked into the crowd while belting No Harm. He used the nearby electric keyboard to sing New York as the crowd quietly listened. We bounced along as the band rocked out Evacuate. Every single member of the band gave it their all, even if it was only for a crowd of 200. Nathan and Andrew Smith started the encore by sitting in the crowd with an acoustic guitar, making us feel like we were all part of this special night they created. Because we were.
I’ve seen hundreds of concerts, listened to thousands of records, and The Boxer Rebellion is still one of my favorites. They’ve evolved their music as their sound has changed and grown, and have lyrics so full of emotion that it’s hard to not hang on every word. Good concerts makes you content, and a great concert makes you feel the full range of emotions. I walked out of World Cafe Live feeling it all. If you get the chance, go see the magic they create on stage. And stand as close to them as you can.